Education: Secondary school
Profession: Owner of South Atlantic Film Company
Book: Baron Wolman
TV: Only Fools and Horses
While he has followed in his father’s professional footsteps to a certain extent, British photographer and film producer Adam Cooper has made a concerted effort not to take the same path on a personal level.
Aged three when his mother left the family, Adam’s childhood years were considerably chaotic, accompanying his photographer father Michael who documented the Rolling Stones during the 1960s. Fast-forward two decades and Adam’s work brought him to Buenos Aires, where he met and married Argentine film editor and curator Silvia; the father of one has lived in Belgrano since 1996, consecutively running South Atlantic Film Company and exhibiting Michael Cooper’s works.
Adam says: “I came to Argentina in 1989 for four months to work on Highlander II. We filmed in Puerto Madero as it was then, a flat and destroyed landscape – the transformation of that area of the city has been incredible – and built what is still considered today to have had one of the biggest sets ever.
Love on set
“But what I didn’t realize at the time was that that job would change my life forever as I met Silvia, one of the film’s local editors, and we fell in love! I always felt something very special about the country. I’d had it in my head that Argentina would be like Mexico but what surprised me the most was how comfortable I felt here, like I was in Madrid or Paris, or even parts of London.
“As I’d had the chance to travel around, I saw Argentina’s scope for film-making as it’s so stunning. In Europe you hop around a lot to find one thing or another, constantly dealing with airports and customs, whereas here the country is so long I can offer all the seasons all the year round – that’s how my company took off when I moved here.
“That said, the film industry is notoriously up and down, and suffering terribly – the situation here with the import and export processes here make it more complicated so a lot of advertisers are staying away for the time being. Fortunately I’m freelance so I get to decide when I work, so we decided to take advantage of the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones and organized a huge exhibition of my father’s work at the Centro Cultural Recoleta. At Ciudad Emergente last week, tens of thousands of people came to see Early Stones – in fact, it’s the only exhibit there whose run has been extended before it even opened.”
After marrying Silvia and living in the UK for several years, an important about-turn came for the couple, both professionally and personally. “We were very happy living in London, and Emily had been born there, but it’s difficult to climb the ladder of promotion in the film industry. There were also a lot of problems in the street – crime and drugs – and based on what I had gone through in my childhood, I didn’t want my daughter to have anything to do with that.
“In Argentina at that time – and it still is – family is very important here, they stick together and meet regularly for asados. I didn’t have that when I was a kid so we wanted to give Emily what I’d call a ‘proper’ upbringing with family support and mum and dad always there all the time.
“My mother left me and my father when I was three years old and I didn’t see her again for another 10 years. That was a typical story of the 1960s, crazy times with crazy things going on, and particularly with my father being right in the centre of that cultural coming together of 60s and the Stones and Beatles. You can imagine it, complete madness. And I was growing up in the middle of it. I was never exposed to the drug-taking as they were all very conscious that when the kids were around – essentially me and Keith’s (Richards) first son Marlon – that we should never witness that. But crazy things were happening to them so crazy things were happening to us.
“Up until the time when Michael died when I was nearly nine, I didn’t go to school on a regular basis. I lived in Italy for a year as he was working on a Roman Polanski movie, I had a private tutor in the morning then I’d go to the studio in the afternoon. As a kid it was great as every day was different and there was a lot of excitement, but along with that came a lot of tragedy. My stepmother Ginger was a victim of drugs and overdosed and although my father didn’t die of an overdose, he had his problems with addiction. That was when I went to live with my grandparents in Andover, Hampshire, and was the first time I became what I call a real kid.”
He adds: “Consciously when Emily was born, I wanted to bring her up in an environment that was the complete opposite to what I had. They say the first five years of your life mould you the most. So as we were in the position to make that happen for her, in combination with my frustration with my work in London and wanting to become a photographer-lighting cameraman for real before I was 65, we came out here for the famous ‘six months’ to see how it works out.
“A lot of my friends in the industry thought I was completely crazy, walking away from big movies, but it was more important for me to fulfil my personal dream, and I knew I could do that quicker here than by staying in London. And it turned out I was right – within two weeks of arriving, I was shooting a nine-day campaign in Chile.
“Of course, it took me a while to get over the initial nerves and insecurities about moving to a foreign country with a new language – will the taxi driver understand where I wanted to go, that kind of thing. But we moved here in 1996 and even though a lot of people wrote us off as a couple, here we are 25 years later, still together and still in love. Meeting Silvia really grounded me – it was what I needed – and I wouldn’t want my life to be any different.”
In fact 1996 also turned out be a key year professionally as Adam worked on Alan Parker’s Evita as a technical producer then once shooting began, he was the third cameraman. He says: “That’s when I saw there were differences in the system compared with back home, and that’s when I dug deep into my pockets and opened my own company. The work kept coming in, and even when we had the (economic) implosion in 2001, well, I’ve been very lucky that my father left me this incredible photographic collection that consists of 70,000 images. When he died in 1973 I inherited his collection, and since then Silvia and I have published books and curated exhibitions around the world as his work is very much appreciated. When I moved here, I put them into a protective trunk and took them on the plane with me.”
Adam and his family live in Belgrano, which he calls the Buenos Aires equivalent of Kensington. “You’re close enough to the centre but you’re away from all the madness, and it’s quiet and residential. A lot of Silvia’s family live there too. I like it.
“When we first came here, the country was booming but the city has changed a lot over the past 15 years and not for the better I would say. The people are good people, family is important to them. That’s life, I suppose.”