11 Questions with Entrant Erin Semple

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I’m not very good at articulating what I’m feeling in words so I try to use photography to do that.
— Erin Semple

We caught up with Erin Semple, photographer and John Byrne award entrant, to talk about feelings of belonging, the importance of the people around you, and the difficulty of juggling a full time job and a creative practice.

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In your John Byrne Award entry, you explored the question ‘What is home?’. Why did you choose to focus on this topic?

Last year I started making photographs of things that reminded me of home and my family as I was feeling homesick. I soon realised that this homesickness was not necessarily just about my family and my hometown - as going home after having lived away for 6 years also made me feel out of place. I began to realise that my homesickness was more for the Highlands and the feeling I get when I am there. In Gaelic there is this word cianalas which is used to describe the feeling of belonging to where your roots lie. So I wanted to focus on this connection I feel to the land and what makes it feel like home.

When and how did you start pursuing photography?

I remember being interested in making photos when I was quite young. I got a camera for my ninth birthday and I was just obsessed with making photos of everything. In my last year of high school I went to night classes to learn about darkroom techniques and analogue photography, before applying to university. I studied the BA Photography course at Edinburgh Napier University and I have now just finished a Masters at the Glasgow School of Art.

Why do you continue to do it now?

I use photography to express myself and to understand what is going on around me. I’m not very good at articulating what I’m feeling in words so I try to use photography to do that.

Where do you get your creative inspiration?

I often find that I’ve been inspired by things almost subliminally. I find inspiration from films, books, letters, and shopping lists you find in the street. But it’s not often until I’ve been working on a project for a while that I start to piece together where the idea came from.

What do you value most in life?

I value the people in my life the most - friends and family especially but also anyone I’ve ever been able to learn from. People who are willing to teach you something, share advice, or even give you criticism are so important to becoming a better person and artist. Ultimately, it is these people that support you that are the most valuable.

What impact is your work having/would you like your work to have?

I want my work to resonate with people - even if it is only one other person who understands the feeling I’m trying to convey. To be able to inspire someone else’s thoughts would be the best sort of impact my work could have.

Who do you admire and why?

I admire all of the people I know who are creatives. I think that after studying it can be hard to make time to be creative. So I very much admire all the people I know who juggle full time jobs and life in general whilst maintaining a creative practice. Seeing them continuing to make time to make work really inspires me to keep making.

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Recommend us something to read, watch or visit, please. Can you tell us the story behind why you’d recommend it?

I’d recommend to read The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (it is her portrait that is on the back of our £5 note) and her book about the Cairngorms is beautiful. In general I just think the book is a really refreshing way to look at the Scottish landscape and I think it truly challenges the notion of mountains as something to be claimed.

Describe yourself and your creative work in one sentence?

I don’t 100% know what I’m doing but I hope someone likes it.

What do you think of The John Byrne Award?

I think the JBA is a great incentive for young artists in Scotland to keep creating work but also to keep sharing it as well. I think a lot of young artists are often nervous about sharing new work but I think the JBA is a great platform to do just that. I also think it is really important to see what other artists in Scotland are up to - which is why it is great that all the entries are shared on the website.

What would you do if you were president of the world for one day?

I would definitely dismantle the questionable systems that had allowed one person to become the President of the World.

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You can view Erin’s John Byrne Award entry here, or share your own work to be in with a chance of winning the annual £2500 prize.

 

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