seeking paradise

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seeking paradise, 2018

 

Layered composite image, photographed with a rolleiflex TLR on Ilford pan 50.

© Emily Hughes

The Canyon

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I wasn’t going to post any pictures from the Grand Canyon, as they weren’t really very good, but then I got some black and white prints back from the rolleiflex, and I realised they had captured something I wasn’t able to capture in digital.

This one best sums up the awe and the austerity of the landscape, I think.

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

Free

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

Rapture

There are moments when being in a crowd is almost spiritual.

Watching. Listening. Coming Together.

Being.

Transfixed.

A shared sense of wonder.

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

Two’s company

This is the first post in a series on crowd images. Alex and I spent last weekend at the Truck festival near Steventon in Oxfordshire. It was a fantastic weekend; excellent music and a great atmosphere. There were many highlights, some of which I will post more about.

One of the things I enjoyed was plucking out scenes of couples from the crowds (sometimes intentionally and other times accidentally). I liked the way the twosomes  found their own secret spaces to just be quietly in their togetherness and share tranquil moments amongst the ensuing chaos and frenzy of the festival crowds. There is a sense of both reckless abandon and extreme privacy in a very public space (not least highlighted by my presence as intruder-photographer, and mostly fueled by lots of cider!). The images also tell their own little stories of friendship, love and community – truly summing up the spirit of the whole festival for me.

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

Words and pictures

© Robert Frank, Mabou 1997 – image reproduced at Mutual Art

opening line

Stories are necessary, enchanting, evocative things; but they can also be the means by which our dreams are traduced or defused, defiled or filed away. We learn to read sideways. We learn to read by the light of secret planets and signs.

Excerpt taken from From one state to the next by Ian Penman (included in the forward to Robert Frank, Storylines)

One of the things I love about blogging is the opportunity it provides to make connections with so many other creative and truly inspiring people. When I posted the pictures Alex and I had taken of the house of a friend of ours I never imagined that they would provoke such generous response. Nathan Filbert at manoftheword asked me if he could use the images as writing prompts. I was curious to see what he would come up with.

I love the way that he has interpreted them, partly because it is so different to the way I interpreted them myself. When I write about my own pictures I am much more prosaic, I think. It’s really fascinating to discover what someone else reads into your images. Beautiful, lyrical, and very true to the work, his words evoke love, passion, deceit, a fracturing, deceit, destruction… then quiet acceptance, release and, finally, hope. I picture the push and pull; the ebb and flow of a relationship which is spiraling into self-destruct, and the images suddenly come alive for me in a completely different light. It’s like an exercise of fill the gaps – and so to my rough outline Nathan has added shading and definition; to my skeleton some succulent flesh.

Of course they were very much intended to be open to interpretation, yet it’s nice to have that kind of feedback that confirms that your photographs can not only tell a story, but they can provoke an emotional response, and one which has resonance. It has also confirmed my passionate belief that photographs can construct narrative, and that words and pictures together can generate a stimulating coupling. It is something I try to convey in this blog (probably with varying degrees of success). It is something that I am working on.

I remember the exact moment when I realised that exploring narrative in photography was something not only important but necessary, and that combining words with images was what I wanted to aspire to do in my own photography. It was when I went to see the Robert Frank exhibition Storylines at the Tate Modern in 2004.

Frank is a storyteller; he attempts to convey narrative and sequence in his work employing not just photography but text – sometimes just single words and images, sometimes scratching the words into the surface of the negative – as well as video and film to create a dialogue (although more recently he has focussed exclusively on still photography). His later more experimental autobiographical work (and especially his polaroids and Mabou series from his home in Nova Scotia) for me is extremely powerful; saturated with emotion and complex layers of meaning. Photographs are grouped together haphazardly, peppered with random words sometimes scratched angrily or smudged. Fragments of writing, like diary entries, sometimes typed or handwritten are cut and pasted onto sets of images, creating crude collages which further add to an impression of fear, confusion, but also of profound sadness. There is so much to look at and explore in this work which reads like an expulsion, an exorcism even, of inner torment.

Although his later work never received the critical acclaim of the earlier projects such as The Americans (perhaps because it is less accessible?) I found it very moving. It speaks (to me) and tells the story of a deeply disturbed state of mind, of a man who is broken.

© Robert Frank, Mabou 1987 – image reproduced in Fashion for Writers

And so, back to What Once was Here. Now it is something transformed. The exciting thing for me here and my images, is that words have charged them with new meaning. They have been taken in a new and intriguing direction….

I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to you Nathan for your words. Here they are:

WHAT ONCE WAS HERE: A Rhapsody

(photographs by Emily & Alex Hughes / text by N Filbert)

Rhapsody: n. [via Latin from Greek rhapsōidia, from rhaptein to sew together + ōidē song]
(Collins English Dictionary)

What’s left hanging, a dangling or loosened shadow, often ends determining. A note you
left with simple instruction opened on unprepared mystery. Unable to handle and afraid
of the dark, tiny conduits tunneling everywhere. The twine wobbly and knotted, but the
lines of the threshold so clear. When things are left hanging, though exciting and
ominous, possibilities frighten. The key to what once was here is risk.

Light flooded in, deepening our shadows. Made us strangely opaque while leaving us
veiled. We overlapped and enfolded, X’d-out and crossed over, offering ourselves to this
light. Details increased but wrinkled together and shaped themselves new in our joining.
Some things were lost in the edges. Gaps dotted the patterns we formed. Love imbued
what we made with exposure – tracings and bars from behind and before. They’d stay
with us. What once was here was not easy to see in its layers.

A sewing of selves in our mating. Geological ruts shaped in our time, cross-cuts we dug
and uncovered. We compared, we abutted. The ripples and tremors from you became
mine; I gave you my rifts and my fissures. This continental shift and dramatic drift, with
we stitching seams like a medley. Rolling fro to our solace and shadows, rolling to in
tempestuous waves. What once was here was a rhythm, a rocking. What once was here
– a confluence of dreams.

Little by little unmasked. The landscapes and portraits had been our decor. In the gaze
and reflection of us, our stories and fables were stains. We erased and absorbed, we
retold. And with time began peeling away – at each other, at us, at our space. Seeking
faultlines and secrets, hidden keepsakes and such. We wanted it all from each other – the
truth unadorned – but stripping it down wasn’t wise. What once was here was the color,
the dreams, the feelings and fictions of persons. What once was here was the different
story, what signaled us one to another. What once was here was ourselves, the many and
varied, the each calling each, the creations we stripped in our glare.

But look close, it remains. The mold of your thoughts, the worn edge of my fears. The
stiff stitching we wove will not hold, it is cracking. We press against things that won’t
change in the changing. Structures refusing to bend. Like a bite we attacked and we tore
and we warped. The surface beginning to seep. What once was here was a study
discovering. What once was here had been making more life. Some substances proved
an impossible impasse. Unassimilable to growing the web and its fade. What once was
here became focused on hard things, losing sight of a world all around.

Stepping back, we observe a merged shadow. A discernible action now blanched and
unsure. We set out on a search for markings and signs, some tokens of whom we had
been. Somewhere for imaging whys. Dissolving and tarnished our outlines were bleak
and colluded. Identities patterned with time. No doubting there had been an other – but
whom? We’d come to be looking so same! Let’s begin, we begged, rediscover – let’s
restore and provide a fresh space. What once was here had been sharper – with purpose,
intention and luster. We moved back, turning toward, growing dim.

And uncovered the remnants of frames. Spaces held, oh so vaguely, but there, all the
same. We marked what we found for the future and asked. Intent toward content and
memory. Divvying out and agreeing what’s yours, this is mine, we must place them
again, we must fill. We moved into a seeking as finding, the wishing we had it to make.
Shading the borders we shared, we founded the boundaries we needed, saving
establishing place. We engaged and departed, forging and foraging, inventing anew what
once had been here.

Lines had to be drawn to secure us. The grilling and divits were rough. We hardened
and scaped, we stamped out a sieve, we were leaking with sounds in our silence.
Austere. Our limits grew cold and unyielding, fears and defenses with no room to
expand. We were forcing a form like a unit; marching our freedom to death. Our love
wouldn’t give, it insisted. What once was here had been meant to protect. What once
was here became prison, severe. What once was here needing flow.

You pushed out of your hollow, your void. Swooped in and then turned. I respond with
a circling back, a new dance. Move forward, retreat; hold back, singing out – fresh
motions withdrawing our lines. I ache, you arched forth, we recoiled into balance, a
mysterious call and response, and it held. We’d slice out and dash back against
movement, swelling forth in compelling return. Unwittingly, exchange was emerging in
this – freed up yet in-formed and recursive. What once was here was springing to life,
swirling and drawing out depths. What once was here was transposing with all of the
requisite tones – melody, harmony, dissonance too, a swoon toward new resolutions.

A zone we’re commencing to build. Fashioning a firm and porous, liquid border we
texture a gradual glow. Each day we thicken and act, enabling both darkness and light.
We increase, inward and upward, fluid yet firm, purposely crafting a realm while leaving
clear traces, together. In tandem, we say, we are many – what once was here become
now and then an also, and also a plus. A joining like earth to its sun – such necessary
interdependence – a complex and dissimilar symmetry.

What once was here is bursting out. From damage strange flowerings grew. Whenever,
wherever, the tearing, and laughter. We each drew in lines at odd angles. Somehow it
cushioned our falls. Worn from use and worried with play, we threw ourselves reckless
in joy. Secrets crept out and wounds would appear, then we’d carefully tongue to their
health. There seems no intransigent ruin, our inevitable demise rhapsodized. What once
was here is incessant, reborn.

And thus we map our journeying worlds. Retracing trajectories this way and that, no
lines slip away, but are definite paths. Each wriggle, each stumble and stray and
excursion; riffing versions of high points and vales. The recording of what once was here
the organs and nerves of our bodies, divining effects and undoing – no occurrence not
finally seen. We call it the Geography of Now/Here” or “What-Once-Was-Here-In-
Process,” without end in our limited sphere.

What once was here is where we begin – an open field with loose leafage – the lines and
the tears, the staining and ripples are there inscribing relief, but what once was here is
always, just before what is will be, and what’s here right now is this pure between.

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

What once was here

A collaboration between Emily and Alex Hughes

To see more of Alex’s pictures check out his photostream on flickr

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

Nephology

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of cloud gazing. We’ve had plenty of moody skies which makes for interesting and dramatic cloud formations. I haven’t felt much like photographing them, though, strangely.

I just want to look.

The master of all cloud photographers was, I think, Alfred Stieglitz. He made his series of Equivalents as a response to a critic who believed that he had some kind of hypnotic power over his subjects, and claimed therein lay his photographic talents. Affronted, he set about to prove unequivocally that he could take good pictures of other things. Things which couldn’t be hypnotised by his lens. He turned his camera upwards and looked to the sky, to the clouds.

Alfred Stieglitz – Equivalent

Alfred Stieglitz – Equivalent

Alfred Stieglitz – Equivalent

Alfred Stieglitz – Equivalent

Alfred Stieglitz – Equivalent

His mother was dying at the time, and these beautiful images are also a moving and emotional tribute to her. Abstract art has such power to both convey and reflect human emotion, holding up a mirror to our souls.

Was he searching for the truth? An escape from reality? Or blessed relief from the pain of losing a loved one? Was he looking for God?

We will never know exactly, but of course part of their appeal and potency is their universality. We can all find our own solace – our own answers – in them.

Clouds induce in me a lazy state of daydreaming – one of my most favourite past-times. My children enjoy that age-old past-time of spotting recognisable forms (animals, flowers, trees) in the clouds, and mostly when I think about clouds I think about childhood, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because my children are so fascinated by them, or maybe because I was as a child.

And children are fascinated by clouds aren’t they? Usually I think of them as quite friendly and fluffy. Though sometimes they can be scary and menacing like the Cloud Men in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

The other day, walking my son home from school in the rain (again) he commented on a discussion he had had with some friends at school about the rain. He said he thought that when it was raining it was God having a shower, but another friend thought that it was God’s tears. “Mummy”, he sighed, “either God is having a lot of showers lately, or he is very sad.”

I wrote these two poems about cloud-gazing from a child’s perspective (and please forgive me if they are very bad I know I am not a poet but I am trying out some new things, and perhaps they are not quite done I’m not sure yet):

Nephology

Evapotranspiration. Troposphere. Stratosphere. Mesosphere. Cumuliform. Cirrocumulus.

I say the unfamiliar words out loud
Try them
Roll them around thoughtfully, clumsily in my mouth
A sugary boiled sweet clattering against my teeth

Nacreous: very high clouds. Exhibit lustrous, rainbow colours like mother of pearl
Noctilucent: night clouds. The highest clouds in the atmosphere. Illuminate during deep twilight

A new pair of too-tight leather shoes
Not easy
Not comfy

Nephology: the study of clouds

An other language
Beautiful, strange
Not mine fluently tripping off my tongue
With a skip and a hopscotch: 1… 2-3… 4… 5-6…. 7… 8-9… pick up the stone – and back again.
Can I say it backwards?
Ygolohpen (eeee-jolo-pen)
I’m stuck
Standing still
I suck
The sweet deposits itself in the hollow of my left cheek
Oozes gently filling my mouth with a burst of sickly syrupy lusciousness
I look up
Smile to myself
After a while, I turn around and hopscotch back
My once shiny shoes now scuffed and worn
Moulded to my feet
Things that once were new become part of me

Cloud kisses

I watch the clouds up in the sky
Feel the sunshine on my face
Wonder: can they see them up in space?

I watch the clouds up in the sky
White-whipped marshmallow kisses
Heaped moody-grey wishes

I watch the clouds up in the sky
I watch the thin vapours drift, I watch them roam
Restless puffs of foam

I watch the clouds up in the sky
Sheet-like fold me up a letter
Swaddle me a soft dove-grey angora sweater

I watch the clouds up in the sky
Send me surfing on a halo-hazed rim
I follow them to nowhere on a whim

I watch the clouds up in the sky
I skip a rainbow trip
Reach out to grip

Does God take his strong ancient hands
And wring each raindrop from the clouds
Until they are spent?
I watch them fall
Feel them splash upon my nose, my eyelashes
I stick out my tongue to taste
The tang of His salty-sweet tears

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

For reference, these are the websites I took the images from:

http://theindecisivemoment.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/inspired-by-a-master-alfred-stieglitz/
http://phomul.canalblog.com/archives/stieglitz__alfred/index.html
http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=44200


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