IN CONVERSATION WITH: CAMPBELL ADDYAugust 23, 2016
British-Ghanaian photographer, Campbell Addy is a CSM graduate and founder of his own casting and modeling agency – Nii Agency – that champions inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry.
We catch up with him about seeking inspiration from his role models, getting to grips with being the boss and the nuances of character that make a subject compelling.
Can you tell us a little about your story so far and how you came to open your own agency?
I’m of Ghanaian decent and grew up just outside of Croydon in a town called New Addington. From a young age both my brother and I were artistically inclined, him more so than myself. During the latter part of my teens I found a love for photography. Like a lot of photographers we started out drawing or painting and found that we could realise our ideas a lot quicker via the medium of photography. I loved to take photographs of my friends and people I came across in life. More often than not these people are the sole inspiration for my editorial work, so it was a no brainer when I started to cast my own models for my shoots. It was only during my last year at Central Saint Martins that I started to think seriously about the kind work I am creating, from the narratives to the people featured. Nii Agency was born from my project Niijournal, a printed publication which deals with race and sexuality.
Within Niijournal I wanted to represent myself. I wanted the 13-year-old me who started out in photography to be able to relate to the work being produced in the journal. The flip side to that was that I also wanted to see me inside those magazines, hence why I created Nii Agency. I wanted to represent people like me, as well as a diverse range of people. For me diversity doesn’t begin and end at race, there’s a lot more to it.
Can you tell us a little about your experiences at CSM and what important lessons you took away from your time there?
My experience at CSM was interesting to say the least. It was an emotional rollercoaster that really opened up my eyes to the world. I come from a small(ish) town and many of my friends rarely left the Croydon area let alone the UK, so coming to a creative place such as CSM where there are people from many walks of life really changed my life. At first it was daunting because meeting all these different people made me realise how little of the world I had seen, but I was greeted by a great group of friends who really showed me the joys of being international and learning about different cultures. The most important lesson I took from CSM was to utilise the opportunities given to you, for many of us are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing talent and possibilities that we often take it for granted.
How would you describe the ethos of your agency, Nii?
The ethos is to be inclusive; it’s to be a platform that’s real and honest in all its endeavours. Like the slogan written on the back of Niijournal, ‘Here to educate, not irritate’ – that’s it really. I just want the work of Nii to whisper quietly and reach the minds of other like-minded individuals and encourage them to take a stand in whatever form it may be.
What sort of things do you look for when casting a new model? What makes a subject compelling for you?
Oh, that’s very tricky. For me it’s the nuances of a human being that really draws me in. From the way some features complement, or even when they don’t, that can make for an interesting face. For example, there is one model, King who has such an innocence about him that is so compelling, but when he’s in front of the camera it’s like a transformation because this air of adolescence leaves him and he becomes whoever you ask him to be.
How do you hope to challenge and change perceptions of diversity in casting through your work?
I want to shine light on people and faces that wouldn’t necessarily get the exposure. I hope to make people think twice at what a beautiful/interesting face can be. I’m a lover of oddness, which some people may not see as attractive, but for me it really makes a person. Overall I just want people to see that diversity is a multitude of things and that they too are attractive.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge so far would have to be the relationships. A lot of the boys on the agency are my peers, some of whom are older than me. Being assertive and being a boss isn’t something I am used to, so it’s been tricky haven’t to establish certain barriers with the models. However, I am really lucky as my partner, Jawara Allyene, is very assertive and has pervious experience within modelling agencies.
Who and/or what inspires your work?
My biggest source of inspiration for me and my work is my little sister and my culture. I look at her and I hope that one day she will have the confidence I didn’t have growing up. We look at our culture and we subvert it, we create work that works for us not for the masses. Alongside my peers I am inspired by the greats in all creative fields from Nina Simone to Gordon Parks; it’s more so their attitudes to life and how they overcame their short comings to become leaders in their field.
I’m often listening to music and creating storyboards for ideas, some not necessarily photographic ideas but ideas nonetheless. I look at the world around me a lot, as I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and there was such an emphasis placed on them and us, them being people of the world that I often felt as if I was watching animals in the zoo. However, now I am fully able to take part in world affairs and experience life, so I want to make sure I’m involved and commenting on issues that are surrounding me.
What experiences over the past few years do you think have most affected your creative development?
Having to leave my family and life behind due to my homosexuality really affected me. For the first time in my life aged 17, I was surrounded by people I didn’t have to lie to and by people who were truly interested in me and the work I wanted to create. Despite not being surrounded by my loved ones and family, I was able to place the energy I’d usually use for studying the bible and leading a double life, to simply focusing on being a teenage boy wishing to learn and develop. This newfound confidence came with me as I progressed through life.
Another life changing experience happened last year when I went to Ghana to visit my family, some of whom haven’t seen me since I was 13. It gave me time to reflect and look at life at a slower pace than London. I’d say I fell in love with photography again during that trip.
What do you hope to achieve next in 2016? Beyond?
This year I hope to continue to make great work and collaborate with new artists. I hope to start work on the second issue of Niijournal and to possibly get signed, who knows. One thing’s for sure, I am happiest taking pictures. If I can do that for the rest of my life and live, I’m fine with that.
Words to live by?
If you make it an issue, it’ll become an issue.
Living not surviving.