Campbell Addy on his mission to champion Black visibility, creativeness, and the pioneers that came before him

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All images © Campbell Addy.

From international covers to celebrity portraits, Campbell Addy has become one of the most in-demand professional photographers of his generation. Seeing that his debut monograph is certainly published, the 28-year-old displays on his meteoric rise

In early summer time 2010, Campbell Addy is at detention at his school in Croydon, south London. His punishment was in order to reorganise the library. Addy had been around cameras their whole life, but he only knew photography through the proof of ceremony and celebration within the Jehovah’s Witness community he grew up in. At the dusty, cluttered bookshelves from the library, 16-year old Addy discovered a different kind of visible language, pulling out books by likes of Nick Dark night, Norman Parkinson, and Irving Penn.

“I had never seen pictures like it, ” he remembers. “Photography, but in a totally artistic manner. Not commercial, and not the kind of thing a person saw in galleries at the time. [They] shattered the rules, and showed myself that photography could be no matter what I wanted it to be. ”

This encounter led him to study photography at A-level, and shortly the camera became his tool to seek out new realms. “It’s a gateway. I really could go up to people in the golf club and ask to take a picture of their clothes, as it was simpler than saying hello, ” he says. And, like for a lot of young photographers, the digital camera gave him freedom. “It was my way out of the house… an excuse to get away, ” he says. “It has been one of the only things within my childhood that wasn’t controlled or defined by faith or upbringing. ”

But without the wide-spread visibility of other Dark photographers at the time, Addy present it difficult to locate himself inside the industry. It wasn’t till he studied photography from Central Saint Martins which he began to consider the practice like a career. Fellow student Ibrahim Kamara – the today world-famous stylist and editor-in-chief at Dazed – announced to Addy: “Babe, you are a photographer. ” Just for Addy, this was a wake-up call. “It was like he had said the sky will be blue. There was no issue – I am a professional photographer. ”

Today, 28-year-old Addy is one of the many in demand photographers working in the UK. He has shot covers for your likes of Harper’s Bazaar , Time, Dazed and Rolling Stone , and photographed cultural icons such as FKA Twigs, Kendall Jenner, Tyler the Creator, plus Naomi Campbell. He is furthermore the founder of Nii Journal and Nii Agency – a biannual lifestyle magazine and a modelling company respectively.

Addy’s debut monograph, Feeling Seen , is a collection of both commissioned and personal projects. “From age sixteen to 28, the common denominator has been the desire to be seen. While i was unknown, I just wanted presence, ” he says.

The book includes a foreword from British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, as well as a job interview with curator Ekow Eshun that delves into Addy’s philosophy as an artist. Interspersed between Addy’s striking pictures are quotes from buddies in the industry, including fellow professional photographer Nadine Ijewere, and hair stylist and editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson. They too reflect on the very first time they “felt seen” in the market.

Charting his visual journey so far, Feeling Seen exemplifies a career focused on promoting Black visibility, beauty and creativity. Addy functions exclusively in analogue. “I love the printed matter… Digital is very important, but for me, We make work to be actually printed, ” he says. “In school, I was known among my friends for always as it reached past the gallery rope to try and touch the paintings. ” This affection for texture translates into images that show a tangible, real Black existence. Skin, hair and fabric flow, creating a good atmosphere that is recognisably Black, safe and warm.

The photographer has also “dabbled” in various studio roles, from makeup to tresses, all to further understand the profession of photography. “I have to be able to communicate in their industry’s language so that we can all work on the same page, ” he admits that. Addy is committed to celebrating Black talent wherever he finds it, applying his attention to detail in all elements. “Respecting and understanding the different assignments creates trust, and once you might have trust, the work just moves, ” he adds. “I always try to create a perfectly chilled, collaborative environment. A secure space. ”

The art we make right now only exists because of individuals living decades before us all, ” he muses. “The Queer art of the 1980s is so impactful because it feels as if [the artist’s] life depended on it. ”

Walking in their footsteps

Despite the recognition at this point being afforded to Dark and Queer artists, Addy understands that his work is not really the first of its kind. “Humans are the most forgetful animals on the planet. They repeat process. The art we help to make now only exists because of people living decades before us, ” he muses. “The Queer art of the 1980s is so impactful since it feels as if [the artist’s] life depended onto it. ”

Aware of the lasting impact associated with HIV/Aids in both the Black and Queer communities, Addy makes work “for people who couldn’t”. Addy’s images benchmark the long histories associated with Black and Queer creativeness, building on the often-overlooked legacies spearheaded by previous generations. He has a wide range of visual and contextual references, drawing on youth experience, a century of style photography, and Black background.

Addy can be lucky to call Andersrum (umgangssprachlich) British photographer Ajamu A and the Ghanaian icon James Barnor (whom he playfully calls “Grandad James”) his friends. In Feeling Seen , he or she includes two “love letters”. The first is to Ajamu X, thanking him for introducing the way for Black Andersrum (umgangssprachlich) photographers. The second is for Barnor, an inspiration, teacher plus friend. “[Barnor] and my father are both in the Ga tribe, ” Addy explains. “I remember conference him before the book has been even an idea, and he forced me to exhibit, exhibit, exhibit… I am blessed to be able to learn from these idols while they may be still here, and give all of them the flowers that they deserve. ”

Despite the clear vision behind Feeling Seen , when Addy was first contacted by the publisher Prestel to produce a book, he was unsure of what to include. “I went to Ajamu’s studio plus asked him what he or she thought, and he told me I’d been making the guide all along, ” he says. “The stuff I chance five years ago, and the things I just did, it all reflects me. Those before us planted the trees, and bear the fruit for those who arrive next, ” he provides.

Feeling Seen is the book I desire I could have found in that school library when I was sixteen. When I was that age, I desired to see myself. I wanted to see Blackness and Queerness, but I didn’t have the language to articulate it, ” he reflects. “And i have visibility, I just want humanity. If I had noticed Black photographers at sixteen, maybe it wouldn’t took as long to realise I possibly could do it too. ”

Feeling Seen is published by Prestel in the UK in April, priced £40, and in the US in June, priced $55.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he or she studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.

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