Hello, my name is Emily Hughes. I live in the UK with my husband, Alex, and two children. I have a degree in English and German from Warwick university, and an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures from Goldsmiths college, part of the University of London. I am currently training to be an English teacher (sometimes teaching, always learning), and when I’m not working I try to spend as much time as I can writing, photographing, being a mum as well as trying to just be me, as well.
Ever since I was a child I have been very aware of photography, and the ubiquity of the still image – which in those days was still very much a physical thing – was especially resonant in our household. Photography was part of my everyday experience of family life. My dad, a super-keen amateur photographer, would spend hours in his makeshift darkroom under the stairs. He would painstakingly label, order and organise negatives, transparencies and prints, filling countless albums with the most preciously selected memories and our walls with framed captures of his proudest darkroom efforts. We were regularly subjected to family slide shows when huge heavy folders were dusted off and those little transparent plastic-framed squares of exquisite jewel-like colour became magically transformed into shadowy film stills on the nearest blank wall via an innocuous looking black box (we never had a video camera – images from my childhood were always static). There were arty shots and snapshots; black and white and colour; landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, wildlife… all of them lived amongst us, and took their place in our family history as historical documents themselves. It was almost as if these photographs took on a life of their own. They were us, but quite apart from us. It was like growing up living with ghosts of our former selves around us, like having our secret memories inscribed, laid bare for all to see.
My siblings and I would be forced to pose for regular portrait sessions as dad practiced capturing our disinterested expressions with trying enthusiasm (I never was, and still am not a particularly rewarding subject – but now at least I know which side of the camera I would rather be on). On family holidays he would lag ten paces behind everyone else, always there with his camera, always ready to capture the moment; my mother’s smile which would briefly light up her weary face, rare instants of complicity between my sister and I (a hug, a smile, a giggle); skipping in the sand, playing in the waves… scenes of an idyllic childhood. Whilst this is true in many ways when I look at the pictures I always remember the moments in-between which were never captured and which are also part of every family story, just as much, it seems as those magical ones: the tears, the tantrums, the scowls, the boredom, the arguments… which got edited out.
Now that I am all grown up and have a family of my own I often think about my dad and his camera and sometimes find myself doing as he did back then. It is easy to become consumed by a kind of fervour for capturing images, and I wonder if for him it was as much about escaping from the chaos of everyday family life as it was about recording it. I know for me it certainly is. I carry a camera with me often, and when I am off taking pictures I feel so liberated and so focussed at the same time, that I often find it hard to be ‘present’ in my other roles: mum, sister, daughter, wife, friend… but there are times when I feel like I need to record, and there are times also when I realise that I need to put down the camera and just be, enjoy, experience, think. But I understand and share the collective need we have as humans to use photography as a tool of memory, to seize and hold forever those moments of magic because they are so fleeting and because if we didn’t then we might forget that they existed at all.
© Emily Hughes, 2012