Interview by Maria Giorgia Lenzi –
Photographer and filmmaker Briony Campbell’s image Paul and Wahida starting over is our Issue 8 Turning Point. In this short interview she discusses her many inspirations, her collaborative projects, and her struggle to make her personal and intimate work for The Dad Project.
Maria Giorgia Lenzi: During your artistic path, what or who has been your most important source of inspiration?
Briony Campbell: On a fundamental level, it’s light. On a sunny morning my kitchen gets filled with light and I feel lucky every time. Movement and uncertainty fuel me, and simple pleasures that lead to sometimes transcendent moments, like dancing on a Kampala dancefloor or jumping in a Welsh river, are essential to keep my creative energy going. In terms of developing project ideas they always come from first hand experiences. I’m not a natural researcher and making work about things I relate to personally feels to me a more honest and rewarding process. Having the chance to understand relationships and discover how we form our identities is endlessly exciting to me. I’m aware that the art I consume has, if not direct then unconscious, influences on my own. It’s impossible to pick my all-time most important, so here are a few recent-ish inspirations; Matangi Maya MIA documentary, Alma Har’el’s Love True, a Moses Sumney gig at Union Chapel, Kate Tempest’s performance poetry, Benjamin Clementine’s music, Sampha & SBTRKT collaborations.
GL: The concept behind The Dad Project is both powerful and sincere, I’m moved by how beautifully photographed it is. Was being so personally invested in the project an obstacle or a benefit?
BC: It certainly felt like an obstacle while trying to make the work, but in the end I think the intimacy of the final story reveals the benefits. While photographing my Dad there were many moments that my dual role of daughter and photographer were in conflict. While I was providing practical care in order to give my mum a break, I often wondered whether I should instead be photographing. I was also responsive to my parents changing moods. Though there were dark moments I didn’t want to emphasise them. This led to my making very gentle images, always looking for the light and emphasising the softness.
I struggled to find any a separation between the experience I was living and the photos and videos I was making. This made it difficult to reflect on my approach, or to define an approach at all. Each time I went to visit my Dad, this lack of clarity weighed on me. I would promise myself that the next time I was with him I would be able to give him a solid explanation of my aims, but I never did. The clarity only came after he died, when the ending had been decided for me and, through tears, I began to edit the work.
GL: In your project New World, on American society and its landscape, voices of the people you met were included in a video alongside the photographs. What was your reason for this approach?
BC: Sometimes as an author I feel a duty to draw out certain words. Societies are reflections of the individuals within them, and the voices of those individuals are integral to a narration of their society. In a country so well documented as the USA it’s easy to make images that feel familiar and timeless, images which speak of romanticised notions and cliches. In adding voices we were able to supplement our visuals with the very current sense of uncertainty that Americans are feeling. And crucially, we planned a project which would rely on meeting and talking to people, deciding that the route of our road trip would be dictated by the advice of strangers we met along the way, so of course these strangers had to be part of the outcome. New world was made in collaboration with Duncan Nicol Robertson.
GL: New World is not the only project where you have collaborated with another photographer. What can you say about having to compromise and to combine differing perspectives in your photography?
BC: I can say it’s challenging. I find collaborative projects really enriching due to that challenge. I’m always keen to do more, but to be honest I don’t think photography is a natural medium for collaboration. The decisiveness and clarity of vision required to make strong images feels more of a solitary pursuit to me. Sometimes combining perspectives on visual approaches feels like a dilution rather than an enhancement. However I love the exchange of ideas in the project development stage, moulding concepts continually and collaboratively and having multiple perspectives on edits. For this reason, in most of my collaborative stills projects we would carry our own cameras and take our photos individually, with discussion surrounding the image making. Now that I work a lot in video I collaborate more frequently and that’s one of the things I love about having expanded my practice to filmmaking.
GL: Thanks for your time, we look forward to sharing your work in Loupe Issue 8.
Issue 8 will be hitting stockists at the end of November, back issues are available to purchase from our shop.