D&AD Meets is a regular series where we elevate the work of need-to-know creatives. In a new season of interviews by Shannie Mears, we are dedicating this space to exploring the work of emerging Black and POC creatives, focusing on their stories, successes, and talent.
Shannie Mears is Co-Founder and Head of Talent at The Elephant Room, an agency working directly to address advertising's lack of diversity and inclusion. She also runs Girls, Let's Talk, a platform and collective dedicated to creating safe spaces for women. Here, she speaks with Shenell Kennedy about her photography, influences and how she stays motivated to keep creating.
Who is Shenell Kennedy?
I am an 18 year old creative based in London. I mainly do fashion and portrait photography but I also do Social Media Management, content creation and graphic design too, but photography is definitely my main passion.
How did you first find photography?
I honestly fell into photography by accident. I got my first camera when I was 14 because I wanted to start a YouTube channel and I got lost in camera YouTube trying to learn how to use it. I found channels like Jessica Kobeissi and Jessica Whitaker who do fashion and portrait photography and thought - hm this looks fun! I ended up taking photos of my best friend at the time all the time - I’d literally meet up with her just to take photos around her area like in the forest or sometimes even on the train. At the time, I literally just took my camera with me everywhere and took photos of anything I could. I then built up my interest from there. I was going to church at the time and someone I met through church introduced me to the founder of Kahmune - I started shooting for them, I met a model at one of their shoots and then we did a test shoot together and then I just started messaging models, stylists, mua’s etc to work with me and built up a portfolio. Honestly I’d say I got to where I am now by saying yes to literally everything that came my way and meeting and working with so many amazing people!
When did you first know that you were going to do a creative career?
It sounds very cliché but I feel like a part of me always knew. I’ve never really had an urge to have a job that wasn’t creative in some way. At first I wanted to be a journalist because I wanted to be able to travel and meet people and share / tell their stories, and then I wanted to be a graphic designer, and then I fell into photography and realised that this is definitely something I want to do for a long time. Writing this now I guess it all came full circle because in a way photography is journalism but with imagery. It’s fulfilling, fun and impactful and the fact that I can have a job like that is honestly amazing to me.
How did you know this was a passion of yours you wanted to pursue?
I don’t think I can even pinpoint a specific time where I had the first thought that I want to actively pursue photography. I just loved doing it so much that I always did it. I love shooting, coming up with concepts and seeing them come to life - I just wanted to - and still do - shoot all the time - so that’s what I did! I kept setting up shoots and applying for internships and just trying to learn and grow and that path has basically gotten me here.
Have you ever had any second guesses about being a photographer?
I definitely have. I even sometimes still do. I feel like a lot of creatives struggle with self doubt and I can 100% relate to that. Imposter syndrome is big for me and even sometimes stops me from doing everything that I want to but it’s something I try my best to overcome. Not feeling qualified enough or good enough and questioning whether I’m even that good of a photographer to be trying to turn it into a full on career. But I think just reminding myself that I’m doing something that I genuinely love and I have to be pretty decent to be able to be here, so yeah!
Describe your style in one sentence.
This is hard! Warm and Real. I really love warmth like sunlight and just warm colour grading is my favourite thing ever. And I love to shoot real, authentic people.
Who or What would you say your biggest influences are?
In terms of photographers some of my favourites include Christina Nwabugo, Christina Ebenezer and Ronan Mckenzie. But I’m also personally influenced and inspired by the people around me, their work ethic, experiences, stories, knowledge - all of it! Like Shannie, all the people I work with at GUAP, all my friends, my family, my mum, even strangers who have become friends on social media - it's crazy the amazing community of people I just have access to. I really am surrounded by hardworking and genuine individuals all the time - it’s pretty much impossible for me to just sit back and not chase my dreams when I have so many people around me achieving and doing amazing things.
How does your mood affect your ability to create?
How I feel has such a huge impact on my ability to create. Whenever I’m in a space that won’t necessarily allow my creativity to flow I always like to remind myself that it’s okay and that this period of time will eventually pass. I think we often feel pressure to constantly be churning out work but that can become really mentally and physically draining. So sometimes if I’m not in the mood to create - I simply won’t. However, I know when I am in that space where I feel inspired and I’m excited and devoted to an idea that it’ll be even greater.
Name 3 ways to stay motivated?
Always try to remember why you do what you do and what it is you love about what you do - and do more of that!
Surround yourself with genuine people who will encourage you when you need it most. It’s definitely impossible to do this alone so the circle you keep contributes massively to your work ethic. Knowing that you have people who are rooting for you, readily available to help you if you need it and vice versa - it’s definitely motivational for me.
Stay inspired. Never stop being open to learning and growing. Whether it be through talking and engaging with people or going to art galleries or just going out. You’re constantly getting an influx of people, spaces, images that can influence your work and motivate you to create.
The one thing you will tell every creative?
I’ve heard this so many times but it’s because it’s so common and so true, but you really can’t compare your journey or your work to others. They really didn’t lie when they said comparison is the thief of joy - you can’t do it for real! It’s definitely human but when you catch yourself in the act just remind yourself that everyone - including you - is on their own path and that’s okay. Especially when you’re first starting out comparing yourself to people who have been in the game for years - shut it out!
Meet more rising creative talent including directors, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists.
D&AD Meets series is for need-to-know creatives. Through New Blood, we offer support for early career creatives. Through this series of content, we are currently running a dedicated program for featured Black and POC creatives who will be introduced to an established creative to help build their network or look at their portfolio. If you want to lend your time to portfolio reviews or a networking meeting please contact us at email@example.com