Mark Adams was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and attended the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts from 1967–1970, majoring in graphic design, which enabled his access to photography. After art school, Adams became interested in painting through a long-term friendship with the artist Tony Fomison and later Theo Schoon.
Best known for his work on documenting Samoan tatau (tattooing), Maori-Pakeha interactions around Rotorua and historic sites around New Zealand, Adam's work has been extensively exhibited within New Zealand as well as Europe, Australia and South Africa. His work has also featured in Brazil's São Paulo biennale. In 1997 Adams was awarded the Southland Art Foundation Artist in Residence award.
His work is represented in most of New Zealand's major art institutions, including the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Chartwell Collection, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Christchurch Art Gallery.
In 2009, his photographs featured in a new book Tatau: Samoan Tattoo, New Zealand Art, Global Culture published by Te Papa Press, the publication arm of New Zealand's national museum. The book tells the story of Samoan master tattooist, the late Sua Sulu'ape Paulo II. Adams has lived for many years in Auckland, where he has also taught photography.