Campbell Addy, the multitalented photographer and founder of Nii modelling agency, tells us how he’s remastering PoC representation in the industry, as part of our Levi’s 501 Skinny seriesLevi’s: Introducing the new 501 Skinny
Campbell Addy graduated from CSM not even a year ago, but already the talented London-based photographer has curated his first solo exhibition this month and also established himself as the founder of a magazine and modelling agency remastering the authentic representation of talented PoC. Niijournal and Nii agency are a breath of fresh air in an industry that so often gets inclusivity wrong – falling into tokenism, or even failing to address it in the first place. But things are getting better, thanks to his work trying to provide a platform for these models to be valued as their well-rounded and authentic selves – Nii talents are cropping everywhere now, making the rounds and bringing some much-needed respite from the usual suspects that flood our Instagram feeds when it’s fashion month. Whether it’s runways in Milan for established brands like Marni, or supporting fellow up-and-coming design talents like Art School, Molly Goddard and Charles Jeffrey, Addy’s agency is changing the fashion game for the better. In this way, he has long been remastering what’s classic in the same way as the new Levi’s 501 Skinny – so, obviously, we approached him to be a part of our current series with the brand, commissioned to celebrate just these kinds of people. Here, the multihyphenate creative breaks down how he’s remastered the modelling world and how you can too.
LOOK FURTHER THAN SKIN-DEEP
Nii agency grew out of a very real lack of diverse representation Addy could already feel in the industry he was just starting out in. A keen observer and admitted people-watcher (“I stare at people all the time,”) the photographer has been consistently praised for the strength of casting in his portrait-driven work. From friends like Ibrahim Kamara or intriguing strangers on the street, Addy builds his projects around genuinely interesting people with a depth so often overlooked in an industry as image-based as fashion. Wanting to reflect this in a dedicated agency for those excluded from existing spaces based solely on problematic non-excuses of “(having) one of (them) already,” he created Nii. Nii is all about well-rounded diversity – not just featuring models of many colours but also of many talents – showcased in the site’s Nii stories section.
“It’s my first venture into anything. I’ve never done something like this before... So I think I’m allowed to make mistakes in the beginning” – Campbell Addy
MAKE SURE IT’S COMING FROM SOMEWHERE AUTHENTIC
This was an organic development of ideas for Addy, who created Niijournal first as his response to seeing the very real power and need for the Black Lives Matter movement himself on a trip to New York. Founded with the express intent to ‘educate, not irritate’ while celebrating those PoC usually missing from mainstream media, the mag and Campbell’s quiet revolution stand in stark contrast to the often brash – sometimes well-meaning, but ultimately misguided – ‘diversity’ covers and branded ‘activism’ of big media. For this message to really land, the photographer says stick to reflecting what’s around you, rather than turning people into ‘trends’. “The people who are commissioning the work have no affiliation with what they’re trying to push,” he explains, “It’s like me shooting skinhead eastern Europeans, just because that's a ‘trend’ somewhere – that would be really disingenuous of me.”
DON’T FORGET THE BUSINESS SIDE
“I wish I’d known what business meant!” Addy laughs when asked what he wished he’d known when he first started Nii. “I had no concept of what it meant to own a business,” he continued – “I just wish I had a bit more foresight and a business plan to get me off the ground.” Not that this has affected the growth of Nii at all, though. From its humble beginnings, the agency that Addy had been convinced “no one (would want to) sign with” now has 55 signed talents with some like model/illustrator, King Owusu, even starring in Alexander McQueen lookbooks. The fact of the matter is that Nii didn’t start out with a commercial incentive but now that it’s growing, Addy is learning the value of opportunity – making sure he can expand it and give his talents the international platform they deserve, self-funding through contributions from his personal photography projects.
BE WILLING TO LEARN & GROW ON THE JOB
Not everything can be planned for, though, and Addy himself thinks “that’s crucial to being an independent artist.” Someone who believes wholeheartedly in the idea that the only way to learn, is to do, this attitude has served him well in everything he’s done so far. “It’s my first venture into anything. I’ve never done something like this before – I’ve always worked for someone. So I think I’m allowed to make mistakes in the beginning.” Too often, Addy feels, people are held back by this hesitation of thinking about all the things that could go wrong: “I’ve learnt a lot that I probably wouldn’t have learnt if I had sat down and planned all that...just going out into the lion’s pit from CSM.” “The CSM do-it-yourself mentality – that’s what we’ve all taken further,” he says, recalling how they once blagged their way into a Givenchy show in Paris. “It’s that push-the-door attitude that I think every graduate should have.”
HAVE A VISION & RUN WITH IT
Campbell Addy could be the poster boy for self-actualisation. He wanted to create a deeply thoughtful magazine exploring all aspects of PoC experience – he did. Then, noticing the lack of official representation for the people he was casting, he made an agency specifically for them to address the issue. Contrary to perception though, these didn’t just materialize overnight. They’re the result of all the applied lessons in hard grafting he learned having to scam resources and studio access on his course. The way he sees it, “You’re just like, I need to get there – how are you going to get there? Your sort of have to decide and figure out a way that’s not all just the same path everyone else goes on.” When you’ve done that? “You see any spaces or opening (for it) – run!”