stardust

 

stardust

‘stardust’ 2016

He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the centre of the world, as each of us does.

from Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

 

I have been playing around with this one for a while now and posted the original not long ago with some other medium format pictures of seed heads. I came back to it recently because I started reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and the thought of falling stars and magical faerie worlds brought it to mind. Anyway, here it is again, slightly re-worked.

A very happy New Year and thank you to all of my readers. Here’s hoping 2016 brings you much magic and serendipity!

 

 

© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2016

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portals and the possibility of hope in a time of despair

I like to look back at photographs I have taken and make connections. Often I will find them, because even though it feels at the time when I am snapping away, that I am being quite random, I have discovered when I later trawl through my images that I am actually quite purposeful and even economical these days when I photograph, tending to hone in on similar themes and subjects. This is, unfortunately the sacrifice of having less and less time to get out and about, I might add, and when I travel it is never with the sole purpose of immersing myself in the art, rather a side line of stolen moments when I have managed to escape family duties. So, my holiday snaps are just that, really, although hopefully something more than that now as experience has trained my eye in what to look for; like a cat I have become quite good at pouncing on opportune moments, with a child hanging off one arm and wielding a bottle of sunscreen in the other. Often I will take a number of pictures of a space or place which is interesting and then work on them later at home to create something I feel I can be proud of, or even sell. Other times it’s a one-off moment, although these days I favour working with layers over anything else, because it gives me freedom and a kind of complex simplicity which seems to be where I am most content in my creativity.

I am teaching English now and when I teach children how to write I try to reveal it as a practice of layering. There is no neatness to writing really; just like art, it is a messy, but wonderful business. Behind that final draft there are layers and layers of crossing out and re-writing, different coloured pens, feedback and comments, where I have asked them to think about things differently, or to dig deeper and find the layers of meaning. I try to show them that writing, just like art, is not an end product as such, but it is a process. A process of becoming. There is no good or great writer for whom the words just magically transpose onto the page. Good writers will cross out, they will edit ferociously; they will be critical of themselves and they will agonise over every single word until they have hit just the right note. Because good writers know that words, and how we put them across, are important; they have resonance. Nowadays, of course, the word processor often erases the visible marks of the editing process, but even when I write an essay now I end up with six or seven drafts before I get to a final version I am happy with, and when the children are writing I think it is important that they see this. It is vital that they understand that neat does not always equal good content. I ask them to take pride in their work and to take time, but I do not obsess over neatness because I feel it is highly overrated. My own handwriting leaves a lot to be desired and spelling might be a challenge, but it does not mean that I cannot be a good writer. We plan and write together on big flipcharts so that they can see for themselves how this process works: I might go back and change a word or phrasing I did not like; I might underline or highlight repeated words and look in a thesaurus for alternatives, or star in another sentence here and there. It’s a thoughtful process of revision and it is important that children see it as such.

Educators like Ken Robinson have been telling us for many years now that creativity is the most important skill we can foster in our children in order to prepare them for a deeply uncertain future. And if this is true, which I believe it is, then neatness is not a part of that. The world we live in today is a mess. It is complex. It is sad, but we must not attempt to simplify things for our children and belittle their intelligence. There is no matter of black or white any more. As I look out on grey, uncertain skies and hear the wrathful winds lash relentlessly at the chimney, I fear that it won’t be long until those old Victorian bricks give away, but most of all I fear that these storms are hear to stay. We must allow our children to see this whipped up mess that we have created and give them hope that they can navigate the storms more successfully than us. For this is imperative. The world may be a mess; it may be a hopeless shade of grey, but it is a glorious mess.

And now I find, once again, that meandering words have taken me in a direction I did not intend to go on this stormy morning. These are words I did not intend to write, but somehow they have been written. What I wanted to write about were portals, magic and mystery. My two children are endlessly preoccupied with science fiction and other fantastical stories about magical worlds. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, it seems the battle is always the same: the age old dichotomy of good versus evil (although of course the details vary wonderfully). There is great comfort in these stories too, for them, because, although they usually begin with feet planted firmly in reality, they quickly move into a different realm where fantasies can be played out and indulged in a grand scale, and of course, the children know that good will always overcome evil. This is even more important for them now that they realise that real life is not like this. Our children need great stories like this which provide them with refuge from the grey fog of daily life. As do we, I think.

Often these stories contain some kind of magic portal or entrance which allows humans to access the ‘other world’,  like the twister which snatches up Dorothy’s house and dumps it in the glorious, technicolour Oz; the great old wooden wardrobe which houses those wonderfully evocative fur coats through which Edmund, Peter and Lucy fumble to reach the winter wonderland of Narnia; the platform 9 3/4 which boards Harry on his train to Hogwarts; or the famous rabbit hole (and later mirror) which transports Alice to Wonderland. Sometimes they are actual doors or gateways, like the wardrobe, or the door in Monster’s Inc. which allows the monsters to enter children’s bedrooms, but other times they can be a small object, like the magic key which transports Biff and Chip into different time period in the famous phonic adventure stories which those in the UK with young school age children will know and love. These portals or thresholds which provide passage from one world to another are important features of stories like this, because they are physical symbols of transformation and transgression, but also because they allow us humans the possibility of fantasy and of something else wonderful – of hope.

Without realising, I frequently photograph ‘portals’ – usually doors and windows, and I think many photographers do likewise. They are endlessly fascinating, so saturated with symbolic meaning, as well as being visually intriguing. And so my wordy saunter brings me back (not too neatly I hope) to my photographs and travels. This summer I was lucky enough to visit Brazil with my family, a country rich with cultural diversity and with a sheer expanse beyond my capacity of conception. It was not my first visit, and for the second time I was captivated by the dazzling natural beauty of Rio de Janeiro, as well as the impressive mountainous landscape of the countryside dotted with dusty little villages where locals sit on their doorsteps and lazily watch the world go by. Then there are the more touristy, but charming colourful seaside towns along the North East coast. I encountered many appealing doors, windows, and other less traditional gateways on our travels and have many tales I could tell, but looking back at them now makes me wonder about the prospect of exciting adventures to be had beyond the threshold of these portals, and the possibility of stories untold.

Without possibility, there is no hope.

 

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© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015

bloom

 

bloom2

 

 

© image by Emily Hughes, 2015

oh, she dreams in gold

she dreams in gold - I

oh, she dreams in gold, 2015

 

I’m working on a little series of golden, composite images on the theme of reverie, and I’ve just added this one to my artfinder shop. I’ve posted this one before here, but needed to make a few tweaks before I was entirely happy with it.

 

© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015

blackberry treats

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I love this quote, and try to remember it every year when the leaves tumble into crunchy piles of a thousands shades of amber. Every new season always feels like an opportunity for renewal, but especially autumn, when the cooling, crisp winds which make us reach for our jumpers and hats breathe a haze of rich, gold-infused light over the heavens. And especially this year. Maybe because it came at the end of a wonderfully long, heady summer, or maybe because I have taken on new challenges and my brain is whirring as it learns new things. Or maybe it is because, as I head into my own autumnal years, I feel more of an affinity with this season which I have previously always approached with a sense of loss and longing, and am finding it can energise me as much as the sprightly newness of spring, or the carefree, lazy days of summer.

The children always love this time of year because for them it signals the start of the season of treats, fun and indulgence which starts around Halloween and peaks with Christmas, of course. They find the chilly days and dark nights exciting in a way which I, as one who worships light, have never really understood before. Even bonfire night usually fails to ignite a spark of excitement. However this year, the quiet, mellow joys of this mature season have infused my heart and pooled into its chambers with a surprising, juicy burst of delight – just like that first taste of freshly plucked sweet-sharp blackberries.

blackberries

yellow leaves

Felix and Flo picking blackberries

blackberry in hand

Felix and Florence on gate

red leaves

Flo eating blackberry

Felix at lake

© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015

a fragment

I have been having a clear out. Sorting through drawers, boxes, wardrobes, cupboards, attics, and under beds. I am on a mission to cleanse and purge, making the most of a bit of down time before holidays and a new job in September. Such an unbelievable amount of ‘stuff’ we have acquired over the years as a family of four (and I guiltily admit to liking my ‘stuff’). It’s quite painful to get rid of things, I’m finding, and painful also just to come across things sometimes… when you sort and sift through the past, along with the dust and the stray objects long since forgotten and given up as lost – a treasured toy; a piece of misplaced jewellery; that key that fits that window you could never open or that vital lead that connects to something equally vital though you can’t remember what now… that tape measure you could never manage to locate when you needed it and replaced three times over; and such a miscellany of odd screws, buttons, paperclips, pens (where did they come from? What do I do with them? Surely it’s wrong to just throw away perfectly usable things?) – you stir up memories. Emotions. Lain dormant for a long while. Some things – especially old photographs I’m finding – I cannot even bring myself to sort through yet. I can understand how people become hoarders and prefer to live with their things all around them. It’s comforting to know that they are there, inhabiting their space like mute companions, without having to deal with them directly. Let them be. Let them gather dust and great significance in their rightfully-claimed-patch-in-the-world where they will languish until you are gone, and the fraught, messy job of ‘dealing with the stuff’ can be left to others.

But deal with our stuff I must, because our generously sized house is fast filling up with things. Books, it seems, are a particular weakness. Some things, though, it is joyful to come across. Some things make me smile. Like this little note from fellow photographer and blogger Cath Rennie of Settle and Chase. Occasionally, other bloggers send me things in the mail, and this was one such thing – small but delightful – which I have kept. Words to treasure. And the little photograph of the orchid she sent with it is pegged to my inspiration board above my desk, vying for attention between a scrap of original wallpaper from our study found by a carpenter building some bookshelves (a delightful discovery), an old postcard of the Eiffel Tower (from about the same period – late Victorian 1880s – discovered in a French market), and a polaroid-style instagram photo of some grasses blowing in the breeze. I think it was taken in Mexico about three years ago. I like to keep some of these little photographs dotted about the place and I often use them as thank you notes. I look at Cath’s little orchid often as I look at all of the things I peg up there, but I thought I had lost the note she sent with it and was happy to rediscover it.

memory-1


memory-2

© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015

dancing with light

Sometimes it’s fun to play around with the theme of ‘writing with light’ and create something a bit abstract using long exposures. Festival time is the perfect time to do that, with all the lights and bright colours. I was literally dancing with light here, experimenting to see what explosions of colours, shapes and patterns my camera would record in time to the beat of the music.
dancingwithlight-1 dancingwithlight-4 dancingwithlight-5 dancingwithlight-6 dancingwithlight-7 dancingwithlight-8 dancingwithlight-12 dancingwithlight-14 dancingwithlight-16 dancingwithlight-17 dancingwithlight-18

 

© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015

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