Posted on June 5, 2020
There are the things that are out in the open, and there are the things that are hidden. The real world has more to do with what is hidden.
— Saul Leiter
It’s been a bleak time. Last summer, my dad died. Set against the backdrop of the grander world stage – a stage in flames – it is a small grief, maybe. But it is my grief. I have written something about him and when I have found some courage, I will post it, but for now: small things. Beacuse the small things reveal the big things; the sum of their parts. The things that give us meaning. I picked up a camera for the first time in a long, long time last week. It was my dad’s camera. I felt it in my hands. Solid. Weighty. I thought about all the times he had picked it up. I imagined his big hands wrapped around it. His eye, seeking out moments. Sweet bursts of joy.
It was dawn. I was looking for some light.
© Emily Hughes, 2020
Posted on January 3, 2018
Winter’s Reverie I
Winter’s Reverie II
One from the archives.
© Emily Hughes, 2015
Posted on June 29, 2017
A few years ago my husband and I found ourselves with a day to ourselves and nothing to do, so we went about creating an inspiration wall in our study. It’s essentially a large handmade picture frame which hangs above the desk space with a criss-cross of metal wire where I hung various images, notes and keepsakes which inspired me for different reasons. I would look up occasionally whilst working, or writing on the computer and it would always give me pause, making me stop and smile. Reminding me to breathe, and what was important. After a while, I realised I wasn’t looking at it anymore, or at least I would look at it and see the same old thing. It had become wallpaper, essentially: the same old pictures, day after day. A bit of a jumble. Today, I pulled everything off it and packed all the pictures and postcards and scraps of paper away neatly in a drawer. Then, I hauled out a stack of images which I had been storing in a cupboard. They are all taken with my rollei which I barely use these days; it’s on its last legs, I think. Every time I take a roll of film I send it off to be processed and I get the images printed and scanned. Sometimes I post them on here and sometimes I use them for other artworks, layering them and manipulating them. But the photographs – the printed images – remained, stuck in a cupboard, languishing. They are pictures of my travels, my family, moments of beauty and grace; they are memories. Each one tells a story.
The physical image is still important, isn’t it? I’m glad I took them out; now I can stop and smile, and breathe again when I look up at that wall. And here I am, posting again, so that’s got to be good! I guess sometimes we all need to press the re-set button, mix things up a little, and change the background scenery.
© words and images by Emily Hughes, 2017
Posted on December 26, 2015
© image by Emily Hughes, 2015
Posted on October 28, 2014
Cath Rennie, musician and photographer from the UK has created a poignant, hopeful response to the journey of a photograph project. You can listen to, and read her entry here. http://journeyofaphotograph.com/2014/10/27/press-on/
Click on the link for more information, or to take part in the project: http://journeyofaphotograph.com/about/
tick – tock – tick – tock
step – step – step
I loved the idea of this project from the beginning, over a year ago now. It set a seed, inspired me to look towards from a difficult time, into the future, a place I hoped to reach.
Sometimes you don’t know why you do, you don’t even know if you can, you just know you have to. You press faith into faith, and hope the meaning will come clear. You keep laying each mark, and trying to build. Through a series of connections, you begin to make up a whole. Throwing stars at the moon, hoping to leave a pattern.
This project itself is a journey of many parts, gaining more resonance and a sense of itself as it moves on. Each bone in the spine is essential. I love to think of how long it might…
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Posted on July 24, 2014
The work you do as an artist is really play, but in the most serious sense […] Like when a two year old discovers how to make a tower out of blocks. It is no half-hearted thing. You are materialising – taking something from the inside and putting it out into the world so you can be relieved of it.
Quote by Leslie Dick, from Seven days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton
Haiku of grass and sky, 2014
As I try to move forward with my practice, I find myself reflecting more and more on what it is I am doing, and to what purpose. I read the book Seven days in the Art World last year (kindly sent to me as a gift by a fellow blogger). In an attempt to unravel the elusive workings of the art world, Thornton tries to engage various academics with the question: “What is an artist?”, to which she receives a range of answers, mostly disparaging and dismissive, as she records, presumably because many found the question naive, distasteful or even irrelevant. An obvious question it may be, but it is a pertinent one, and one to which it seems to me someone involved in any way in the discourse of art and art practice, whether as scholar, producer, seller or critic, should have an intelligent sounding answer.
The writer Leslie Dick, however, does have an answer, and one which is somehow obvious and clever and thoughtful and disarmingly simple all at the same time. I have a terrible memory for quotes (and most things), so when I do remember things other people have said, or written, it usually means that it was something which resonated deeply with me and was apposite to me or my situation. Indeed, I was, at the time, spending a lot of time pondering this creative impetus and the overwhelming necessity which I was feeling to express it.
I was asking myself a lot of questions, and the internal monologue went something like this: Is this normal, to feel the need for space to just ‘be creative’? If so, why don’t other people around me get that? Is it selfish to want time away from my friends and family to satisfy this craving? Why do I find it awkward to talk about? What is it I am trying to achieve, though? Is it art? Is it a hobby? Or is it something else entirely? How do I know? How do I find out? Does it really matter?
So you see, when I read these words, they just seemed to slot so perfectly into my thinking, like missing pieces of a jigsaw which had previously brought nothing but sheer confusion and frustration – it suddenly all transposed neatly together to make a perfectly whole picture of where I was at. Which made perfect sense. Because here is the ‘guilty’ stuff which was also going through my brain:
1 – I am being indulgent (there are so many other useful things I could be doing – like the ironing, or sorting the cupboards, or baking nice treats for the family, or volunteering my time for a charity… I could be so much more organised! And charitable!)
2 – I am wasting my time (just playing around – who cares about my pictures and my confused ramblings anyhow? Why bother?)
3 – I just need to do this.
And with that efficiently eloquent turn of phrase I was able to, if not exactly answer my questions, place them, settle them, and realise that the questioning in itself was a perfectly normal, even essential part of the process. Because it does feel like being a toddler at play, in the sense that you are gifting yourself the luxury of time (and we all know how precious that is) and sometimes money also, to play. It does feel indulgent. But no-one would ever dream of accusing a toddler of wasting her time building a tower of blocks, because we also all know that play is an essential part of a toddler’s development. What is one day a tower may the next day become a bridge, then a castle, and then, when the necessary motor skills are in place, only the child’s imagination and opportunity to practice is its limit. And her mother’s (or father’s) little squeals of joy and rain showers of kisses are all the feedback and encouragement that child needs to know that she is on the right track and should continue in her modest endeavours, which will eventually become greater ones.
It’s a bit more complicated as an adult. We tend to seek recognition from a wider audience for one thing, and that toddler’s world is yet reassuringly simple and primitive, in the sense that the meeting of basic human needs and impulses are of primary concern over social ones. We cannot always seek to satisfy our desires so freely. But why do we as a society tend to advocate that play should be ring-fenced for childhood? Adults need play too, and they need it in the most serious and fundamental sense. Just like the toddler, they need time and space to explore and experiment; to practice and develop ideas and processes; to put them ‘out there’ so that they may then have the opportunity to evolve into achievements for which they can be recognised and of which they can be proud, however small or big they may be. Inside every adult is a little toddler desperate for a high five or thumbs up for good effort, or even a small squeal of joy.
Soon after I wrote the first draft of this post, I went away to a music festival with (husband) Alex for the weekend. We try to get away and do this every year, just the two of us and our tent, to indulge our shared love of music and escape (just for a while) from the trappings of a terribly bourgeois existence. There was a young unsigned American band who were all over the festival and generally working really hard, but having a great time. We saw them play a couple of times, and on one occasion the lead singer introduced a song called “Innocent” saying that as people get older they often feel the need to get all serious and tortured about creativity, but that really, well, it should just be about having a whole lot of fun. Yup. And that “fuck it, let’s just have fun” vibe of a festival is just generally the best kind of atmosphere to spawn creativity. Even tonight, I start to reprimand my children for blowing bubbles in their milk and making a mess all over the tablecloth, but whilst launching into the familiar rhythm of weary chastisement, I suddenly stop and check myself. Because I realised they knew. They were already getting the cloth to clear up the mess they had made (even if they made a terrible job of it). Play is good. Play is experimenting. Play is learning. But like anything good, it must have its limits, and as adults and educators, that is our job, in our wisdom and experience, to gently and sensitively educate our children in the seriousness of play, and thus instil a sense of individual responsibility for any mess they may make in the process. And maybe next time they will know exactly how hard they need to blow to get maximum bubble fun without spilling the milk over the edge of the cup (here’s hoping at least).
Answers to my questions? I haven’t really found them. What I have found, I think, is some reassurance that what I experience when I need to ‘create’ is derived from a most basic and natural human instinct. Whilst other people may feel the need to pigeon-hole my outward self as one thing or another and may find this confusing, really it is OK for me to be ‘just me’ on the inside and to continue to play with serious focus, energy and passion and a self-reflexive approach in order to push my practice forwards. All the rest is just a fine balancing act (and that, of course, is a little more complicated).
This image is part of a new investigation into photography and poetic expression, in which I am exploring the relationship between photograph as both surface-object and subject-referent. I don’t really know if it’s art, or if it’s any good, but I’m definitely having lots of fun playing.
© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014
Posted on November 3, 2013
Rich, elegant and thoughtful. Another beautiful response to ‘The journey’ project from Kate Rattray of katerattray.wordpress.com
I got the photo today. It was inside an envelope covered in layers of address labels, stamps and scan labels. Layers of history, not ancient but recent history, at least within the last year. A photo too is a record of history, and this particular photo made by Emily is intriguing. Every time I saw it on the blog it seemed to say the same thing, and now I have it in my hands it still says the same thing. Emily writes that she took the photo over 10 years ago whilst on a journey, and many of the writers and artists who have received the photo have interpreted that journey as a train ride. To me too it seems it was taken from a train. It is dark, ambiguous, mysterious. Those circles of light are like lost souls waiting, watching the train passing. Lost souls from the past waiting……
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Posted on October 11, 2013
As the photograph travels on it continues evoke immense creative energy from its recipients. Check out Carla Saunders’ bold and lively contribution…
I received Emily’s photograph September 28nd 2013. Having followed her blog, from the beginning, I had often thought what would I do if I were asked to put together a piece for this collaboration.
Emily invited me to participate and I was sent the photograph to interpret from my point of view. My first thought was, I’m looking at a full moon at night viewed from a moving train. The image reminded me of an overnight trip on a local train from Hanoi to Sapa in Northern Vietnam. I lay on a steel plank on the bottom bunk. I shared the compartment with five other people. It was dark. Flashes of light came in through the window. Metal against metal screeched. Strange smells, sights and sounds of humans asleep came at me for what turned out to be a long nightmarish night. I kept my mind occupied by writing a poem…
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Posted on March 4, 2013
I took a trip to the Photographer’s gallery with Alex. It was the first time I had been there since the gallery found its new home on Ramillies Street. It’s a great spot; very quiet, understated, yet just yards from the frenzied consumerism of Oxford Circus. A “behind the scenes” glimpse, if you like. I used to visit the gallery often when it was in Great Newport Street. It was a bit of a sanctuary for me when I was studying. I always enjoyed the cafe, and the bookshop, and I’m pleased to say that these are still there, and much improved. I could spend hours, literally, browsing in that bookshop, but Alex had to drag me away eventually! Five floors dedicated to photography was also a real treat.
There is an excellent exhibition: Perspectives on collage currently on. Collage is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, so it was very inspiring, and gave me much to think about.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It really is a fantastic space (and of course I took some pictures).
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
Posted on April 22, 2012
So, I’ve been blogging for two weeks now, and after my initial posting frenzy I have decided that I really cannot manage to post every day. The housework is starting to suffer, I can’t find anything, the washing pile is taking on a life of its own, and the children are, well, just hanging off me, literally, at any given opportunity. I get the message: they are starved of attention. I’m feeling bad, and things need to settle down now into a gentle, manageable rhythm – more moderato than presto, let’s say. With that in mind I have decided to limit my posting to three times a week (hopefully quality, not quantity, in the spirit of Friday’s post – see below), and I’m going to aim to do two shorter posts and one longer one each week (but, of course, I reserve the right to completely change my mind about all of that at any point in time).
Anyway, let’s get back to the point of this post which is not really about photography or phenomenology (directly, at least). The title is inspired by this lovely poem Colour Outside the Lines, by Jared Louche:
I was always told to colour inside the lines,
but sometimes lines just confine your mind.
From somewhere far down in the orange deep
I start to see new colours flowering all around me.
Confusion looks like black static-scrapes
on crinkled, white, burned-edge paper scraps.
Sleep’s always coloured deep-ocean green,
rivers of copper tug me through lavender dreams.
Bubblegumblebees swirl from my head
When I’m being silly in bed;
electric red-yellow wasps start to drone
when I’m an angry screaming cyclone.
Thinking hard at doing maths, my head follows
pencil-thin, jagged, rust-red paths.
Shouts are nasty, silver daggers stabbing
Huge policeman’s blue hands grabbing.
Whispers slip out on a crisp, cream strip
with chocolate-brown writing typed across it.
Snores have wide, blazing tiger bands.
Boredom has no colour but fog-grey on wet sand.
Birds chirp chatty, blue paint chips.
Dog barks are cloud-white with dawn-golden sparks.
Trucks rolling by burp grouchy black splashes.
Bicycle bells ring in shaky pink flashes.
Thunder blows a splatter of sickness-green grim,
brushed throughout in a bruised-blue trim.
Boiling kettles make tiny neon-yellow fish that swim.
When I sing a song,
a long string of loud,
rowdy colour explosions
slowly go floating
past my nose and
hilarious horns brightly
pop purple spikes.
Drums’ black splashes and
guitars roar orange-red slashes clash,
blue fuzzy bass feathers fly by and
white flecks of dry piano bone-specks
spatter across the mixing mess.
Glorious, glorious, colourful mess,
But music’s the colour I love the best.
It’s a wonderful, vibrant, symphony of colour. When I read it I think of a child allowed to run wild and just create: sing, paint, make music, dance in all the glorious clashing colours of the rainbow. And don’t we, when our children are little, encourage them to run wild with bright colours, to just be creative without restriction or adhering to form? But then, as they grow up and go to school, something happens and we start expecting them to conform. We start expecting them to be neat; to colour between the lines.
When my son was three he went to pre-school. We were living in Italy at the time. I remember one day his nursery teacher pulled me aside and expressed mild concern at the fact that he struggled to keep his colouring between the lines. She was so kind and looked so earnest about it and I remember nodding my head and trying also to look concerned, but inside I was wondering why on earth this was so important, that my son who was only 3, and just wanted to run around and be wild, should be able to pick up a crayon and colour in a picture without going over the lines. I shrugged my shoulders and assumed that it was some kind of cultural thing and decided not to worry about it. Now that he is 6 and I know much more about the education system, I understand completely why that teacher expressed concern. Of course, colouring is a pre-cursor to writing and we encourage nice neat colouring in schools and nurseries so that children will develop their vital fine motor schools that will allow them to in turn develop nice neat handwriting later on.
Except of course there are some children, like my son, who have no desire to conform, and no interest in learning to colour between the lines. For them, school is a long, hard battle of wills.
Last night, Alex and I had a rare night out in London to have dinner with some old university friends. The red wine was flowing, and as we picked at our tapas we got to chatting about all the extracurricular stuff we were up to. One of us plays lead guitar in a band and does gigs, the other is taking acting classes but has dabbled in singing too, and another is getting involved in her local community, doing a course in permaculture, volunteering in her local amateur theatre group, teaching youth theatre workshops and writing screenplays (she’s a busy girl). Alex is also very much into doing photography, but also painting, and his music (we have about eight guitars in the house, all of which he plays – we joke that they are breeding). And of course I am doing my blog and photography. This is all in our spare time, on top of holding down full-time jobs. (That is apart from me as I work part-time, but I like to think the children and the housework more than make up for the other 60% of my workload.)
We wondered why it was, that at this point in our lives, in our mid 30s, we have started to feel the need to reignite our latent creative urges, which have probably for most of us pretty much lain dormant since at least our free and easy university days if not since early childhood. None of us really do particularly creative jobs for a living, but we all felt the need for some kind of outlet in our spare time (or indeed, perhaps because of this). And we all felt like we had mostly suppressed our creative sides for so long for fear of not being taken seriously, or not being very good, or lack of confidence, or lack of time, or a combination of all of the above. It is quite scary to veer off in another direction and do something new. It takes more than a bit of courage.
It’s almost as though a fresh surge of creativity has welled up from deep inside us at the same time. Yet this time, there is an urgency about it. The lazy arrogance of youth has dissipated and its place there is determination and necessity. There is a sense that this is our last chance to get it all out while we are all still young-ish, and able and full of energy-ish. But it runs deeper than that, too. Many of us at a certain point in our lives realise that maybe we might want to try walking that alternative path that we could have taken, but didn’t for whatever reason. Maybe, like me, your parents or your teachers discouraged you from following more creative subjects at school because they weren’t ‘academic’ enough and were unlikely to secure you a place at a ‘good’ university or give you those elusive ‘opportunites’ to forge a decent, respectable career.
I loved art at school. It was my favourite subject along with English, but I never took art A-level because it was just never really valued as a subject. And people (even teachers) would say, well what are you going to do with art? How crazy is that, really? And how crazy is it that vulnerable, immature 16 year olds who know nothing of the world are forced into making life-limiting decisions like that which will ultimately fashion the path they will take in life. These are the first steps we take in narrowing our choices in life rather than broadening them, and narrowing our minds.
Education is the key factor here, of course. The other day I came across a talk on TED by Sir Ken Robinson (I love TED talks – I have the app on my iPhone and watch them whenever I can snatch twenty minutes here or there) on the subject of how schools kill creativity in our children. His premise is that the global education system stifles creativity in our children in order to prepare them for an ‘ideal’ life of academia. But of course in reality this is not the kind of route that all children would desire to take, or indeed should. Why do we pressurise our children into aiming for a university education, why do we prize that above all else, when a university education doesn’t really get you a job anymore?
We are failing our children because we are not preparing them for an uncertain future, where creativity and the ability to innovate will be the most valued skills we can offer to the job market. For me it is also simply about teaching our children to be true to themselves. This is the key to creating happy, well-rounded, succesful individuals. The speech is fascinating, inspiring, sad and hilarious (I defy you not to laugh out loud at the anecdote about the girl drawing a picture of God). I highly recommend checking it out.
So I will try, (tenuously?) to bring this back to photography. I have actually been thinking about these points a lot with reference to the subject. The photograph I have included today is a picture of one of my son’s drawings. He likes to fill the page to bursting with lots of colour and lots of intricate detail. He often adds bits of torn paper with writing. It’s almost as though he cannot be contained by a piece of A4. There is everything original about this picture – my son conceived it, and coloured it himself, but there is nothing original about the photograph. It is a picture I have stolen from ‘real life’. This is something which I both enjoy and find frustrating about a photograph at the same time: it can’t exist in its own right, and (unlike other art forms) it has to be contained by its own form. I don’t wish to enter into a debate about whether photography can be art (I think unquestionably it can be), but I do question whether it can ever be truly original. You can’t colour outside the lines of a photograph… can you?
And if you can or could, what would that kind of photography look like?
© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012