Arts Q&A: Turner Prize-winning artist Emma Campbell on her photographic journey, pet hates and favourite gigs

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Turner-prize winning artist and activist Emma Campbell

Emma Campbell, pictured with her photographs which are part of A Bigger Picture exhibition, currently running at Belfast's Golden Thread Gallery. Picture by Hugh Russell

1. When did you think about a career in art and what were your first steps into it?

I studied art foundation at Ulster University and loved photography so much I studied documentary in Newport, Wales. I started shooting at gigs and worked as a picture researcher/editor for the BBC and newspapers. In London I built a portfolio photographing gigs, 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 into the social justice side of things, and so here I am 10 years later getting to work on projects I am emotionally and politically invested in.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

I remember sobbing in unison with Damon Albarn and the crowd singing To the End at the Blur reunion performance in Glastonbury 2009 and being moved to tears by Kae Tempest's People's Faces there a few years ago.

On a more personal note, Amanda Palmer invited Alliance for Choice activists along to her gig in the Ulster Hall in October 2019 – the day after decriminalisation of abortion. She has some really raw and incredible songs about motherhood, sexual violence and abortion. My friend Clodagh and I were hanging on to each other, wailing and sobbing. We were in bits.

3.Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Dolly Parton.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

There is a West End recording of the Jesus Christ Superstar musical where Alice Cooper is Herod. I love every chord of that blasphemic rock opera, it's got big queer energy.

5. And the book you would take to a desert island?

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie bears re-reading. I love magic realism, it's often a more satisfying way to understand the emotional landscape of characters. Although a collected anthology of Terry Pratchett would also do the job.

6. Top three films?

Cabaret, Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It's a film about the queer female gaze, about looking, about art and it even has an abortion storyline and witchy undertones. How could I not love it?

7. Worst film you've seen?

My partner loves romantic comedy, but I hate predictable films. I just rarely see anything like myself or my friends or even anything aspirational in them, I loathe most gore-horror as well - my photographic memory is too strong - so maybe the Hostel franchise is the worst.

8. Favourite authors?

Angela Carter, Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy.

9. Sports you most enjoy?

Roller derby was my favourite until I broke my ankle. So now it's dancing and I love a bit of sea swimming too.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Anywhere that has some easy to get to nature walks but also a wealth of cultural activities. I'm just back from Iceland and it hit the spot, but I love Barcelona and Berlin too.

11. Pet hates?

Chewing gum and mints - the smell makes me gag. Also, parties who get people to vote against their own interests by appealing to fear, especially national identity.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Shellfish. Sure, our poor ancestors in Belfast kept themselves alive on oysters.

Dessert? I had an incredible mango pudding in Thailand once.

Drink? A good strong, ethically sourced brewed coffee.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

This is tough, I think like most people now I have a best friend from primary school, high school, uni and a few work ones. But unlike most, I have an art wife. Mine is Clodagh from Array and like my other besties, she is someone I am comfortable being my full self 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 is some old dude, that only a fraction of the world's population have followed to the letter, whilst all the other religions have got it wrong.

:: Emma Campbell's work is currently appearing in A Bigger Picture at Belfast's Golden Thread Gallery, one of the events in this month's Belfast Photo Festival ( Emma, together with her colleagues in the Turner-award winning Array Collective will be performing at Glastonbury Festival and opening a show at Galway Arts Centre this summer.

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