He’s photographed some of the most famous faces on the planet, his work appearing everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Wall Street Journal, scooping up multiple awards along the way. Now a new monograph, Feeling Seen, captures Campbell Addy’s extraordinary work in one beautiful tome. In an exclusive interview with The Glossary, the Ghanaian-British photographer talks diversity, style and finding inspiration
The title of Campbell Addy’s inaugural monograph, Feeling Seen, has multifarious meaning. When he was 16, the photographer and filmmaker was thrown out of his Jehovah’s Witness family home because of his sexuality. He was, he says in the book, “a young Black boy from South London who’s queer and Ghanaian”, one who “couldn’t see myself anywhere. So, I knew that if I wanted to see myself, I had to have gumption.”
This resourcefulness and spirit paid off. After studying at Central St Martins, Addy is now one of the most in-demand photographers of his generation. He has captured the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner and Tyler, the Creator, his images appearing across the pages of venerated publications from Vogue and Rolling Stone to the Wall Street Journal and TIME. He has exhibited the world over and scooped myriad awards including Forbes 30 under 30, 2021 and British Fashion Awards in both 2018 and 2019.
He has also launched Nii Journal, a biannual arts and culture publication, as well as Nii Agency, a modelling and casting agency dedicated to representing interesting faces and celebrating diversity. Both, Addy tells The Glossary, allowed him “to build a foundation within myself, that reminds me that I am everything that I need in order to create work”. And now, of course, there’s Feeling Seen. “I bounce between feelings of numbness and awe that I actually have a book, and proudness and joy. Because I worked so hard for everything I have.”
Feeling Seen has wider context though, as page after glossy page is filled with Addy’s striking photographic work, its focus on distinctive casting and under-represented faces. “I seek out nuances, in fantasy and in reality, to portray an authentic expression of creativity,” he says when we ask him how he would describe his style. “Above all, I respect my subject and want my subjects to feel at ease. So in essence my photographic style is sensitive, soft, and full of creativity.”
Woven between Addy’s images are quotes from a series of trailblazing Black creatives, including Nadine Ijewere and Naomi Campbell, who are in reflective mood. “The first time I got in front of the camera lens and looked up to see Campbell Addy, I realised something special was happening. There was something in that moment that felt sacred. It occurred to me that this was the first time in my 33-and-a-half-year career at the time, where a Black photographer had shot me for a mainstream publication…” the supermodel explains in the book.
It is, as Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful writes in the foreword, creatives like Addy who are responsible for this shift in diversity and inclusivity. “A diversity of perspective is essential in order to create images which may not have otherwise been made … Campbell Addy’s work is at the forefront of this brilliant change.”
The feeling of respect, it would seem, is mutual. “There are many trailblazers through creative history that have inspired me however three that come to mind includes my dear friend Ibrahim Kamara – the way in which he’s used his life experience duality through cultures and expressed them unapologetically, better inspires me to push my craft and to work in an authentic, creative manner,” Addy tells us.
“Secondly, of course, Edward Enninful, just the sheer grace and tact in how he’s diversified the fashion space especially with Vogue, brings me hope that change is possible. And lastly, The Buffalo Collective. Having worked under Jamie Morgan, it was one of the first times I saw a collective of truly diverse individuals create amazing work, their influence on the fashion world is undeniable.”
But Feeling Seen isn’t just a glowing tribute to the talents of one of photography’s shining stars – nor a recognition of Addy as a groundbreaker who has so beautifully captured the intersection of photography, race, beauty and representation. It’s also the story of someone who has faced a series of personal obstacles – who left home as a teenager, embraced their sexuality and was diagnosed with ADHD. Addy shares this journey in the book, in a conversation with curator and writer Ekow Eshun. “The only advice I’d give my younger self is to believe in myself as an artist more,” Addy concludes to The Glossary. “Your art is valid, go forth and conquer.”
Feeling Seen (Prestel, £39.99) is published on 14 April