The feathers

He arrived home with two dead pheasants on his back, and thought it would be funny to dangle them in front of my face as I answered the door.
I screamed.
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 snowmen 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 perfectly 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, were ready for the pot.

The girl looked on in 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 as he worked in the kitchen. Slouching in the door frame.
“Want to cook with dada?”
“Okaaaay” she relented (she never can resist)

Later, I went outside. The air was cold. The sky was dense, bleached white. It felt close, as though I could reach up and touch the clouds, heavy with snow. I found the stray feathers from the birds cocooned in the snow. Left where they had been strewn. 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 little wisps of silky-soft fluffy down-like bristles. Almost invisible. As I photographed them the snow started to fall, slowly, and softly, executing perfect pirouettes downwards towards the waiting ground.

They were so fine and delicate. So fleeting.

How can something so fragile and insubstantial be also something so solid and dense, so substantial?

The glistening flakes clung to the waiting feathers and gave them new form. It seemed like a fitting tribute to those birds to capture them there somehow in that moment. In the snowfall. All that remained of the plump weight of those birds; of the blood and the guts and the organs and the flesh, was those feathers.

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 wilt and fade to nothing, or maybe be carried away to nowhere, on the gust of the next windy day.

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But there is still something.
There are still two.
One for a boy, one for a girl.
Strong and tall and vibrant.
Remnants.
The life, from the earth, which fed us.
A simple, hearty supper shared amongst friends.
And then, to the earth it returned.

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[And the girl?
Well, she ate, and enjoyed her meal.]

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

Autumn’s still

If you listen carefully you will hear the hushed still of Autumn in the breeze
If you look closely you will see quiet muffled beauty in the closeness
Nature is settling
Falling
Furling
Curling

After the buzzing vivacity of Spring
And the full heady bloom of Summer
Nature is calm and muted
Yielding
Thoughtful
Weary
Winding down

There is a soft, subtle radiance to Autumn. Soothing pastels and rich, warm tones replace vibrant hues. A gentle opalescent shimmering punctuated by
startling instants of vivid colour: the magnificent red of the rosehip, or the garish yellow of lichen, reminding us that life, nature persists. Persevering. Renewing.

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

About a girl

this summer she skipped and swam
clutched piles of acorns in her hands
her chubby limbs grew long and lean
hair tousled in the warm breeze
hidden treasures in secret places
dreams of ponies and princesses in faraway places
she fell in and out of love and
studied the morphing cloud-shapes up above
friendships were made then quickly forgotten
I dried her weary tears of frustration

this summer she let go of my hand
just for a little while….

Later I brushed the tangles out of her long brown hair, pulled it back.
She winced.
Too tight! She cried.
I smoothed the creases out of blue checked dresses
(blinking back the tears).

As she tugged white cotton socks up
over bruised shins.
Fastened up shiny black shoes and
fumbled with unfamiliar buttons,

she looked on, concern in her wide hazel eyes.
Don’t worry mummy, I’ll always be your little girl, she said
(I let the tears come).

This summer was hers for the taking,
but she hung back.
She wasn’t quite ready
(I was secretly glad).

Her time will come

For my beautiful girl

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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

Am Kohlwitzplatz

Sunday brunch at Kohlwitzplatz, Berlin

There is no more perfect place to be on a prickly hot late Spring Sunday afternoon. The coffee is creamy and satisfying, the juice freshly pressed and tart. Agile sparrows nibble at stray crumbs. It’s so lazy here, so deliciously faul. You can feel it in the hot balmy air permeating your marrow and then sweating right out of your pores. You just want to sit and watch and not really participate in life but regard it idly. Curiously. With one lazy eye flickering open and the other turned inwards.

The children kick up the sand with their skinny bare feet, romping half-naked in the sticky heat. The adults keep a cursory glance. Not really interested. They hang together, laze together, legs and arms entwined like vines. They are everywhere, but nowhere, those children. They dot in and out of trees, behind cars, bushes. They sit, slovenly and nonchalant eating eggs, tomato soup.

I am softening contentedly in this heat. Like a wax crayon left out in the sun I am all pulpy and pliable. I want to close my eyes – just for a second – and find myself wandering around exploring my dreams. Everyone here seems so comfortable, so self-assured.

My eye, well-trained, hazily snaps a thousand photographs, storing them in my mind.

The jolly man with the accordion bumbles by hopefully every half hour or so. He is too effusive for this heat, too much.

Tourists clutch their time out guides and look around nervously, expectantly, excited. They offer a welcome relief from this mood of intense laziness.

The waitresses are utterly charming. Keen and attentive they flit about like delightful little moths all sunny and smiling and carefree.

***

I wrote this (in draft form) last May on a trip to Berlin with some girlfriends. We had a great time, but by Sunday were ready to part company. We were hungover and exhausted after a night of partying Berlin style. I think we crawled into our beds around 6am. It was late morning when I woke and whilst the other two slept I packed my bag and went off with my camera to enjoy some time alone before I had to catch my flight home.

I had been taking lots of pictures all weekend, and I think it made my friends a bit cross because I wasn’t really engaging all the time. But I couldn’t help myself Berlin is such a vibrant, photogenic city. I was glad to have some precious moments to myself to enjoy a wander around the area of our apartment and a leisurely brunch of scrambled eggs with spinach, fresh orange juice and coffee.

I wrote this whilst sitting in the cafe. I don’t remember the name of it now, but it’s quite a large, busy and famous cafe right on the square opposite the park (hence all the tourists – I think it must feature in the Time Out guide). It’s situated in the Prenzlauer Berg district which is quite a peaceful, middle- class residential area. Lots of young families seem to live around there and it’s full of cute little boutique style shops, restuarants and cafes. Our apartment was just down the road and the owner recommended the cafe to us. Anyway, they do a great brunch – well worth checking out. Unfortunately I didn’t get many fitting pictures of the moment I describe. I think my camera battery had run out by this point, and anyhow I was busy writing and thinking and looking. I remember feeling tired but happy and very peaceful, very present in the moment.

NB – ‘faul’ means lazy in German

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

They put the books behind bars

They put the books behind bars
Locked them away
Metal branding paper
Sentences seared
Words scattered
Stories silenced

I press my nose right up close
Breathe in the dank musty scent
Watch pages curl and unfurl
Words swim before my eyes
Typeface tears roll down my cheeks
Stinging in the wind

I step back
My focus returns
But still I cannot read
Words have become meaningless
Infinite
Snapshots in time

I inhale deeply
Fill my gasping lungs with air
Watch the words expand, take form
I beckon them to follow me
Whispering their nameless names
To no-one

We’ll find a shrouded place
Shrug off our covers
Set our weary bodies free
Write our own rules
Dance in the hazy dawn
Sleep soundly under milk-infused moonlight

© 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

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