Photographer shares struggle with hidden illness

Look at Adam Jacobs and you see a young man with an extraordinary life. He sees the world through his own unique lens and his talent has taken him across the world, He has photographed Super Bowls and the Olympics.  

Jacobs has been in the homes of Nelson Mandela with Bill Clinton. He has photographed President Barack Obama, the Dalai lama, Desmond tutu, Mick Jagger along with countless athletes.  Jacobs will tell you his camera has taken him to unbelievable places 

But there is so much to Adam Jacobs that we can't see.

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“From the second I wake up to the minute I go to bed I have a migraine,” explains Jacobs, “I feel chronic head pain I feel dizziness I feel nausea and challenge with it - it's an invisible illness.”

Jacobs has migraines 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ice helps, so does the dark, and so does medication but nothing ever stops it. It’s been this way for more than ten years.

“This was literally my first week in college I got sick six weeks before in South America from eating shrimp,” says Jacobs, “This one migraine morphed into two migraines and three until I had a migraine seven days a week 24-7 and eventually led me to have to drop out of college”

Jacobs, who had been an active and healthy child, spent the next two years lying in the dark, Doctors in England couldn't figure out what was wrong and finally sent him to specialists at a pain clinic in Michigan.

They worked to get him out of the dark. “They compare it to rehabilitating someone who has had a stroke,” says Jacobs, “I'd go to the grocery story I’d go to the supermarket for five minutes at a time gradually a bit of a time and as I was doing it I’d always take a camera with me as a distraction to how much my head hurt.”

He spent months being treated and one day his love for sports brought him and his camera to The Big House at the University of Michigan which is the largest stadium in North America. 

“I went there with my camera and I snapped a few shots,” Jacobs explains, He then stitched 20 photographs together to create one unique photo and then had it developed at a local camera shop.  The picture got the attention of a woman working there.

“The lady came out when I went to pick the photo up and said I hope you don't mind me asking but are you a professional photographer?” says Jacobs, “and I looked at her like she was a bit mad and she said I actually think this is pretty unique and pretty original and I said do you mind if I show it to someone at the University of Michigan athletic department.”

She did and he's never looked back.  That photograph was the start of a career which has now put him in an elite class of artists. But wherever he has gone, the migraines are with him.

It took six years to finally put a name to his suffering. “I got diagnosed with something called POTS,” Jacob explains, “which is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, it means my brain and my body don't talk to each other like they should. Perhaps I had this genetic predisposition to something going wrong and I then I picked up this food borne illness and whereas your lines are maybe straight going from your brain to your body mine have gotten slightly tangled.”

There is no cure.  And so like his world, Adam Jacob’s pictures are complex.  He was chosen by the Royal Family to take officials pictures of the Queen’s Jubilee and created a photo which was 200 pictures stitched together.  When he covered the Olympic closing ceremonies he put 400 photos in one picture and at the Super Bowl, he had more than 500 pictures in one.  It can take him weeks to put it all together.

Jacobs says “I often like to composite photos together to show things somewhat surreal and not perhaps the way a normal person would see them.”

His latest project is called Urban Reflections, it was taken in New York and has a dizzying effect that was actually “created from me hanging directly out of a helicopter which my doctors gave me a real slap on the wrist for and I paid for it afterwards.”

One photo of Wall Street is actually designed to “look like a ring” explains Jacobs, “almost resembles a Superbowl ring to show the wealth created in these small alleys and lanes.

Right now he's working on a San Francisco version. And while he would trade it all for a chance to feel life without pain, he says he knows it is his illness that allows him to see the world bold and saturated in color, detail and light, 

“Big like in your face look and style aesthetic in the photographs that I think somewhat says this is an Adam Jacobs photograph” says Jacobs, “often with sort of a dizzying migranous set I like I say it’s a window into my migranous world.“

And so his is a story of gratitude and hope. He says when he was 18, lying the dark, he never thought he’d get married, or live on his own or even cook a meal.

He’s done so much more, graduating from school, getting married and creating a remarkable life
And he hopes his story help someone else find the light

Jacobs is planning a fine art photo exhibit for April.  He also offers workshops for individuals and corporations throughout the Bay Area. He also works extensively shooting commercial and privately commissioned assignments.

If you want more info or to see more of Adam Jacobs photos you can find him online and through social media.