inspire – respire

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.

 

Emilyx

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© words and images by Emily Hughes, 2017

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

tell me a story

 

 

mabou

 © 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 most about blogging is the opportunity it provides to make connections with so many other creative and inspiring people. I remember vividly the excitement of starting this blog four years ago; gaining followers, having people comment on my pictures for the first time, discovering other like-minded bloggers. I posted a series of pictures my husband and I had taken in a house in Italy, and a fellow blogger (writer) asked if he could pen some words to them as a writing prompt, and so an artistic collaboration evolved with Nathan from The Whole Hurly Burly. I was curious to see what he would come up with, and it was indeed a fascinating process seeing your own pictures take on new meaning through somebody else’s eyes. It was good, from my part, to know that a collection of pictures which I had put together had the possibility of narrative, and that they could not only tell a story, but provoke an emotional response, and one which had resonance.

Sometime later I found the courage to instigate another artistic collaboration on a larger scale when I imagined the journey of a photograph project. A humble forgotten photograph has taken on new life, weaving words, stories and memories in its flight around the globe.

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 Storylines exhibition 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 .
 
I often write little short stories, or poems to go along with my images. I do it because it’s something I enjoy, often as much as making the picture itself, and I think that words have a tremendous power to bring life and meaning to a picture. This picture ‘the feathers’ is one I made a couple of years ago and recently re-worked into this final image. It features a fine pair of pheasant feathers, and is inspired by a sweet little story, when my husband bought home a surprise one snowy winter night. I posted this a while ago on here (some of you may remember). I have edited it very slightly since then.
 

 the feathers colour
 
‘the feathers’, 2014 
 
The Feathers
 
We heard the slam of the car door, then the familiar thud of his footsteps. The door opened. It was dark and cold out, and we could see he had something bulky and unfamiliar hanging from his back. Smiling in the shadows, he dangled his prize in front of our faces. I screamed.
Two dead pheasants.
The boy was amused; the girl less so.
He hung them in the garden shed in the dense, bleak night, and after the snow had begun to fall, and a snowman had been made [two hazelnuts for eyes; a jaunty snow hat, and an elephant for a companion], he began the long, diligent labour of preparing the birds with his strong, adept hands. The snow had created a perfect crisp white work surface for the task. He plucked the feathers (taking care to put aside the two longest, most elegant), then they were gutted and washed, cleaned, and finally – pink, bald and dimpled – ready for the pot.
The girl looked on with growing disgust.
“I’m NOT eating that!” she wailed.
But she kept on watching.
When the day came to cook them she quietly observed him from a distance as he worked. Slouched against the kitchen door frame.
“Want to cook with dada?”
“Okaaaay” she relented (she never could resist).
Later, I went outside. The sky was blank. Bleached white, as if it had been erased. It felt as though I could reach up and touch the clouds, weighty with snow. I found the stray feathers from the birds cocooned in their white blanket, abandoned where they had been strewn a few days before. They were graceful with strong supple whiskers. They were bold and colourful in rich auburn shades and a fine tiger stripe print. But they were also wispy little locks of silky-soft fluffy down-like bristles. As I photographed them the snow started to fall, slowly and tentatively, executing perfect pirouettes downwards towards the waiting ground.
The gleaming flakes clung to the feathers and gave them new form. It seemed like a fitting tribute to those birds to capture them there in that moment. In the snowfall. All that remained of their plump weight. Of the organs and the blood. The flesh.
And soon the snow will melt as the air starts to thaw. The feathers will turn to sludge and join the mud of the earth. Their proud, shiny plumes; soft tufty barbs and fine opaque quills will spoil and fade to nothing, or be carried away to nowhere on the gust of the next windy day.
But there is still something.
There are still two:
One for a boy, one for a girl.
Strong and tall and vibrant.
Remnants.
From the earth, which fed us.
A simple, hearty supper shared amongst friends.
And then, to the earth it returned.
[And the girl?
Well, she ate, and enjoyed her meal.] 

*********

 This blog post is a re-working of two previous blog posts; words and pictures, and the feathers.

The feathers is also available to purchase as a limited edition print from my artfinder shop.

 © words and images Emily Hughes, 2015

Forever blue

Heart flip

Summer draws to an end. Start of a new school year. It feels like a good time for pause, reflection and assessment.

A time for taking stock.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my blog lately. Struggling to organise my thoughts into any kind of coherent output. Struggling to find focus. I have random notes and jotting everywhere; projects half-started, half-finished; ideas, sentences half-formed… And always the day-to-day pulls me back, calling me away from delicious daydreams. The urgency of my children’s cries and demands grounding me back to the reality of the here and now.

Yet strangely, I feel more inspired than ever.

I guess every blog hits that six-month sticking point (or thereabouts). That crossroads moment where you feel you need to sit down and have a good think about what direction you want to take it in. When I started blogging back in April I had a very clear idea of what I wanted the blog to be about: photography and phenomenology. And that was it, pretty much. Yet, over the days and weeks and months I have found myself meandering down other (delightful) avenues, exploring novel nooks and crannies, and I have realised that I cannot be so blinkered in my approach. I didn’t bank on being constantly inspired by other bloggers, for one thing. My mind is continuously busy whirring, making connections and associations, thinking up new ideas and approaches.

As a consequence, I feel like I have strayed a little from my original blogging intentions. But not too much, and it’s OK. I think it’s OK to alter the flight path a little, take a few diversions. I’ll get there, to my destination, in the end, I think. Perhaps even a little wiser and a lot more enriched for it.

I have made myself a few promises, though. Namely, to try to build on some project ideas I have had, and to carry on with other projects I have started and left hanging. In particular my real film project, which I wrote about here and here (look out for some rollei pictures very soon!); my things to do with your instagrams explorations which I posted about here and here; my collections on colour (which I started here), as well as another photograph exchange idea I have (which I will post about very soon – part of my attempt to re-discover the physical element of photography). And of course, I will continue to post lots of photographs (which broadly fit under the umbrella of ‘my interpretations of a phenomenological approach to photography’), philosophical musings, a bit of creative writing here and there, and my flowers on Fridays.

There, I’ve published it on my blog. Now I have to do it!

In addition, (just for your info) I have started trying to become a bit more active on flickr, and have also set up a tumblr account which I am using to post pictures which represent moments of simple everyday sensory pleasures for me (a cup of coffee, a shoulder-blade, cotton on skin).

Thereby, I hope I am starting to, attempting to, very tentatively, put my finger on this aesthetic, this visual experience of the everyday, the mundane, moments of wonderfulness which I am searching for.

I hope that this blog has been and will continue to be a celebration of the everyday and the ordinary; the vernacular, which photography has the amazing power to capture and bring to light in such unbelievable beauty, for me. These, though, are not the moments which made you laugh out loud or jump for joy. These are not the big things in life. They are the subtle things which might raise a smile, or even just a smirk, that might generate a warm fuzzy feeling inside, make your heart lurch, or maybe even trigger an (inward) sigh… Nothing audible, nothing amazing. Nothing that measures on the richter scale. But the stuff of life. They may evoke a tingling and fizzing of the senses (as much as a photograph can) and, hopefully, spark something familiar, some chemical reaction in the synapses of your brain; a trace, a memory, of something or some moment which you inhabited a long, long time ago.

Finally, I had also planned to start doing some photo book reviews, but realistically this may be something I need to put on the back burner for a while (we have a very busy few months ahead of us).

Anyway, to finish, here is something I started a long while ago and finished the other day, which I wanted to share. It feels quite relevant, somehow, to what I have been writing about here:

Forever blue

Thoughts tangle with memories.
Half-spoken words dissolve
on my tongue
and I turn to watch them
drifting out of reach,
always out of reach

I press my pen nib into the indulgent space before me, but
too hard.
It spreads, splits,
scratches
snaps;
a teardrop of rich inky blue
pooling like a film of oil floating on creamy, naked foam

Blue.
Forever blue.
It creeps slowly,
seeps and stains.
Octopus blood
on my page

Because Octopus’ have blue blood.
Not the crimson red of
pain,
or the hot deep flush of
lust and
longing and
life

Red of a schoolboy’s crush
A freckle-faced blush
Sun scorched toes
Wrinkling under sandy coves
A first kiss
Lingering moment of bliss
A grazed knee
Or the throbbing swell sting of a bee

Blue.
Forever blue.
Cool,
calm,
constant
as the endless ocean

Piercing dots
Of forget-me-nots
The sad mournful tune
Of a weighty round moon
Warm hazy skies
Pale and clear
Reflected in a newborn baby’s eyes
Pure velvet breath
Soothes the mottled bruise of death

And (rarely) octopus’ eat their own arms

*****

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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