Joshua Kissi on True Diversity in Stock Photography — TONL's Take on Equality

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Joshua Kissi’s initial foray into the world of creative culture started at a unique point in time. The fashion forums were a place of digital congregation and represented an era before the emergence of social media as we know it today. The in-depth conversations Joshua engaged in about the underlying aspects of fashion would transcend the forum pages into real-world interactions that resulted in the creative agency Street Etiquette, and more recently, TONL, a modern inclusive stock photography platform that has taken a massive step forward in redefining an old-school industry.

Hosted by Eugene Kan
Audio by Elphick Wo
Photos by Rog Walker

Joshua Kissi’s initial foray into the world of creative culture started at a unique point in time. The fashion forums were a place of digital congregation and represented an era before the emergence of social media as we know it today. The in-depth conversations Joshua engaged in about the underlying aspects of fashion would transcend the forum pages into real-world interactions that resulted in the creative agency Street Etiquette, and more recently, TONL, a modern inclusive stock photography platform that has taken a massive step forward in redefining an old-school industry.

Hosted by Eugene Kan
Audio by Elphick Wo
Photos by Rog Walker

We’re in the midst of something culturally unique. A few decades ago we came online as a culture and society, and only recently were we provided the opportunities to self-document and share our experiences and connect with our peers. Street Etiquette and TONL Co-Founder Joshua Kissi is part of the first wave of digital natives who grew up online.

Dating back to his early years pursuing the forums of HYPEBEAST (which have now shuttered) and superfuture, he recognized early on the power and impact of community across different passions. Fashion may have been his earliest opportunity to connect with like-minded people, but it quickly blossomed into much more. Joshua’s positive views on creative culture, photography and race, became a beacon of hope against the current of vapid content and negativity.

At the intersection of Street Etiquette, a website turned creative agency he co-founded with Travis Gumbs, and TONL, a stock photography platform focused on equality he co-founded with Karen Okonkwo, is an element of positivity and storytelling. In a time when it’s difficult to keep focused in an overwhelming media environment, Joshua embraces a level of honest reality coupled with a pure desire to do things right or do them better.

We spoke with Joshua about his path from being a teen on the forums to starting two creative companies, the newly emerging prospects black creatives see before them, and how TONL is pushing forward.

<p>Joshua Kissi in the studio.</p>

Joshua Kissi in the studio.

<p><em>SHEREN</em> magazine (left) and Raoul Peck&#8217;s <em>I Am Not Your Negro</em>.</p>

SHEREN magazine (left) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro.

I think there needs to be a TONL Brazil, TONL Cuba, TONL South Africa. I think it just needs to be on the highest level possible when it comes to images of diverse people. Whatever the standard is that hasn’t been set as of yet, we want to set that and empower other people to feel like they’re here, they exist, they’re heard, they’re touched, and they’re real.
<p>Joshua Kissi (left) and his close friend and collaborator, Cleon Grey (right).</p>

Joshua Kissi (left) and his close friend and collaborator, Cleon Grey (right).

I’m the type, in order to see what the next step is, sometimes I have to flip the whole table. Just to make sure to see what’s there after the whole chaos. That was truthful, this wasn’t.
<p>Joshua preparing some prints before mailing them off.</p>

Joshua preparing some prints before mailing them off.

The stories go even more into nuances and details to give the right narrative. I think a lot of people are looking for truth in their work and what they do. People don’t want to waste time on the nonsense no more.
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