campbell addy is putting race and sexuality at the forefront of fashion
The young image maker's work turns difficult conversations about race, sexuality, and the body, into stunning photographic documents.
What's in a hyphen? A little grammatical dash that represents a combined meaning has many a use, but for Campbell Addy, it provokes something a lot more definitive. Raised by his British mother and Ghanaian father in the UK, the hyphen became a symbol that brought together these two nationalities under the term Black-British. His latest work — a publication called Niijournal that he envisioned while studying at Central Saint Martins — examines the complexities of racial identity and the struggles that are so often overlooked within the Western media.
Titled after one of his middle names, ("I never use my middle names, mainly because I was ridiculed for the complexity of them as a child") Niijournal acts as an autobiographical reflection of Campbell's own grappling with identity, growing up between two opposing cultures. "I remember being very young and not resonating with the term Black-British. My family is very loving but hold tight to their African culture and heritage; when I very young I was predominantly exposed to African culture as opposed to British culture," he explains. Featuring a series of photographs, straight ups, and essays, the publication spans some difficult topics — from the concept of role models to the current campaign for #BlackLivesMatter.
Inspired by the work of the Buffalo movement — Campbell worked alongside the likes of Jamie Morgan and the late Barry Kamen — whose merging of creative cultures is responsible for some of the most iconic looks and images from the last two decades. "Working with Jamie was a very interesting experience for me," Campbell explains. "I wasn't used to working one-on-one with a person for starters, and I wasn't used to working in such an informal manner. By informal I mean in his apartment, meeting his wife and kid; it was great as I was able to relax and view work as life as opposed to clocking in and clocking out. I resonated with the feeling of having your friends in the industry and growing with them, and I am lucky and blessed to have very close friends who are working and doing great things."
Campbell's work led to the formation of Nii Agency, a casting and modeling agency based out of London that caters for the need for diversity within the fashion industry. Recently, the inclusion of black models in shows and editorials has been questioned as it can so often feel like a tick-boxing exercise, rather than a genuine portrayal of racial multeity. Earlier this year, the industry sat up to the topic following Yeezy model Ashley Chew's daubing of her black leather tote with the words "Black Models Matter."
"People of color are often told we're exaggerating," Campbell says. "But what people seem to forget is that they don't live in fear. I have been a victim of racism, violence, verbal abuse, and more. When I was in my teens I was chased by a group of middle aged white guys in a Ford Escort, purely because they deem a 14-year-old boy to be threatening."
Last week, the topic became center stage in the world's media following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by two American police officers in Baton Rouge. His death provoked a wave of protests, most recently at the weekend in London with thousands in peaceful attendance on Oxford Street. Campbell reflects in Niijournal of his own experiences with #BlackLivesMatter upon arriving once in Brooklyn. "As S.W.A.T cars drove by in seemingly calm neighborhoods," he wrote, "I realized the day-to-day battle African Americans have to face is unbearable."
"I wept for The Sterling family because as a people we know how it feels," he says, now. "We can remember all the times we were 'lucky' to have survived. Just like the model Ajak Deng professed in her recent Instagram videos, it's a hard life when you feel alone and have no one who can relate to your experience. When the world prayed for Paris it was because the Western world could relate, it could sympathize with the atrocities that befell the French people. But when it comes to black lives they can't imagine, they can't feel the pain we feel. That's why the Black Lives Matter movement started. When people say all lives matter, it aggravates me because they've missed the whole point."
Niijournal provides a vital space where tension so frequently directed towards the black community is extinguished — instead presenting an honest and eye-opening vision. Following the recent E.U Referendum, racial hate crimes have risen by an astonishing 57%. Campbell's work shows that, despite division, there can be real beauty found in unison and perhaps a time when a hyphen can be absolved from all its shackles. Speaking of his role models Gordon Parks, Nina Simone, Frida Kahlo, and Amy Winehouse, Campbell explains how their work did just that: "I love their raw connection to their emotions, to how they infiltrated a system that would usually shun them due to the color of their skin, and for having the courage to not be a commercial success for the issues that plague your mind."
"All in all I love their honesty to their craft and I hope to carry that with me in the work I create."
Text Greg French
All images courtesy Campbell Addy