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Modern Life: Three Generations, One Creative Household

Michael David Adams, 43, photographer; Fae, 3; and Viktorija Adams, 42, makeup artist. 

Viktorija and Michael David Adams are creativity in motion. He’s a photographer who shoots fashion, beauty and underwater imagery; she’s a makeup artist. It’s work they both love, especially when they’re able to collaborate on projects. And while it can all sound quite glamorous, things certainly didn’t start out that way, especially for Viktorija. “I come from Omis, a small town on the Croatian coast. I’m very proud of its beauty and culture, but growing up there was tumultuous for me.” When her parents divorced, she had to move to her mom’s hometown. In 1991, before the war began, Viktorija went to live with her father on the coast for safety reasons. “My mom, Radmila, is a Croatian Serb—a minority in Croatia—and lived in an area that was barricaded and later hit very hard, so I didn’t have an opportunity to see her for several years,” says Viktorija. “During that time, I truly learned my mother’s value and understood all the sacrifices she’d made in her life to make mine easier.”

For this reason—and many others—Viktorija and Michael opened up their home to Radmila five years ago. She now lives with the couple and their daughter, Fae. It’s not a decision that every family would make, but Michael started the conversation. “The funny thing is, there was no big discussion,” says Viktorija. “When we moved to New York City, my mom was living in Atlanta. Michael would always say, ‘Okay, it’s time to move Mama here,’ and I would say, ‘We’re not ready.’ ” Back then the couple were living in a cramped apartment, and Viktorija wanted a better environment for her mom. But once they made the move to a better space, she knew it was time. 

"My daughter is my best friend, and we have been through thick and thin. We feel fortunate that she fell in love with a man who values family and is an accepting and loving son-in-law." —Radmila

“The fact that my husband opened his arms to my mom with such loving grace makes me feel even more loved,” says Viktorija. “He truly treats her like an important part of our little family, and he definitely has an ally in her. Of course, we have disagreements sometimes, but they’re rare and we resolve them through discussion and compromise.” Michael says that he and Radmila have gotten along from the very start. “For me it’s always been very natural to share the same space,” he says. “We are also very similar, so being family is something that has felt right since day one.” 

Having Radmila around to help with child care is a real blessing. “Being freelancers means a lot of extra work for both of us. Even if we’re at home, we might be very occupied, so it’s wonderful to know that Fae is in the best of hands,” says Michael. Viktorija acknowledges that taking care of a toddler is exhausting, and she’s happy that her mom is utterly devoted to Fae. “She speaks to her only in Croatian so that she’ll be bilingual, and even makes her favorite crepes with Nutella. My mom is the reason why we can still have our freelance careers.” (Bonus points: Radmila often cooks dinner for the family.)

"Radmila is a wonderful person and Fae shares many of her traits." —Michael

“I love my granddaughter with every part of my being—she is the greatest gift to me,” says Radmila. “I adore making Fae clothes and knitting her sweaters. Recently we made over her playroom, and I’m sure come Halloween I’ll be sewing another costume for Fae—we try to stay creative in this family!” 

Both Michael and Viktorija get much of their inspiration from art and are passionate about the work they do. “I love all aspects of photography,” Michael explains, “from the conception of the ideas, to the technical aspects of the production and of course the fun of the actual shooting and then seeing the final images. It’s a truly wonderful, rewarding process.” 

Doing makeup changed Viktorija’s life. “I had a rough time in my 20s. I was dealing with the war in my country, being separated from my family, experiencing personal loss and really trying to figure out who I was as a person,” she shares. A chance encounter with the people at MAC cosmetics gave Viktorija her start in makeup, working behind the counter in a department store. “Makeup saved my life—it gave me purpose. Once I picked up that brush, I knew it was what I was meant to do.” 

Eventually Viktorija got up the courage to move beyond the counter, and that’s how she and Michael connected in 2001. “We originally met to collaborate on a creative project to build our portfolios, but life most certainly had different plans,” Michael laughs. “We both recognized immediately that there was more between us.” 

Faces are not the only thing Viktorija loves to paint.

Viktorija agrees. “I remember we met for coffee to discuss a collaboration, and I couldn’t help but notice that he fit all the items on my secret checklist for the dream boyfriend. I was so nervous I couldn’t stop talking,” she says. “We started hanging out together, sharing ideas, shooting and we just fell in love. We’ve been inseparable ever since.” The couple married in 2010.

Having Fae has only strengthened their bond. “Becoming parents has been the best thing in our lives,” says Michael. “I think our relationship building up to this reinforced our experience, like working together for a common goal, and how to manage those goals. We often discuss what we feel are the right ways to approach the stages of Fae’s development, but also talk about these things on more of a general level to see different sides of the same story. It’s important for us to keep an open mind on all things yet still do what’s right for us. Having Fae has been such a great reward.” 

When Viktorija looks at the big picture, one of her strongest emotions is gratitude. “This country gave me my husband and my child, and the most amazing opportunity to build a peaceful life,” she says. “We got married on a yacht in front of the Statue of Liberty to symbolize the love, the dream and the journey I’ve taken to make it all come true.”

"I was grateful to start a new life here. Everyone is a mix of different nationalities—that made me feel I had found my home." —Viktorija

 

You are both in creative businesses. What and who inspires your work?

Early on in my career, my personal exposure led me to be inspired by the photographic greats like Patrick Demarchelier, Irving Penn, Steven Meisel, and my earlier personal artistic expressions were inspired by artists like Mapplethorpe and Georgia O’Keeffe. I also found myself inspired by Joyce Tenneson. I loved her vision and execution of portraits of strength by masterfully using soft tones with women as her main focus, and although the imagery was very gentle, the overall portrayal was that of solidness and perseverance. I’ve been inspired by many other photographers’ and artists’ visions, but I also pull from world events or even abstractions from day-to-day living. I’ve also been influenced by underwater visuals. Photographing underwater allows me to create visuals that you cannot achieve anywhere else, and it's also technically very difficult, so that aspect itself is inspiring because I like to solve problems and technical challenges. —Michael

I am influenced by art in general and draw a lot of my inspiration from it. I know this might sound cliché, but one of the biggest inspirations to me is Michael. I love how his mind works, how meticulous he is in achieving his vision—hardworking and organized, yet artistic and free at the same time. I'm a big fan of whimsical and imaginative photographers like Tim Walker. I am also very inspired by folklore and fairy tales, and I'm a big fan of painters of Pop surrealism. —Viktorija

What do you love most about what you do? 

I’m grateful that I've been able to make a living and career from what I love. Following your dreams and making them a reality as a career is often one of the hardest things to do, but also the most rewarding. And the fact that I can do this along with my wife makes this even more rewarding. We have built our life creating beautiful imagery together, as well as other things. —Michael

I get to create new vision every time I come to work, and I get to be a part of this amazing team of people that collectively creates inspiration by joining their minds and talents. I love being challenged and asked to think outside the box, translate someone else’s story with my own handwriting—or with my own brushstrokes. My biggest challenges are the negotiating and schmoozing part of the business. I see myself as motherly, dorky, and I fail at that “cool girl” routine at social gatherings. —Viktorija

Michael and Viktorija have a side hustle painting murals, and Fae is one of the lucky beneficiaries.

 

Talk about your daughter, Fae Luna.

I remember so vividly when she was born and hearing her voice for the first time. The whole process of birth for Viktorija and for us was, at times, a tense one. But when Fae Luna finally joined us in the world, time stopped as I heard her let out a little squeal. It was the most amazing thing to behold. You have never heard that tiny voice before that moment, but when you do for the first time, you realize that you have known that voice your entire life. It’s unmistakable and it touches you to the core of your being, and you know that this tiny creature belongs to you and is a part of you. It’s simply an amazing part of life that still puts me in a state of wonder today—hearing her voice from anywhere, and knowing that voice so deeply within you. —Michael

She has an incredible sense of humor for such a little girl, but one of the most dominant traits is her sense of compassion. She empathizes with other people’s pain or sense of safety. People are in awe when they see this little 2-year-old rubbing the back of another child while she is crying, saying in her baby voice, “Its okay, it’s okay.” I love her for it, but I am scared of it a little. I would not want her to carry the weight of this world on her shoulders. I am proud of this kind, funny, beautiful child we created. —Viktorija

Viktorija, what’s the best thing about having your mother around?

My mom is a young person at heart. I heard her once say to someone, after they complained about good old times, that it is important to change and adapt, not cry over the past and how things were. That sums her up perfectly. She is modern, nurturing, a great friend and ally. To have her be here to help us raise Fae is such a privilege. It gives us and our daughter such confidence—she is always surrounded by people who are utterly devoted to her. My mom is an incredible hairstylist too, so Fae always sports the best hairdos on the playground! 

What are you most proud of?

The life we have built for ourselves. While it’s easy to want more than what you have in life, we are always aware that we have done well for ourselves, and I am proud of what we have built together as a team and a family. —Michael

I grew up in very unstable environment. My mom was the rock who kept me strong. With her love, she shielded me from the chaos of my childhood, war, loss, and walked with me every step of the way. I am proud of the family we created, of my beautiful loving husband and our child. I am proud that despite obstacles in our lives, we remained positive, grateful and devoid of bitterness. —Viktorija

My family. My life was a tough one and after having a less-than-ideal marriage myself, I love seeing that my only child has finally found the peace she always longed for and has a husband that loves her with such tender devotion. I am grateful to be a witness and a part to this love. —Radmila

For more on the couple’s work, go to MichaelandViktorija.com, a collection of their work together over the years, including their Story-Tellers Project.