The entertainment and creative industries are in the midst of a sea change. Even before the events of this year, streaming services had risen in popularity, prestige TV shows were given the budgets previously reserved for blockbuster movies, and creators had gained widespread recognition on new, non-traditional forms of media. In order to get a firsthand look at these changes, we asked some of those young thought-leaders and creators to discuss the current state of their industry and what they see as new, game-changing work — all in partnership with HBO Max, which encourages bold, entertaining, and passionate approaches to creating content. For this article, we chatted with Christian Cody, a photographer and director based in Brooklyn. Cody, 27, told us about his journey to becoming confident in his art, fine-tuning his creative process, where he looks for inspiration, and what gives him hope for the future.
Cody has photographed celebrities and notable politicians for prestigious magazines — and even started his own production company this year — but his creative journey began in his Georgia high school. He began taking casual photos of his friends, and eventually had to “prove [himself] to be serious about” the craft so that his parents would help him purchase a high-quality digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. “I think that was the real spark of inspiration towards going towards art,” he says. “Because I was playing sports and stuff at that time, and I was like, ‘This isn’t for me.’ And then when I landed in [photography], I just ran with it.” After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design, he moved to New York City (he calls his relationship with the city “a love story”) and now spends his time between Brooklyn and Georgia, working on both personal and professional photography and videography work.
Finding a Vision
Cody finds inspiration for his creative projects from other people — whether it’s the people he works with on set, his fellow creatives, or the three roommates in his Brooklyn apartment. “I think that when I first started, I had to bridge the gap between doing everything on my own and finding a community of people who could be a part,” he says. He uses mood boards and flips through fashion magazines when he’s starting to plan out a new shoot: “Sometimes I’m thinking of something that I haven’t quite seen, but of course I’m pulling references to get me and the other creatives in sync about what we could create in that space.”
He also gets inspired through pop culture — in the music, films, and television shows he’s loving right now. He listens to jazz and house music to spark “a heartbeat of creativity,” watches documentaries on his heroes (famous photographers and editors of fashion magazines), and binges “game-changing” shows like the recent HBO series Lovecraft Country, also available on HBO Max. “I would say the work that’s been done in film, like Lovecraft Country…I think that some of the visuals from that show, and some of the language, the history behind it, but also this fantasy,” he says. “I feel like that’s something new and fresh that we haven’t seen, and I think that’s a game-changer.”
More than anything, though, Cody says he’s constantly inspired “by the work” and by his colleagues and other photographers — especially in the ways they’ve adapted during this difficult year. “What I’ve found game-changing has been our ability to adapt to our surroundings,” he says. “The magnitude of just great work that’s coming out of this generation of artists, that I’ve just been fortunate to be a part of and to grow up in, and to be reflected by.”
Being “In the Room”
Feeling reflected in his colleagues and in the artists he admires is an important part of Cody’s confidence in his work, especially as he works to “push and expand the narrative of Black imagery in media and fashion.” He points out that more people who look like him are now “in the room,” whether it be a writers’ room for a TV show, a marketing team working on a fashion campaign, or a group of creatives teaming up for a photoshoot. “When I got started, there wasn’t any representation that I could see,” he says. “I think that the door has been opened towards accepting so many more of those nuances, so many more of those talents, so many more of those creatives, so many more Black models. Those are the things that I can see, that are changing. It’s really just a difference between not being in the room and entering into the room.”
Cody cites the advent of social media, especially photo- and video-based apps, as an equalizer. “Around that time [of seeing more representation in the industry], I feel like social media started to advance,” he says. “And from there, I was able to witness other Black, young photographers.” Through social media, he’s watched himself and the people that he met early in his career find success, saying: “We started by uploading our test shoots onto Instagram…and [now] I’m seeing the same people uploading images of their work in Times Square and magazine covers.”
Exploring New Technologies
New mediums, like the social media apps Cody mentions and streaming platforms like HBO Max, have signaled a change in creative industries and the entertainment industry in particular. As a director and filmmaker (he recently directed a short film), Cody recognizes this shift. “I think that we are responding to the moving frame a lot more now,” he says. “I think that’s what has our attention…short clips that people can really get invested in. I’ve seen that take off. The idea of viral video is something that is [significant] to this time period.” But Cody is also quick to recognize the harmful effects of social media, as well. “A lot more data is exchanged now, and I do think that sometimes we can become over-inundated with data and media.”
However, social media has also opened up new doors for creators — especially those who might not have had access to filmmaking or photography technologies without it. There are high-schoolers making 30-second short films on apps, posting impeccably curated photos on social media, exercising their creativity in these easily accessible mediums. Plus, social media has encouraged a community of creators. Now, more than ever before, we’re able to see what other people are working on, and what’s inspiring them. “It’s allowed us to become a lot more in sync, and a lot of us are aware of what the trends are, what the current events are, what the news is, how we’re all feeling as a community,” Cody says.
Moving ahead, Cody looks forward to seeing the continuation of what these new technologies can bring, and he’s optimistic about seeing more representation in his industries. But most importantly, he thinks that our complicated times have helped creatives like himself (and those working in other artistic or entertainment industries) become more adaptable and flexible — and he also sees a wider, society-wide shift led by those artists and entertainment professionals. “Our ability to adapt, our ability to make mistakes and make corrections as a culture [is what gives me hope],” he says. “I think a lot of the time, many of us weren’t stopping to think about what was going on with someone outside of our community or someone that we didn’t know. We weren’t really stopping to think about those things, but now…everyone has sat down to realize, ‘Okay. What are the things that are failing us right now? What are the things that aren’t working?’”
Overall, the adaptability of the creative and entertainment industries is what gives Cody the most hope for the future — for whatever the next year and the year after that brings. “As an industry, I think that our ability to adapt, to move forward, to be creative — that gives me hope,” he says. “Our abilities to just make the best out of the cards that we’re dealt.”
Embrace your creativity, and sign up for HBO Max today.