tell me a story




 © 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.
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

Press On

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.
Click on the link for more information, or to take part in the project:



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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The journey travels on. Sydney Lancaster, visual artist, writer and musician from Canada gives us her take on journeying, motion, connections and lines….


My small contribution to Journey of a Photograph is now off to its next recipient.


It’s taken me a while to be ready to make something for this project, in part because of all the travel and work that came between the parcel’s arrival and my own ability to stop and think about what I could add … what would be a suitable and (hopefully) interesting addition to the diversity I found sandwiched in the envelope.


I wanted to bring something about motion and space and connection to bear here. The Photograph and its travelling companions have been all over the planet, and in the last few months, I have been across the country, twice. The time and kilometres spent at 35000 feet or more could be a divisive thing – a separation from what keeps me going. It can be seen that way, certainly. Being ‘away’ is like that: the…

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travel on diptych3

The journey of a photograph is looking for new participants. It has been such a creative and inspiring journey, but it’s not ready to end yet. Currently the photograph resides in New Zealand, and although I’m sure it’s enjoying it’s little sojourn there by the beach with Maureen of  kiwissoar (and how envious I am of it), it needs to move on to new destinations. If you are an artist, writer, photographer, or any other type of uncategorisable creative being (aren’t they the best types?) and think you might have something to add to the journey, please contact me , or sign up via the blog. Contributions have been varied and unique, each and every one,  from solargraphs to mosaics, and poetry: check out the blog to see where the photograph has been and what it has inspired thus far. I can promise your practice and even your being will be enriched for it.  And you get to join a wonderful little virtual community of creative minds.

The journey is an entirely collaborative effort. Visit the blog to read more about its beginnings.

Here’s to travelling onwards…


© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014


I’m back! And so is the photograph. Following a brief interlude, it resumes its journey. Read about the Journey of a Photograph Project here…


Interlude final


The Journey final

‘The Journey’

The intimate is not a space but a relationship between spaces.

– Beatriz Colomina

I was forced, recently, to take a break from blogging. Not really by choice, but because life burst forth in a relentless tidal wave of busyness (as it does every year at the same time), and something had to give. However, I have been continuing to make pictures, and the past few months has been a process of consolidation and gathering together of things which I have been thinking about and working on for a long time, years even. I have not made any ‘new’ pictures as such; it is the nature of photography that you can be extremely prolific when you are clicking a button (that’s the easy part), yet it’s the editing that take the time; the drawing together the threads of the narrative and the sifting through the rubble to seek out those lustrous gems. It has been more a process of looking back, reflecting, and…

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‘night train to sapa ’

As the photograph travels on it continues evoke immense creative energy from its recipients. Check out Carla Saunders’ bold and lively contribution…







Good morning!

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.

night train 2

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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Journey of a photograph


I have started a new blog. This one is a little different. I aim to instigate the sending of material pictures and/or photographs on journeys in an attempt to evoke responses, and to subsequently record how they are transformed along the way. The project is borne out of a desire to return to a more tangible photography, and to endeavour to somehow engage in, and chart the process of personal and collective memory-making.

The journeys will be recorded at the blog journeyofaphotograph, which is intended to be an open and collaborative effort.

If you would like to take part in the project, please sign up here.

If you would like to read about how it came about, please see my post here


A lightbulb moment

When I worked in Human Resources, many years ago, I used to regularly undergo personality tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (all part of the job). I got to know myself quite well, and also unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look on it) that I was in the wrong job. My favourite of these such tests was the Belbin team role type tester. I always came out as a plant, which is one of the more unusual types, and especially unusual for someone who works in an office (I did feel like a plant, albeit one a bit sad and limp, neglected and silently withering in the corner of a windowsill). The plant is the creative one in the group (read ‘oddball’ or ‘outsider’). The one who has all the ideas, often unusual which other people might not come up with. The one who may be a little unorthodox. The plant is actually so-called, I think, because in the original research one such personality type was actually planted in each team, because apparently a team cannot survive without one. This team role is depicted by a lightbulb.

Image from

I have probably around 10-20 ideas a day. A lot of them are fairly average and leave my mind as quickly as they enter, but I don’t know, they still just keep on coming. The lightbulbs keep pinging, fizzing and crackling in my head. I can’t stop them, and THANK GOD I now have somewhere to exorcise them regularly.

Anyhow, please let me share this idea with you (before it burns a hole in my head – it’s been with me a long while already).

I have been thinking a lot about whether photography can build layers of meaning in the way that other art mediums can. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does. After all, a photograph is so wedded to its referent. When we look at a photograph do we see something new, an object in its own right, a thing, or do we just see ‘that which it depicts’? Is it just an ‘invisible’ medium, as Barthes suggests in Camera Lucida?

In his book Hockney on photography: Conversations with Paul Joyce, Hockney criticises photography for its shallow perspective on the world. He believes that it is impossible to do anything original with the medium because of its one-dimensional perspective. Having experimented with photo collage, he ultimately found it an unsatisfactory means for creative expression; too mechanical, too fixed, too much surface. Not an ‘authentic’ way of seeing. And what’s more, if in the digital age of photo-manipulation, photography can no longer be trusted to tell ‘the truth’ (whatever that might be), he suggests, during an interview with Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, we must instead turn to other means of communication, like painting to reveal it to us.

I take issue with Hockney’s view. I think he just misses the point of photography entirely. People will always take photographs and will always have the urge to record their everyday lives. This to me is just a fascinating social phenomenon. It doesn’t interest me, or most people I think whether a photograph is depicting ‘the truth’ or not. I think we can agree quite categorically that the relationship between what is true and photography has always been – and always will be – more than a little problematic.

What fascinates me, then, is what happens to these photographs; how they go on to be employed and how they filter out into different social contexts: art, social document/record, family keepsake, etc. A greater part of the meaning of any individual photograph is defined by what happens to it after it has been taken, and not what the image is of. In other words, how it is contextualised. Of course any single image may be something that could have been taken by thousands of other people (so in that sense it is not original), but it’s what happens to it next that is important. Does it go into a family album (photograph as memory, family history)? Or maybe become part of a museum archive (social document or record)? Maybe it is made into a photobook, published on a blog, on flickr, facebook, tumblr, pinterest; put to words, or utilised in some other way. Whichever path it takes it has a purpose. It becomes an everyday object. And sometimes an art object.

I think that Hockney, a painter first and foremost by practice and by training, is only able to view photography in a very one-dimensional way. Yes it is ubiquitous, and becoming more so, but it is also intriguing exactly because of this. The layers of meaning in a photograph are not intrinsic to the photograph itself, as a single image, rather in what happens to it afterwards on its ongoing journey. Photography is part of the social fabric of everyday life, and therein lies its inherent significance: as social commentary, if you like, rather than as unique art object.

Accessible to all and admired by all. Walter Benjamin applauded photography for its ability to endlessly reproduce an image. He called it ‘the ultimate democratic art form’ (in his essay “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”, which can be found reproduced in Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt) because, through its very nature of mechanical reproduction it was so accessible to ordinary folk.

If you have been following my blog you will have noted that I am very interested in the idea of the photograph as a material object; as harbinger of history and memory and social meaning. In the introduction to Photographs Objects Histories: On the materiality of Images, Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart describe with great eloquence and clarity the importance of talking about materiality in photography (what phenomenlogists might call its ‘thingness’ – although Edwards and Hart are not primarily concerned with phenomenology), and what exactly this means.

Barthes is their starting point: the famous and beautiful image from Camera Lucida of him studying an aged sepia toned photograph of his dead mother from an old photograph album, desperate as he was to find an image which captured the essence of her. The Winter Garden Photograph:

The photograph was very old. The corners were blunted from having been pasted into an album, the sepia print had faded, and the picture just managed to show two children standing together at the end of a little wooden bridge in a glassed-in conservatory, what was called the Winter Garden in those days.

from Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes (p67 of the 2000 Vintage edition)

Dog eared and time-worn, this photograph carries so much more meaning than its subject alone. It is an object in its own right; a memory, whose marks and scratches, wear and tear tell a kind of threefold story of its journey through time, the scene it depicts, and a ‘broader visual narrative’ of a photograph album (p1) in which it lived and played out its role.

A photograph is a three-dimensional thing and a physical entity, one with which it is possible to interact in a sensory way. It is subject to the rules of social exchange, production, exchange and usage, all the time gathering meaning on its trajectory (p4) rather like we humans acquire knowledge and wisdom on our journey through life. We may get a little battered and bruised along the way, but usually (I think) we emerge from the ride a little wiser, and more interesting. A photograph, therefore, is not an abstract concept, neither is it static, it moves ‘through space and time’ (p9), bearing the marks, the traces of its material existence.

Unlike an image which we view on a computer screen, a photograph-object bears an aura of something original and unique (p9). It offers a unique experience of looking – a different way of seeing altogether. I want to try to explore this further in a practical way. I, like many of you I’m sure, spend a lot of (read: way too much) time straining my eyes looking at photos on a back-lit computer screen. It’s all just so…. well, flat. I suppose. I want to get back to a photograph; some thing tactile, which I can touch, hold and respond to physically, not just visually.

UntitledUntitled Polaroid image by Kim Unscripted, all rights reserved

I am not the only one thinking this way, of course. This is nothing new or groundbreaking I am writing here. You only have to take a look at WordPress photography blogs, or check out Flickr to see that there is a slow but rising tide of resistance against megapixels, Photoshop and everything digital photography has to offer. Not so much getting back to basics, perhaps, but getting back to something real and emotive in photography. Something which is perhaps lacking in the uniformity of a digital image?

And indeed a faded, yellowing photograph curling at the corners with age immediately evokes another era. In itself it becomes a record of time passing and a promise of the future. Like world-weary wrinkles worrying gentle rivulets of time passed; life, love, and laughter into the once new, unblemished skin of innocence. They are a record of experience lived. Something to be cherished.

I recently came across The impossible project, an enterprise which was undertaken by former Polaroid employees to rescue instant analogue film from the brink of oblivion, and to continue reproducing Polaroid film for still-functioning Polaroid cameras everywhere. They are now making exciting (although eye-wateringly expensive it has to be said) new Polaroid film such as color shade and various other special edition films.

There is something uniquely charming about the Polaroid aesthetic. That 1970s colour cast which makes us all feel – at least those of us who were there in the 70s – as if we are looking at old baby photos, which of course we now attempt to reproduce, dusting our images with a haze of ready-bottled-golden-age-nostalgia via the magic of pre-prepared filters.

Of course it wasn’t a golden age, but I think that the nostalgia has a lot to do with children of the 70s like me growing up and reminiscing about family albums. When I was little I used to spend hours pouring over our shelf of family albums. It was one of my favourite past-times. It’s true that all children LOVE looking at pictures of themselves. It helps them to develop a sense of who they are and where they belong in this big crazy world. And of course the Polaroid evokes all of that, but not only that it is also unique in itself. You click the shutter, and minutes later you actually have the image in your hands. It’s there, it’s real; you have the moment in your fingers. You have made an object which is something and will become something; a part of you, your history and your future.

So, ok, I’m finally getting around to the point of this post… the idea…

A while ago I received a letter from a blogger. It was so lovely to see her handwriting (terrible though it was – and it’s OK I can say that because she admits it!). She put lavender in the envelope. It was the sweetest card with a picture of a butterfly on it. It added a whole new dimension to a relationship of transaction of ephemeral words via the internet. Something physical passed from one person to another, across two continents. (I am also ashamed to admit that I haven’t responded yet to her thoughtful note, but I will, I haven’t forgotten, though my computer does, unfortunately seem to take priority these days).

I also read of other bloggers doing trades of artworks, and blogging collaborations. I was approached by another blogger who wanted to write some words to a series of images my husband Alex and I had taken. It’s a world of astonishing, boundless creativity, imagination and generosity I feel I have stumbled upon here where ideas find rich and fertile soil in which to breed and grow, pure clean air to breathe and boundless space to stretch, reach and aspire, or to just be, quietly and thoughtfully. It is infinitely inspiring.

I would like to try, if I can, to tap into that rich resource even further….

It’s quite simple really. I want to take a picture, print it, hold it in my hands, and send it on a journey to someone else who lives somewhere else – maybe half way across the world, or maybe in the next town – who is waiting patiently to receive it, and who will then respond to it, in whatever way they choose, and send another photograph on a journey to someone else (Sort of like those chain letters you used to get, which now get sent by email – except not actually because they are annoying and everyone always deletes them). And I want to record those journeys on a blog. I want to watch photographs being sent around the world and see and understand the different ways in which people respond to them, use them, interact with them. Maybe someone will hang one on their fridge, or use it as a source of inspiration for another picture, a poem, a piece of prose. Or maybe they will pass it on to someone else, use it in a piece of art work, or just use it as a bookmark. I want to record those photographs on their journeys, soaking up layers of meaning like paint layers. I want to see them take on history, memory, stories, which are then shared with other people.

It would be a collaborative effort. A social experiment, of sorts.

So, what do you think? Please respond using this sign-up form if you have any comments (positive or negative), suggestions, or interest whatsoever. Please. Even if it’s a very vague kind of semi-interest and you’re sitting there shrugging your shoulders and thinking: ‘yeah ok, and…?’ (You got to the end – you must be a little bit interested?)

I am in the process of setting up a new blog which people can contribute to. I will be back with more soon…

Thanks for reading this far!


words to shoot by: water (2)

This was my other option for the words to shoot by entry, which I also like, but I decided the other trio had more impact in the end. I still like these though I think they are quite tranquil. What do you think? (Incidentally, these are medium format shot on the rollei, the others on my iphone)

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

words to shoot by: water

I was very excited to be selected to as a guest contributor on the words to shoot by blog after an open call for entries (if you scroll down to the guest contributions you will see my entry). Every other week a selection of contributors submits a triptych in response to a single word. This week the word was water, and here are the shots I came up with:

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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