Industry Insights: Gia Goodrich on advertising, activism and representation

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In collaboration with Direct Digital – the leading international photographic equipment rental facility – 1854 Media introduces Industry Insights, a series which delves into the ins and outs of the commercial photography industry

Gia Goodrich’s practice is built around authentic representation — when brands want to do better, they come knocking. Here, she discusses how to market yourself and make an impact

Gia Goodrich is not your typical commercial photographer. She’s not white, straight or male; she’s vocal about her ADHD. She never trained in photography, nor did she take the traditional assisting route. And after 15 years in the industry, she’s learnt that shrinking herself to fit into pre-existing spaces isn’t an option. She has to carve out her own. 

With a practice rooted in authentic representation, the Portland-based photographer’s portfolio bursts with defiant celebrations of queer love, trans identity, plus-sized bodies and rich Black skin. Diversity is her driving force, and her adeptness in communicating this to the world has snagged the attention of clients including Nike, Adidas and Pandora.

“I personally know how fucked up the beauty standards of the 90s, the 2000s, the 2010s were, and the toll they took on my psyche and my ability to love myself,” says Goodrich, speaking over Zoom. Growing up as a gay, mixed-Black woman, she never saw herself or her body reflected in the media, and she developed an acute eating disorder in partial response. “It took a lot of work to realise I had to dismantle this for myself, and then continue that work through the images I create.”

Needless to say the last decade has seen representation in mainstream imagery improve, but a reflection of that diversity behind the camera is still severely lacking. This means a far greater risk of tokenism, fetishising or misrepresenting marginalised identities in campaigns — which is what Goodrich seeks to redress.

“I make portraits that can help brands communicate and connect, but they’re about diversity; they’re about representation. This is my superpower”

© Gia Goodrich.

Though she resisted it for years, “picking a lane” is what Goodrich cites at the core of her success. “I make portraits that can help brands communicate and connect, but they’re about diversity; they’re about representation. This is my superpower,” she says.

So, once you’ve picked your lane, how do you become successful in it? “It’s about coming out from behind the camera,” she says. “Creating context for your work. The who, the why, the how.” Alongside more obvious methods, like social media, Goodrich has spent years connecting with agencies and generating exposure for herself using innovative techniques. Take Portland’s Design Week, an annual events programme which attracts brand executives and agency representatives from a range of creative industries: instead of simply networking, or finding a way to showcase her work, “I built a digital experience,” she says. “I taught a class called ‘Amplified or Tokenised? Creating Meaningful Campaigns’.” In other words, Goodrich devised something of real value that demonstrated her expertise in a specific space. “If I was starting out right now, I’d probably start a podcast,” she adds — to strengthen that self brand, while building industry connections with guests along the way.

Goodrich maintains that establishing oneself as an authority on something, or as the answer to an industry blindspot, can help tip the power balance in a photographer’s favour. Commercial relationships, particularly with bigger brands, are prone to being one-sided, where the client has the money, the prestige, and a wealth of photographers to choose from. By contrast, “what I really try to do,” says Goodrich, “is create a context and an awareness of who I am and what I know so that we’re either on the same level, or I’m teaching them something.” Aside from benefitting her professionally, the trust Goodrich builds allows her to coax brands out of their comfort zones: such as pushing high-end lingerie brands to diversify their models; featuring trans dad James Barnes on a billboard for a 2020 Portland Art Museum campaign, or alerting Adidas to the fact they were lacking a key queer identity category in the influencer lineup for their 2019 Pride #LoveUnites campaign.

Goodrich’s experience in the industry is proof of the imperative for diverse perspectives behind the camera. She recalls turning up on that same Adidas set, where five out of six of the influencers in shot were people of colour — a “fabulous ratio that was not at all reflected in the crew.” When one influencer spoke out about the disparity, another disagreed with their manner of confrontation, and an altercation ensued. “I was able to navigate and negotiate that between them,” Goodrich says, “and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have my cultural background.” She reminded the pair that they were both showing up in valid ways, because “the world needs all types. We need people who will throw rocks through the window and smash things. And we need people who will build bridges, and lead with empathy and go in softer.” The same ethos applies, she suggests, when confronting systemic inequality in the industry as a whole. 

Photographers like Goodrich can’t rectify the industry alone. Since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted around the world in 2020, so did sweeping statements from brands about solidarity, or “doing better”, often without mention of tangible steps for change. During Pride month, brands flock toward LGBTQ-themed campaigns, without thinking to put queer people behind the camera. Is it all performative? Goodrich is less cynical. She’s a firm believer in the power of good intention. But it’s a learning curve, and there’s a lot more work to be done.

Adidas Love Unites Pride Campaign 2019 © Gia Goodrich.
© Gia Goodrich.

“Usually with the timetables of brand projects, they’re in this holding pattern and then suddenly it’s go time, and everything starts happening really fast,” she says. Crew sheets need to be filled quickly, so people default to who they’ve worked with before, and who they’re comfortable with — meaning the same identities are represented again and again. By contrast, Goodrich is perpetually seeking out connections with new and diverse collaborators, so that when it’s go-time, the relationship already exists. “It’s incumbent upon individuals who are acting within these systems to do it on their own time,” she says. “Somebody who’s continually booking a crew of 50 can be and should be doing that same thing to make sure we aren’t just repeating these patterns.”

So what three things can photographers take away from Gia Goodrich’s philosophy to garner attention from brands in 2021? Be visible; find your “thing” and speak to it all the time. Be creative in how you reach out to people. And turn your imposter syndrome into a positive driving force, because it’s not going away. As for where brands should be going next: “I would love to see more brands collaborating with experienced art directors — people who have been in the industry a long time — and then rolling the dice and bringing in new talent to actually create the thing,” she says. “To me, that seems like the sweet spot of meaningfully creating the inclusion and diversity and representation that we really want to see, while mitigating the risk in someone who doesn’t have the experience.”
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© Gia Goodrich.
Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.