An Interview With: Stephanie Jemphrey

Who are you and where did you study?

My name is Stephanie Jemphrey and I have just graduated from Ulster School of Art, Belfast.

What is your artist statement for the body of work “House of Bread“?

"It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Matthew 4:4

Created in the context of a society that is increasingly separating itself from its religious roots, the subject of bread is used to explore the intrinsic relationship that exists between physical and spiritual hunger.

Is fulfilling one more important than the other? In some form, symbolic or otherwise, bread is consumed to satisfy both.

Were there any photographers who inspired this project?

My inspiration comes from a variety of sources, ones that often seem to contradict each other. My favourite photographer has always been Rinko Kawauchi, her work holds captivating simplicity with layers of complexity and emotion. She knows what to include in her work and what to let fall away. I always aim for this level of visual storytelling.

For this project in particular, I was influenced heavily by the work of Leonard Pongo and his work on religious communities in Nigeria. I found something beautiful but also uncomfortable about his work that struck a chord with me. His depth and vulnerability inspired me to create work not just to explore a topic but to discover and challenge myself, and to share that questioning with the viewer.

What was the process of making these images and what were the main points during the process you learnt from?

My research and discovery process, I have discovered through the years, is never as straightforward as I would hope. 

I began this project hoping to photograph and understand the life of a priest. This led me to an unknown community, a monastery, many interesting conversations but ultimately closed doors. No matter what angle I tried to take, it looked like what I hoped for photographically was slipping through my fingers.

I remembered though, some wise advice my tutor told me - shoot your way out of a project and walk. Walk until you find something. So that’s what I did, I left the monastery, shooting and walking. This immediately lead me to the ‘House of Bread’, a convent where communion wafers for parishes in Ireland are produced, packaged and shipped from. 

I also discovered from my walking that this convent was surrounded by at least 6 small local bakeries. I found the connection intriguing and  it sparked an interest in me - how come the exact same process (making bread and selling it) was physically happening in the same community, meters apart from each other, but the purpose of the bread, and the place it held in society was worlds apart? This question drove the rest of my project and eventually led me to my final outcome.

In short, I learnt that the process is always far harder than the outcome. What you aim to create never ends up being what you imagined, but this is in no way a bad thing. I believe it is an integral part of the creative process that should be embraced - learning to adapt and be influenced by external factors, forcing you to grow into the work. Your outcome will inevitably hold more meaning, depth and character than your first aim ever could.

A very similar colour palette is kept throughout this project. What is the reason for this?

Well firstly, I like consistency in my images. I want them to fit together, to work in a series, and one technique for this is keeping a similar colour palette. 

Secondly, the cool tones of the light and silver created a futuristic feel to the work. This added an interesting layer as my photographic subjects (food and religion) are often portrayed in a very warm, luxurious and traditional way. As I was aiming for the viewer to be challenged to see these subjects differently, but also interconnected, using a different colour palette helped achieve that.

How would you like the viewer to respond to this work?

Ideally, I would love for every viewer to fully understand all that I have learned and uncovered about the physical and spiritual world around us, but I know that is a big call. Realistically, I would want the viewer to be challenged to consider how they see the world, especially everyday things that they accept at face value. Maybe there is more..

What are you next steps after this project?

Shoot, walk, shoot, talk, shoot, listen, shoot, research, shoot. This project is definitely not over.

What is the best piece of advice you could give the viewers of The Pupil Sphere?

Make work about something that you care about. That makes you feel angry, sad, happy, whatever - but something that you can emotionally connect to. Be vulnerable when making work. It may seem unnatural, but until you can, you can’t possibly make work of any use to anyone.


All images copyright of Stephanie Jemphrey.


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