Jamie Campbell

(L) Unliving Ghost and (R) Widowed Ghost from Looking Askance


Jamie Campbell – Maybe I’ll preface all this, before I start – for context sake. I am in Vienna at the moment, on a three month artist residency. I’ve been here nearing three weeks now. At the moment I am in one of these classic Viennese cafes from the 1880’s. The server is quite cold, and it seems she purposely ignores you, but that is just the style here. I’ve been fluctuating between espresso and beer, and although I’ve never had a redbull and vodka, I assume the results are near the same. Next to me is a tourist family, possibly British. The teenage daughter takes cell phone snaps of all the dishes as the father looks on is disapproval. In front of me is a middle aged man who seems to be on his 8th course (a never ending meal). He wears his napkin bunched into the neck of his shirt, like a small baby’s bib. I have to pick up film from a lab in the 7th district in a bit over an hour. I will pass the time here. I’ve also been speaking some strange version of English lately, in order to communicate – so bare with me, my mind is a bit mixed. In an hour and a half I answered just one question, then quickly deleted it. I’ll have to start again.

Wavepool – Why are portraits appealing to you?

Jamie Campbell – You don’t dare order a Cappuccino here, you’d call it a Melange. They are pretty much the same thing – but just slightly different (according to Wikipedia). This is also true for the idea of a portrait. Every person brings a slightly different grace to the camera. For example, if you know Thomas Ruff’s early work, even if you sit a subject in the exact spot, with the exact light, and the exact camera position, a different subtle sort of magic happens for each individual. And to quickly clarify, when I say portrait, I don’t at all mean an attempt to capture the true essence of a person through this objective truth-telling machine, which we call a camera. I am using people as subjects based on their physical attributes, and how I think that physicality might be represented through the photographic medium.

But very simply, I like the human face and form, and the implication of gesture, or gaze. So far, the possibilities have been endlessly amusing. It is also a thing the viewer can directly relate to. It could be them, in that very situation – it is possible for it to be their experience, or something similar (relatable).

Wavepool – Many of your images depict fantastic and surreal scenes. Do you consider yourself to be a storyteller?

Jamie Campbell – I probably hint at stories, or direct fictitious moments, more so than I tell a whole story. So I suppose, by definition, I am not much of a good storyteller. I tell a story half way through and I never quite get around to finishing it.

I craft these bits of a story, and then I give them away – but I’m not the one telling them. If anything, I am a story-giver.


Untitled from Only the fantastic has some chance of being true


Wavepool – Do your images function independently or is it necessary for them to exist together to reveal a larger narrative throughout the course of a project?

Jamie Campbell – Lately I’ve tried to make images that are simultaneously their own little thesis, but also important to the make-up of a whole body of work. Each image, therefore, is an independent idea contributing to a larger concept. Some photographs work better than others as independent images, and maybe some don’t work at all on their own, but I think they speak louder or convey their idea better when grouped within the series. I do like the idea of a strong, stoic, stand-alone image. It, however, becomes a different thing when viewed on its own versus when seen in the company of others. I am at once considering the series and the independent image when making photographs, each is important, and each scenario offers a beneficial something. Was that an answer?

Wavepool – Can you tell me about the importance of humor in your work?

Jamie Campbell – Is my work funny? Oh, I am never so sure?

It isn’t in my current artistic mandate (to be funny). But maybe it is in my personal life mandate, to try and be funny.

The two must intermingle.

I don’t make much of an effort within my current practice at being purposefully humorous though. And even if I did, I am much too self conscious to admit to that.

I am interested in the suggestion or subtlety of humor though – and not through the creation of a laugh-out-loud type experience, but perhaps a smile-to-yourself-like-no-one-is-watching type experience (however, both are welcome).

I am so distracted, this is my first laptop and I’ve never tried to use it in a public space before. How do people concentrate? I think someone is drawing me? She looks up, then back to the page with her pen, and back up again, and back to the page. I think this is funny, this bobbing head and the awkwardness or the tension in our gazes catching each other and overlapping. It is hilarious to me how I am sort of in on her secret and we both don’t know how to negotiate it. I try not to look over and her, and she tries to glimpse at me as I type, hoping I can’t see her in my periphery (which I can). All the meanwhile, I am writing about her and she is trying to draw me, it is very mixed up – no one has agreed to any of this. This is a perfect metaphor for how I use humor in my work. AH HA! I attempt to re-create the awkwardness, or to visually reproduce this so called tension. That to me is funny, and maybe only sometimes experienced equally by the viewer.

The whole experience is equally precious and uncomfortable.

It makes me giggle to myself, and I like this a lot.

I sometimes get the feeling my sense of humor is a bit backwards.


image cluster from This will never last


Wavepool – This will never last combines a variety of photographs, ranging from seemingly casual to more formal pictures. How would you describe the project and its intentions?

Jamie Campbell – The series is based around an idea put forward by Jean Baudrillard, which states – “When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.” This is the perfect photographic metaphor, or so I think. I attempted to make a project based purely on personal nostalgia or sentiment. This included staging past happenings, or trying to imply a feeling through imagery, or snapshots, or studio experiments. I didn’t care if I was using a 35mm point-and-shoot, or a 4×5, the image-moments were more important than a cohesive quality. I wanted to just make pictures, instead of thinking about how I was going to go about making pictures. When exhibited, the images were hung in varying sizes and arrangements and groupings, which cause rather unrelated image types to dialog and create larger narratives within single narratives. Each image has its own personal story, but it is not the point to disclose this. It was an entire series based on these “personal punctums”.

It was a bit of a purposeful mind-fuck. The snapshots, or casual images started to feel staged and the staged images could feel “real-ish”, and I think reality became a bit twisted, or unraveled. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, the same with truth and fiction – and even my personal nostalgia starts to slip into a universal nostalgia, and the viewer could experience something completely personal and completely separate from the nostalgia I intended to create. And this is a nice thing, because something that was once just mine is passed along and morphed into an entirely new thing.

I think I’ve used this to explain my experience of the project in the past: “I’m not sure why, but when I look at this series of physical photographs, I feel like every individual moment has been lost.  It is there, in a haunting visual form in front of me, but these moments (contradictory to the mediums intention) will never last”. 

Wavepool – Who or what has influenced the way you work and think about art?

Jamie Campbell – After I finished Grad School, which I don’t necessarily think was the most positive experience, I wanted to reject making and thinking about art (for only art’s sake). I had this reoccurring thought which played on repeat in my mind – intuition over justification, intuition over justification, intuition over justification…

This is important.

It has influenced and loosened my practice.


Portal no. 2 from This will never last

 To see more of Jamie’s work, please visit his website.