University of Brighton has awarded an Honorary degree of Doctor of Arts to ground-breaking artist and photography alumna Helen Cammock for her work in creative arts and social care.
Helen graduated from University of Brighton with a First Class BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art Photography in 2008. Before this, however, Cammock had worked for many years with young people in social care in Brighton & Hove, after graduating with a degree in sociology in 1992. In 2019 she was one of four winners of the Turner Prize. She received her Honorary doctorate in a ceremony on 29 July at the Brighton Centre, at the culmination of University of Brighton’s first in-person summer graduation ceremonies since 2019.
Having become increasingly disillusioned by the impact of government cuts to the social care service she could provide, Cammock turned to the art through the University of Brighton Saturday School programme, inspiring her to take up her photography degree. During her studies, Helen still found time and energy to run a multi-agency social care centre in Brighton, which she continues to run today – in addition to sitting on Brighton & Hove’s Foster Care Panel.
Cammock has created a unique approach to working with language, film and performance that focuses on aspects of shared experience and social culture, and the ways in which we articulate them both publicly and to ourselves. With a strong sense of social responsibility and activism she regularly brings her unique perspective to transformative work with groups and communities to examine shared history and social narratives.
In her degree acceptance speech, Cammock spoke up powerfully to support the importance of creative arts study: “I feel lucky – and privileged – to be able to work as an artist – not because I think it’s an easy option but because I believe it is important that society has artists. We are vital not only in bringing pleasure, expanding imagination, sharing knowledge, bringing challenge to many norms in society and giving voice to those often left unheard.
“As individuals who have studied in art and design schools, we also provide people with plates to eat from, cutlery to eat with, furniture to sit on, the clothes we wear, plays we watch, books we read, different car designs, architectural design, the inspiration for a massive advertising industry, paints to paint our homes, illustrations in our children’s books, greetings cards, computer games, the films, cartoons and animations we watch, road signs and billboards, dance (contemporary and traditional), images that we see in magazines and news agencies and those of course who teach…anything that needs to consider aesthetics and form in our world, benefits from a training in the arts.
“And we push the boundaries of thought – as well as aesthetics. So although sometimes you may feel as though you’re walking against the wind I ask you to remember that you are needed and your ideas are valuable. Artists often shift fashions, trends, thinking, understandings and are often inherent in political movements for change – many academic researchers work with artists now because of their lateral thinking and different approaches.
“I came to art as a second career, from ten years working in the social work setting, and have managed to find a language to say what I need to say in the world. And as I accept this prestigious award I want to ask you all to remember that it is always important to think about yourself in relation to others – none of us live in isolation. If we want to be valued it is important to value others.”
Helen Cammock has exhibited widely both in the UK and abroad at galleries including TATE Britain, Serpentine Galleries and Whitechapel Gallery in the UK, plus Alfa Nova Galerie Berlin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Maramotti Foundation Italy. Prior to the Turner Prize, Cammock won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women in 2018. She has also run the highly successful Brighton Photo Fringe, and continues to live in Brighton.