Arts Q&A: Turner Prize-winning artist Emma Campbell talks about her photography journey, pet hates and favorite gigs
1. When did you think about an artistic career and what were your first steps?
I studied art foundation at the University of Ulster and loved photography so much that I studied documentary in Newport, Wales. I started filming at concerts and worked as a researcher/picture editor for the BBC and newspapers. In London, I built a portfolio photographing concerts, drag queens, music festivals for newspapers and the BBC, and then for the festivals themselves. I came back after about 10 years because I wanted to get back to the social justice side of things, and so here I am 10 years later working on projects that I’m emotionally and politically invested in.
2. The best concerts you attended?
I remember sobbing in unison with Damon Albarn and the crowd singing To the End at Blur’s Glastonbury reunion in 2009 and being moved to tears by Kae Tempest’s People’s Faces a few years ago.
On a more personal note, Amanda Palmer invited Alliance for Choice activists to her concert at Ulster Hall in October 2019 – the day after abortion was decriminalised. She has some really raw and amazing songs about motherhood, sexual abuse, and abortion. My friend Clodagh and I were clinging to each other, moaning and sobbing. We were in pieces.
3.Fantastic wedding/anniversary party band?
4. The record that you would take to a desert island?
There is a West End recording of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar where Alice Cooper is Herod. I love every chord of this blasphemous rock opera, it has a weird big energy.
5. And the book you would take to a desert island?
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children deserves to be read again. I love magical realism, it’s often a more satisfying way to understand the emotional landscape of characters. Although a complete Terry Pratchett anthology will also do the trick.
6. The three best films?
Cabaret, In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s a film about the queer female gaze, about the gaze, about art and it even has an abortion story and witchy undertones. How could I not love him?
7. Worst movie you’ve seen?
My partner likes romantic comedy, but I hate predictable movies. I rarely see anything like myself or my friends or even anything aspirational in them, I also hate gore horror – my photographic memory is too strong – so maybe the Hostel franchise is the worst.
8. Favorite authors?
Angela Carter, Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy.
9. Which sports do you like the most?
Roller derby was my favorite until I broke my ankle. So now it’s dancing and I also like to swim in the sea a little.
10. Ideal holiday destination?
Wherever there are easily accessible nature walks, but also a multitude of cultural activities. I just came back from Iceland and it struck me, but I also like Barcelona and Berlin.
11. Pets hate?
Chewing gum and mints – the smell makes me gag. Also, parties that push people to vote against their own interests by appealing to fear, including national identity.
12. Which is your favorite:
Having dinner? Seafood. Of course, our poor Belfast ancestors lived on oysters.
Dessert? I ate amazing mango pudding in Thailand once.
Beverage? Good strong, ethically brewed coffee.
13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?
It’s hard, I think like most people, I now have a best friend from elementary school, high school, college, and a few more. But unlike most, I have a woman of art. Mine is Clodagh from Array and like my other best friends, she’s someone I’m comfortable being myself with. We met at late night art in Belfast.
14. Is there a God?
We are tiny parts of a universal whole and we are here because of beautiful and chaotic natural phenomena. It never made any sense to me that there was an old man, whom only a fraction of the world’s population followed to the letter, while all the other religions got it wrong.
:: Emma Campbell’s work is currently appearing in A Bigger Picture at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast, one of the events of this month’s Belfast Photo Festival (Belfastphotofestival.com). Emma, along with her colleagues from the Turner Prize-winning collective Array, will perform at the Glastonbury Festival and open a show at the Galway Arts Center this summer.