The advertising industry in the UK still has a long way to go when it comes to representing and promoting women of colour. But Big Buoy EP Stacia Akaba was keen to shine a light on those fizzing, talented women who are forging ahead, building careers in spite of the stats. Together with renowned photographer Uzo Oleh, she’s created a photographic celebration of those the pair describe as ‘the innovators. The reformers. The generators’.
Generators launches at Big Buoy on March 11 – but ahead of the launch LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Stacia to find out more about the project.
LBB> How long had you been toying with the idea of Generators? Was it something that came suddenly and you acted on or was it something you had been mulling in the back of your mind for a while?
Stacia> Funnily enough The Generators started back in October last year. It was Black History month and I was trying to think of a way for us to celebrate the month here at Big Buoy. After brainstorming and toying with a few ideas I decided to turn my focus to women, more precisely the women of colour in Advertising, so it was decided International Women’s Day was the perfect time to introduce The Generators.
LBB> How did the collaboration with Uzo come about? Have you worked together before?
Stacia> Once I had decided I wanted to create an all-female, all melanin shoot it was important that I found the perfect photographer to capture these images. Being a fan of Uzo’s incredible work and after proposing my idea to him one Soho evening, the stars aligned and we set up a photographic studio in a suite at Big Buoy the following week. I first met Uzo back in 2016 whilst he was working with one of Big Buoy Editors, Matthew Felstead where a project took them across the other side of the world, with them spending the best part of a month in China.
LBB>Why did you choose to call the project Generators?
Stacia> We were firing names back and forth when Uzo said The Generators. It worked so well as generators produce change, there has been a change and this is a celebration of that change. Generators create power in new places - they are a new generation.
LBB> Tell me about the women featured in the project - who are they and what is it about them you find inspiring?
Stacia> I chose a mix of talented and successful women, from various corners of creative media, culture & advertising backgrounds. It wasn’t just about selecting women in senior roles, I wanted to capture women in different stages of their career. The line-up includes: Nana Bempha, co-founder of POCC (People of Culture Collective), Laura Cairney-Keize, Editor @ MSE Editors and Caroline Jemirifo, Assistant Producer @ Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO Agency
LBB> Creatively how did you approach each of the portraits?
Stacia> The purpose was to capture each woman’s story, a snippet of her journey. Women who all share at least two things in common (they are female and of colour). Uzo and I sat and spoke with each of them whilst shooting - about various things: life achievements, work etc. Each portrait was captured on the back of a telling sentence!
LBB> And what are your best memories of making the series?
Stacia> We shot the portraits over the best part of a day and by the end of it we were all buzzing. It was an amazing thing to witness, a huddle of women seated in the Big Buoy reception, some meeting each other for the first time, others finally putting a face to a name each overjoyed to be part of such a project. That for me was a highlight for sure.
LBB> When you entered the industry you said there were so few other black women around and certainly not in senior roles. What was that experience like and how did it make you think about your own career?
Stacia> It was not something that bothered me, it was just a clear observation. I’ve worked with multitudes of ad agencies and production companies and would look around and not see someone the same as me. I remember thinking how the majority of my peers and colleagues had moved to London from all over the UK. I wasn’t white or middle class, but I was (and am!) a Londoner, so it was important to me to forge a career path that allowed me to remain my authentic self, whilst representing an underrepresented part of our media industry.
LBB> And now you're in a senior role, what are your thoughts about how the industry and industry leaders can open things up and make the place more attractive for and supportive of female talent, especially women of colour?
Stacia> We’re making moves in the right direction, female talent is being championed and adding diversity into the mix allows not just diversity through race or backgrounds, but also adds a diversity of thinking. Diversity of thoughts and experiences. This combined with talent and skillset will mean we can shape and build the future of this industry.
LBB> What message do you hope people will take from the exhibition?
Stacia> I hope people leaving the exhibition leave with a sense of pride. It’s important to me that I shine a light on (some of) a growing number of women in the advertising industry. A number that is growing and seeing with different shades and colours from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. These images are strong and powerful, they represent a change that has already occurred and an indication of what’s to come. If a few people looked and these and took inspiration from them I’d be happy!
‘GENERATORS’ is on display at Big Buoy (1-5 Poland Street, London W1F 8PR) and will formally launch on March 11. For guest list contact: firstname.lastname@example.org