Photographer and independent publisher Campbell Addy was born into a British-Ghanaian family in New Addington, a satellite town near Croydon. “Like a lot of my peers,” Campbell tells me, “I come from a interesting place of belonging: we’re neither here nor there when it comes to our connection to places. In the UK I am ‘black’ British or ‘African black’ British, yet in Ghana I am British, so it’s an interesting take on the world when you start tapping into the wealth of culture you’ve inherited by simply being born in a different country to your family.”
The gulf between those cultures is vast. “I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and due to reasons surrounding my sexuality I left the religion,” Campbell explains. “So a lot of my work revolves around discovering the world outside the organisation.”
It wasn’t until his late teens that Campbell became interested in photography. “I’d say I’ve always been into image-making. At first, my love for image-making manifested itself through drawings, leading to paintings, but it wasn’t until my late teens that I started to take a serious interest in photography. During my first year at sixth form I’d often be reprimanded for my tardiness with detentions and during one of them I was asked to clear out the library to make room for the new photography department. That was when I discovered great photographers such as Nick Knight, Irving Penn and Richard Alvedon. I was instantly hooked.”
While finishing his BA in Fashion Promotion and Communication at Central St Martins in London, Campbell has created Nii, a project which he says offers “glimpses into my psyche”. Nii, which encompasses Nii Agency, a casting agency which addresses the lack of diversity in modelling by casting exclusively black boys, and Niijournal, a publication which uses writing and photography to look at sex, religion, racial and cultural identities in the — often unrepresentative — worlds of fashion and art. Among the magazine’s contributors are London documentary photographer Adama Jalloh, NY-based artist Devin M Morris and fellow Londoner and stylist Ibrahim Kamara.
The Nii slogan, “here to educate, not irritate”, could double as Campbell’s personal motto. “The slogan came about while talking to a friend of mine about issues surrounding black lives.” Campbell says. “At the time I was writing my dissertation on the representation of the British black male, so I was living in a world of quotes and historical moments. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about but I went off on a tangent based on my new acquired knowledge, a bit like how a child who’s just learned to tie their shoes ties everything in sight… But it dawned on me when seeing how annoyed some people would become: I’m not here to irritate you, I’m excited with the new found knowledge I’ve gained and I want to share it with you. I believe the only way we can progress is if we are all on the same page. I wanted to educate not irritate.”
As the post-graduation dust settles, Campbell shows no signs of the “tardiness” that got him into trouble — and photography — in sixth form: “I plan to get my routine back, work more, shoot more and explore more mediums to express my ideas through along side photography.” As well producing images for clients including Vogue Korea, Vogue Italia, Selfridges, Dr Martens and Showstudio, Campbell continues to work on all aspects of Nii. The second issue of Niijournal is underway and due to be published next year, this time with a greater focus on black females.