Sammie Masters-Hopkins: the Enigma of Experience

Sammie Masters-Hopkins studied photography at Birmingham City University in the School of Visual Communication and graduated in 2019. She was a winner of the GRAIN mentorship award. We interviewed her about her work, about photography, about her studies and about her future.
Tell us about your background. When did your interest in photography start and where did you study photography?

I think, like many people, photography was just a part of my life growing up through family photos and home videos. I don’t think I became aware of my passion for until I reached my early 20’s. It was at this point that my dad gifted me a 35mm camera and I began taking photos of anything and everything – I think that’s where so many of us begin. It was a couple of years after this that I decided to take this ‘hobby’ a little more seriously and began my degree at Birmingham City University. 

How did your studies help you?

The greatest thing that my studies offered me was time, purpose to practice, and wonderful mentors. I gained so much, in terms of my practice, confidence and understanding through the people that I had the pleasure of being taught by and studying alongside.

What are you doing now?

Almost immediately after graduating, I took part in the International Summer School of Photography, ISSP, Residency in Latvia, which was a great experience. It was a good stepping stone to take me from university into a world where I had to practice and make work with little guidance.

Post-graduation is a strange place to be. I have taken on a job at a small independent shop to ‘pay the bills’ whilst carrying out a mentorship with Grain, an artists residency at Birmingham city university and a masterclass, ‘East Meets West’ in partnership with Grain and Format Festival, Derby. I’m just taking as many opportunities that I can and trying to make sure I keep making work in the process.

What or who influences your work?

I find my work to be influenced by whatever is currently happening in my life or the world in any given moment. Throughout university my work focussed heavily on the global climate crisis – information and news stories about this topic where everywhere and so seemed fitting to me to make work about it.

However, I try to be influenced by a range of things, from artists to photographers to writers and philosophers and news stories in the hope that this will prevent from getting lost in the blur of any one particular place. 

What is your approach to making work?

Just getting up and going out a starting. In my experience of trying to make a body of work, I have attempted several ‘tactics’ to approach making as possible. But the only way to do it is to do it.

I find for me personally, I have to begin by going out and creating some quite instinctual and unguided images, it is from there that I can develop ideas to begin research and giving life and depth to the project. I’ve never been able to visualise the end of a project before I’ve gotten there – so I never really know what I’m working towards. Which is admittedly terrifying sometimes, particularly when you have deadlines to work towards but I have had to realise that this is simply how I make work and I have learnt to try and have faith in that method, that something good will come out of it in the end.

What do you think is the future of image-making and photography?

I think that is a super tough question to answer! Image-making has moved so fast in the last few years, that it’s hard to keep up!

The ease at which we can access image making now, I think is simultaneously positive and negative. It’s incredible that it is so accessible to so many people but equally, I think that it is having an effect on how much an image can mean to us. I hope we can continue to make the world of image-making accessible to people without it being detrimental to the strength of an image.

What do you think is the role of art?

In terms of its role in the photographic world? Or upon my own practice?

I guess I’m of the belief that art and photography go hand in hand and I try not to put that boundary in place too much. Personally, I’m influenced as much by contemporary artists as I am photographers. Both are selecting a medium through which to explore ideas and thoughts – I see no reason to single either one out without the other.

I think a world without art is a very unrealistic one – art teaches us creative thinking and without that we have no inventors, no engineers and no one bold enough to believe that big things can happen, I don’t think we’d move forward without it.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

A lot of me wishes I had a clear answer to that, a focussed place to aim for. But I don’t. I really can’t imagine where the next five years will take me. I hope to have completed a masters by then but otherwise, I’m going to keep making work and see where that takes me. I’ve been told many times to have patience when it comes to a career in the arts and so I’m trying to adopt that. To continue working hard and pushing forward without losing faith that the work will eventually pay off.

How do you see your work developing?

I guess all I can say about that, is that I hope to keep improving. The wonderful thing about having a creative practice is that it is just that, a practice – something that we can continue working on indefinitely.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Ask for help. Take advice from your mentors – though I would say be true to your work too, not everyone has the same taste so talk to lots of people – peers and tutors.

And take advantage of what you have access to! I cannot stress this enough – you won’t get time like this again. You have the time and the facilities and the mentors to help you get your work to its best place. TAKE ADVANTAGE! And take enjoyment and pride in what you’re doing. Doing a degree in something you love is a special thing and it doesn’t often come around twice. So love it, put everything you have into it.

What is the most useful advice you have received?

To be true to yourself and have patience – when you’re an artist or a photographer or whatever area of art/design you may be in, it is easy to get lost in current trends and make work because you think that’s what’s popular at the moment – if your work happens to fit there, then that’s great! But if it doesn’t yet, don’t force it. IT will happen eventually. Make work you believe in, that you have true and honest connections to, that’s when you will make the best work you can.