Behind the Lens with Campbell Addy

By Gabrielle Pharms | March 31, 2022

In the March/April Next Wave issue, we took a glimpse inside the creative mind of revered photographer Campbell Addy on the eve of the release of his first monograph, Feeling Seen (out April 26 via Prestel). Here, Addy shares his thoughts on four of his iconic shots of Tyler. The Creator, Naomi Campbell, Billy Porter, and Beyoncé.

See more: Visionary Campbell Addy Gets Candid About Creating Intimacy

Tyler. The Creator

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At that time, I think he just released Igor. It was a very smooth set. It wasn't a lot of people. We spoke a lot about things like me being a Pisces and so is he. I wanted to capture his essence and energy and be like a fly on the wall. I didn’t want it to be too poised. In capturing him, I wanted to make sure he was regal and stunning. I wanted to almost create a respite for him in that space. Creatively, it was like, ‘Let's just create this world that Tyler sits in as opposed to Tyler. The Creator’ and just go off that energy and I really wanted to bounce off it. I think we all respected each other's experiences to where he was able to just be him. I think it's mutual respect. When I’m shooting, I just try to capture in that moment. I want it to be an honest reflection, and I think I did that.

Naomi Campbell

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That was the first shoot I did with Naomi. One thing that she taught me is Naomi is down for anything. She would do these awkward positions and change wigs. She respected me much as I respected her. On that day, I wanted to not do very straight-up standard pictures. It was a very small space, and it wasn't like a big hoo-ha. I kind of wanted the first meeting to be like that small insular. I think a more intimate approach allows both of us to feel more comfortable. It was like capturing that moment and just having a bit more fun with it. We tried different fashions and wigs.

I didn't realize it was the first time she'd been shot by a Black photographer in mainstream fashion for her whole career. Thank god she didn't tell me before because I would have been stressed! I keep my friendship circles very small, just because I'm annoying. It was like shooting a friend as opposed to a superstar. She was down for anything, and it allowed my brain to do what things it needed to do.

Billy Porter

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I believe that one was very emotional to me. Pose changed my relationship with my mom because she grew up in the ‘80s and had a Black gay son. I didn't understand the world she grew up in and how that could have affected her having a queer son. I did not have a lot of older Black people in my vicinity that I could just see myself reflecting on. Meeting Billy, he said he’d always wanted to do a shoot like that. I watched Pose and I looked up his career. He was doing more than just Pose – he was singing too. So, I highlighted the different versions of Billy based on times in his life. He also wore hats. He brought his first hat to the shoot. It wasn't the red feather hat, but he wore a hat to the shoot he bought with his first paycheck, I believe. Billy has such a powerful voice and tenacity over the years he worked. I was like, ‘I have to do this man justice.’

Beyoncé

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From Billy to Beyoncé, I had done a lot of additional work. So, I had a whole idea, and I knew that we were coming up on her birthday. I knew it was going to be for Harper’s Bazaar Icon Issue. I wanted to get into the mind of a woman who's grown up in the public eye and now she’s just had children, coming to a place of settling. My first instinct was Mother Nature, but then also I didn’t want to shoot her in the quintessential Mother Nature world.

With Ivy Park and cowboys, I was recently researching cowboys and the picture of Beyoncé with the horse in her hand was based on cowhands. Cowhands were Black slaves who were given really hard horses to basically break, and a lot of Black slaves would die. So, as I was writing the treatment and I'm looking at my hands and I'm thinking of Beyoncé’s hands and I’m like one of our ancestors survived, so I could exist. And then, it turns into Mother Nature where she comes to a place of peace and growth. I wanted that moment to be throughout the shoot. So, then things like with the floaty dress, everything was about almost like transcendence. She loved the idea. I was very blessed because when I read the idea there was hardly any pushback from anyone.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photography by: Campbell Addy