Tyler the Creator for WSJ Magazine Innovators, 2019
In the first monograph of his work, photographer Campbell Addy is asked by the writer and curator Ekow Eshun why he called the book Feeling Seen. The answer is stark.
“When I was asked to do the book, to be honest, initially, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of being a small fish in the sea that is image-making, and not knowing if anyone wanted to see my work,” says Addy.
“And then I thought back to when I was 16, when I’d left home and had chosen to do photography, and it was because I couldn’t see myself anywhere. So, I knew that if I wanted to see myself, I had to have gumption.”
Naomi Campbell for The Guardian Weekend, 2019
Addy goes on: “As a young Black boy from South London who’s queer and Ghanaian … I thought, well, where do I fit in as an image-maker?” He describes how he left home to study fashion at Central St Martins in London, only to feel at best misunderstood and at worst invisible. “It was very hard to draw on Ghana or music, or anything, without people going, oh, I don’t get it,” he tells Eshun. “But that also lit a fire under me, because it was like, this is my reality, how can you not see it?”
That fire has never gone out. It has fuelled Addy’s rise, powering him to become one of the most prolific photographers of his generation with commissions from such titles as Vogue, the Financial Times, Dazed, WSJ Magazine and Rolling Stone. To help shape the industry from another angle he founded Nii Agency, a modelling and casting company dedicated to representing and celebrating diversity. In 2021 he was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and the British Fashion Awards recognised him in 2018 and 2019.
Addy’s subjects include Naomi Campbell, Tyler the Creator and Kendall Jenner. In 2020 he photographed Edward Enninful, the influential editor-in-chief of British Vogue and European editorial director of Vogue, for the cover of Time magazine. Enninful, who commissioned the first Vogue cover shoot by a Black photographer, describes the impact of Addy’s work in the forward to Feeling Seen.
Shaden Phillips and Rouguy Faye for Luncheon Magazine, 2020
“In the industry, Black image-makers and creatives – from make-up artists to stylists, set designers, editors and, perhaps most importantly, photographers – are hard to find,” writes Enninful. “There are some individuals who have broken through and whose own ideas of what is beautiful have helped to blaze a trail, but I believe this has only begun to shift in any substantial way over the past decade.
“A diversity of perspective is essential in order to create images which may not have otherwise been made. To incorporate visual and cultural references which might have been missed and to ensure we have the most inclusive approach towards beauty available. In taking this approach, we not only lift up those who have historically been overlooked, but we contribute towards a more tolerable society, broaden inclusivity behind and in front of the camera, and through the image we can highlight people who may never have been seen in the pages of Vogue.
‘Engendered’ from the Get Up Stand Up Now! exhibition, Somerset House, London, 2019
“Campbell Addy’s work is at the forefront of this brilliant change. His photography nods to the legacy of the Black image-makers who have inspired him – such as James Barnor and Ajamu X, whose fantastic imagery he pays homage to in this book – while also standing alone as unique.”
While Addy is a little daunted by the mantle he is carrying as a Black, gay, Ghanaian-born photographer, he relishes the thought that his book might make a difference to the lives of others. During a visit to Ghana to shoot some of the images for Feeling Seen, he met a group of young creatives inspired by his work and it dawned on him that his work could offer hope. “That’s why the book is going to be fab, because there’s going to be a 16-year-old me in the library somewhere who will pick up my book and have that sense of, you can do this.”
Adut Akech for i-D Magazine, 2018
Feeling Seen by Campbell Addy is published by Prestel at £39.99