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 December 19, 2018
The slick sharp shapes of the city are blurred out of focus. The pale bright sky darkens. And then the rain comes. Sudden. Violent. An eviction. There is thunder. Lightning. I sit up. Turn my eyes to the sky, press my nose to the glass. There’s something thrilling about a storm which makes me feel like a child.
I listen to the rain pelt out tinny drum beats on the coloured metal roof tops. I wait. For it to wash everything away: dirt, sin, hope. I wait for it to end. I don’t want it to end. My eyes are bleary with colour block walls and mischievious gods with kohl lined eyes, scorpions which light up in the dark. Wary children with shy smiles and women who turn their backs to me, flashing brightly coloured teeth which nibble at proud whipped crowns. And banana leaves and teak trees, lush highland greens. Limestone mountains jutting into the sky. The electric blue of a birdwing butterfly. And smells I want to jumble up and strike onto hot night time pavements like firecrackers, inhale like anodyne: ripe melon, chrysanthemum tea, steamed yellow corn. Petrol and incense and ginger flowers. Fried banana doused in vinegar.
And the rain. I want to feel the warm rain on me. Sliding down my cheeks and the back of my neck, bouncing off my toes. I want the force of it to perforate me, punch me out onto an unknown landscape. I want to lean into it, let it prop me up, a cut out doll. I want it to drench my clothes to the outline of my flimsy body, dissolve me into a sugary puddle and suck my flip flops off my feet. I remember once, dancing in the rain. There was music. I was laughing, turning, my face and hands reaching to the sky, feeling the happiest I might have ever been. The rain can be a shelter for your loneliness. It can be freeing that way.
Outisde is all colour. Strange and rattling. But inside is quiet. Black and white. And it feels like I’ve slipped back into some watchful heart space, tender and fragrant as a kiss from a frangipane baby. I slouch against the cushioned seats. Soon, the roads are slushy canals. Sharp needles drill out dents in the pocked concrete. The downpour is exhausting. It slants across my vision, sends me into a cross-eyed daze.
We stop outside a restaurant. I see a group of men sitting and eating with their hands, bare foot, cross-legged. Flexing their toes like lizards.
It’s a slow crawl to the hotel, just 5o yards away. But no-one seems to mind about the hold up very much. No-one seems angry, or in a hurry. After all, they know. They’re no match for the sky around here. They wear patience on their sun-beaten faces like masks. A couple of horns beep pathetically and the rain drums on.
We shrug forwards and it calms, picks out a slower, more accidental rhythm. It builds again to the chorus, another unexpected rush of sound. A rising fury. Crescendo. This happens once, twice, three times.
A verse, a chorus, a song, of the rain.
© Emily Hughes, 2018, image and words.
Posted on October 6, 2018
© Emily Hughes, 2018
Posted on April 9, 2018
After a week on a writing retreat at the Hurst with Arvon I am feeling tired and exhilarated. So many thoughts and ideas spinning in my head. So many inspirational moments. So many wonderful, generous people.
There are countless benefits to a residential writing course and for each and every person the journey will be different; tailor made, if you like. But here is what I found: the freedom to retreat into myself and explore those spaces, the gaps, where the slices of light shine through. I found my voice, with gentle and insistent encouragement. I found that I had things to say with it. Things which are important. I found new friendships. And I laughed and sang and laughed some more, until tears rolled down my cheeks. Sometimes they were tears of happiness and sometimes it felt like there was something else being wrung out of me. Sometimes, I didn’t know the difference.
If you are thinking about doing a writing retreat I would highly recommend Arvon. Actually scrap that — don’t think, just book it! I promise you won’t regret it.
Posted on January 25, 2018
The fairy in whose presence we are granted a wish is there for each of us. But few of us know how to remember the wish we have made; and so, few of us recognise its fulfilment later in our lives. I know the wish of mine that was fulfilled, and I will not say that it was any more clever than the wishes children make in fairy tales. It took shape in me with the approach of a lamp, which, early on a winter morning, at half past six, would cast the shadow of my nursemaid on the covers of my bed. In the stove a fire was lighted. Soon the flame — as though shut up in a drawer that was much too small, where it barely had room to move because of the coal — was peeping out at me. Smaller even than I was, it nevertheless was something mighty that began to establish itself there, at my very elbow — something to which the maid had to stoop down even lower than to me. When it was ready she would put an apple in the little oven to bake. Before long, the grating of the burner door was outlined in a red flickering on the floor. And it seemed, to my weariness, that this image was enough for one day. It was always so at this hour; only the voice of my nursemaid disturbed the solemnity with which the winter morning used to give me up into the keeping of the things in my room. The shutters were not yet open as I slid aside the bolt of the oven door for the first time, to examine the apple cooking inside. Sometimes, its aroma would scarcely have changed. And then I would wait patiently until I thought I could detect the fine bubbly fragrance that came from a deeper and more secretive cell of the winter’s day than even the fragrance of the fir tree on Christmas Eve. There lay the apple, the dark, warm fruit that — familiar and yet transformed, like a good friend back from a journey — now awaited me. It was the journey through the dark land of the oven’s heat, from which it had extracted the aromas of all the things the day held in store for me. So it was not surprising that, whenever I warmed my hands on its shining cheeks, I would always hesitate to bite in. I sensed that the fugitive knowledge conveyed in its smell could all to easily escape me on the way to my tongue. That knowledge which sometimes was so heartening that it stayed to comfort me on my trek to school. Of course, no sooner had I arrived than, at the touch of my bench, all the weariness that at first seemed dispelled returned with a vengeance. And with it this wish: to be able to sleep my fill. I must have made that wish a thousand times, and later it actually came true. But is was a long time before I recognised its fulfilment in the fact that all my cherished hopes for a position and proper livelihood had been in vain.
‘A Winter Morning’ — extract from Berlin Childhood around 1900, by Walter Benjamin
© image, Emily Hughes
Posted on January 12, 2018
I love photographing trees, and walking amongst them in forests just as much. A walk in the forest is always restorative and revitalising. My children think I am quite mad when I walk up to the trees and start stroking them, but there’s just something so nurturing and comforting about them that I can’t help myself: they have seen it all haven’t they, these ancient masts towering above us? They have wisdom in their branches and intellect susurrates through their roots in slow, deliberate murmurs.
This wood is close to my house and consists almost entirely of beech trees, with some clusters of silver birch, ash and cherry dotted about, here and there. The beech trees look ghostly in the subdued winter sunlight. Their bark when young is smooth and pale. As they get older, more mature, the girth broadens and the wrinkles develop. Beech trees grow in thickets which are often called ‘queens’ – the queens of the forest; elegant and regal.
These images were all snapped on my phone.
© Emily Hughes, 2018
Posted on December 17, 2017
interrupted by a daydream, 2014
She tugged at her apron and bit hard at her bottom lip, watching as three drops of blood fell, staining the perfect blanket of starched white cotton.
The memory shifted into place: a bolt unlocking. She didn’t want it – not now – it was all too painful. Exhausting. But there it was, tugging at her. It seemed insolent to try to ignore it, or chase it away. The ‘kerchiefs, the pillowcases, always white, they were. White as those sweet little snowdrops. Ada had scrubbed them daily but the blood still came; first drops (just a few) and then they were sodden. She had tried to hide them, her ma, stuff them away under the bed sheets, in pockets, but Ada had found them. In the end it came in a torrent bubbling and spilling out of her; through her mouth, teeth and lips sticky and stained black-pitch, even her nostrils. There was so much of it. Later, she had looked at her waxen skin streaked with red and the halo of crimson which bloomed around her head and thought that they were like the tears her mother had never cried, which had built up inside of her. Tears of pain. She had kept it hidden for so long from everyone. All those months of coughing and wheezing and secrecy. She had nurtured her suffering jealously, an unborn child, hers to bear and hers alone. When the dam broke, Ada had been surprised and shocked by the force of it, this wellspring inside of her mother, tiny and fragile as a porcelain doll.
She shook her head, as if to try and scramble the memory. Knock it out of her.
Not now. Please.
This is a short extract from a longer story which I am currently writing.
© words and images by Emily Hughes
Posted on February 16, 2017
Last summer we visited Bodega Bay in California: such a quaint little picturesque seaside town, but who knew the weather would be worse than a British summer? We braved the pacific fog – in any case, it suited me fine and made for some nice lighting – taking lots of windswept walks along the deserted beaches and sampling the various clam chowder outlets. The sombre, brooding tone of these photographs belies the happy memories I have of this place. Perhaps next time we visit there’ll be blue skies.
© images by Emily Hughes, 2016
Posted on December 23, 2016
For those who seek strength at this time of year, Emily x
She ran down to the seashore because he had told her to run, and she didn’t know where else to go. Her faithful chocolate lab, Chess, galloping at her side, long pink tongue flapping in the wind. It was cold – bitingly cold – so she pulled the hood of her fur-lined anorak tightly around her face, still smarting with indignation. At least she had had the foresight to grab her coat; silly she hadn’t thought to change her shoes, she scolded herself regretfully and rather pointlessly as she felt the wet sand squelch uncomfortably into her flimsy ballet slippers and between her toes. When she got there she didn’t know what to do so she stood and threw stones into the shallow water, watching the ripples expand and disappear. Through her tear-filled eyes the horizon looked pleasantly blurry. In fact, it was as if the whole world was out of focus, at that very moment. She watched the tide wrinkle in and out, gently, rhythmically, for some time. It was something she could rely on. As sure as her breath: in-out, in-out. She turned to look at Chess, whose eager brown eyes were fixed on her as he panted noisily, awaiting instruction it seemed. But she had none to give. Her frenzied gaze steadied, resting on the horizon ahead. As she looked on, she realised at that moment that she didn’t know what was coming next, but whatever it was, it didn’t scare her. Suddenly, decisively, she turned her sodden, sand-caked heels away from the shore and didn’t look back.
This image is available to buy in my artfinder shop.
© image and words by Emily Hughes, 2013 and 2016
Posted on December 21, 2016
© images by Emily Hughes, 2016