Posted on March 1, 2018
‘But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.’
— Ursula Le Guin
The Girl and the Seven Dragons of the Deep
Once upon a time there was a girl. A girl whose heart was weighed down with a heavy cargo of sadness. One day, she found herself on a cliff edge with her heart screaming in her throat.
The water was still. A jewelled sheet of glass. The sun teased out diamonds on its surface which blinded her momentarily. She blinked and peered into it hopefully, thumbing the pebbles in her blue jean pockets. She had picked the smoothest ones she could find. Eventually, she reached her arms over her head and bent her legs slowly, purposefully, feeling the muscles tauten and engage. Then all of a sudden she sprung into the air with a neat cursive flourish. A small crown of ripples formed around her as her lithe body sliced through the cool icy water. A murmur.
Then it was still again.
With a dissonant heartbeat she had unlocked the secrets to the horizon; the place where the sky meets the surface of the sea. She swam, tugging herself down through the fickle currents which taunted her and tried to push her away. Finally she reached the abyss, where all around her was thick and velvet with profundity. There was no more after this — she had found the end — and she gasped, clamouring for air as her lungs filled up with water. But there was none.
As she drifted, one sly little current came across her and carried her to a place where seven dragons breathed the fire of eternal life. They had lived for thousands of years these dragons, undisturbed and peaceful, nestled in an underwater cave. The current left her at the entrance to the cave where her body settled on the sandy surface and then the jittery little thing swam off, restless to be away.
When the dragons awoke and saw her they were afraid, for they knew she was a sign.
Still, they could not reject a gift from the sea, so they took her in and tended to her, breathing life into her lungs with their fiery breath. Though they knew that this life would be their end and the knowledge of this made them weep with anguish. When the girl awoke and found herself tightly coiled in the tail of a dragon she was afraid, but they were so overjoyed to see her alive that they fussed around her, bringing trinkets of emerald sea glass to match her eyes and cockle shells to lace around her pretty neck. Her fears left her and she rejoiced with them in the life that they had breathed into her.
She lived with the dragons for many contented years. She grew to love them and they grew to love her. More than anything though she longed to be like them; she thought her own stumpy limbs awkward and cumbersome. She especially admired their supple tails which could propel them across the sea bed with one flick. She would spend many lazy hours polishing their smooth glistening scales which shimmered like opals and combing their long golden whiskers with her fingers, all the while singing to them a haunting song of the sea which told the story they knew so well.
One day the time came that the current returned to reclaim its gift (they knew it would come), but the dragons couldn’t relinquish her into its arms though it begged and solicited, using all of its powers of persuasion to beseech them to give her up. In the end they said their sad farewells and hugged her and went with the current in the place of the girl. The current wasn’t choosy and it didn’t hang around, scooping up its hefty prize and somersaulting away in one deft sinewed movement (for it had grown strong over the years).
The girl stood alone watching the magnificent creatures disappear into the abyss, one by one, until the very smallest dragon tussled and tugged and managed to struggle free for a brief moment, twisting its head around towards her for one last farewell. She reached her arms up, holding its muzzle in her hands, and gazed into its blazing auric eyes as they both wept for the life they had sacrificed. The dragon’s hot tears mingled with her own and she bathed in their warm salty solace.
At last, the little dragon was dragged back by the querulous current and the girl found herself alone again. But in its last moments it was able to bequeath one last gift to her. The dragon knew how much the girl admired its strong muscular tail and glimmering scales; as it disappeared into the surface it give an almighty shudder which rocked the sea, causing all who lived there to roll and reel about wildly. Then it whipped its tail into a spin, gathering up two passing currents and smacking them off course. Each was convinced the other had provoked them and they lurched towards one another furiously, ready to attack (for currents are burly and fearsome). As they chased each other, full of rancour, they span around snapping at each others’ heels faster and faster, creating a maelstrom which bore down into the centre of the ocean, towards the girl.
The girl was sucked into the vortex and as she too span — a giddy dervish — a cluster of shimmering dragon scales spiralled down through the water towards her like a blossom flurry caught on the wind. She saw them and laughed through her tears, reaching out her hands to touch them as they fell. Each one gleamed and shimmied with a luminescence which lit up the entire sea. The scales pressed against the whorl of her as she span, and span.
‘Goodby fair maiden of the sea!’ the little dragon rumbled out its last breath. And all the dragons roared in agreement, filling up the sea with their thunder.
At last the whirlpool released her, spitting her out onto the seabed where she lay, spent and exhausted. She remained there for several days, a shipwreck adorned with sea shells and silt until a slender crab, disguised as a rock, came across her and pinched her nose, mistaking it for some tasty morsel.
‘Ouch!’ she shouted loudly, annoyed. She had been exploring the watery depths of her dreams where she had found that she had access to things she had not known before: other worlds, new truths, ancient falsehoods. A rich, colourful scene like an underwater reef. She had explored the beauty of drowning. The seduction. The thick, opaque, shimmering allure of it. It all came back to her then, in the blurry gaps of consciousness: the rousing, the falling. She had felt a pleasant fog of sweetness blooming at the very edges of her skull. And in those shifting moments it was hard to tell what was real and what was fantasy.
It didn’t matter; she was not to remain there (after all, she had been there before). She was awake and once more had to teach her heart to beat out a new rhythm.
She tried to bend her legs to propel herself upright but found that she could not; instead she slipped and skidded uselessly on the sand. When she looked down she discovered that her legs had fused into a tail: a glittering dragon’s tail covered in thousands upon thousands of shining scales. She stared in awe, mesmerised by its scintillating brilliance. At first, she was scared. She could not believe the truth her eyes told her. Gradually though she grew braver and began tentatively to caress her new tail, exploring the thrill of its power with her fingers.
She marvelled at it: the way it twisted and turned and glistened; the way it tapered elegantly into a delicate quivering fin. She whipped it this way and that, testing its strength; writhing and tumbling; playfully batting the currents to and fro. Delighted, they responded to her teasing games, jostling with her and falling in love with her instantly (who wouldn’t?). Then, on her request, they carried her back to the dragons’ cave.
But when she arrived there and looked around the empty cave which had once been full of seven splendid, snorting dragons, she felt a shard of loneliness wedge in her heart. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake it free. She found she could no longer bear to remain inside the cave so she swam out and up, up, up, through the sea, her new tail pulsating swiftly through the water. Up towards the horizon. The currents willed her along, gently buoying her upwards with chiffon-light fingers. When she broke the surface she gasped, struggling for breath. She thought for a moment that she might be suffocating, but then her rasping accordion lungs snapped and wheezed into life, squeezing out a small jet of water as they slowly found their familiar ebb and flow.
The cave narrowed out into a rock which pierced the sky like a jagged knife. The girl grabbed the rock face with her hands and yanked herself up with all of her force, pulling and heaving, until finally she reached the very tip of it. The soft flesh on her palms and belly was shredded into tattered red ribbons by its craggy hull; her glossy scales, fine as fingernails, snagged on its jutting knuckles and scattered confetti showers, spiralling a serpentine trail of stray sea treasures which illuminated the twisting distance — like smiling splinters of the moon — up to her rugged throne.
And to this day she reclines there still, queen of the horizon world, keeping watch for her friends. They call her the fair maiden of the sea with the dragon’s tail and the currents are her willing servants. She sits, polishing her scales, combing her long golden hair with her fingers, singing her sad haunting song for the dragons, and for all who care to listen.
© story by Emily Hughes, 2018
I’m afraid I don’t know where the image is from although I have searched for it. It was borrowed from another friend’s page out there in the vast, deep ocean of the internet. I am happy that it found its way to me.
Posted on October 2, 2014
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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Posted on January 15, 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…
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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Posted on October 2, 2013
The line between the sea and the sky is
the end, and then the beginning of something
new. A promise
to Future’s wings which
fan the fire of juvenile desire
and go! Flee! Don’t turn back your eyes
must face forwards now and new things will be yours
to mould in your cupped hands like a smooth,
ripe mango. Many a journey lingers in your
laughter and foamy fingers cling to your stern,
but don’t look back on your wistful daydream
it stays there still on the shore and looks on,
upon the horizon.
Sure and sheer it cuts
a straight line clear as the deftness of your serious eyes
which gently tug the sky back to the earth
and yes, a neat line is a satisfying thing nestling
in the smudges of drab grey space which surround us.
Some things can be wonky and charming like
teeth, or fringes.
But not a horizon.
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
Posted on May 7, 2012
Continuing on a theme, which I first blogged about here on photographing the spaces in-between; I thought I would share with you some pictures from a project I did for my MA. I am copying and pasting the pictures, and the introduction to the book as I wrote it (almost 7 years ago now!), although there is probably much I would change now.
These images are all taken on car journeys, through the windscreen or passenger window, whilst travelling on various motorways up and down the UK. They are very low quality I’m afraid as I can’t find the original disc (they were scanned from transparency film) so I took them from the book proof pdf.
The intimate is not a space but a relationship between spaces.
The space in-between is a space between here and there, between dreams and waking.
It is invisible; a kind of nowhere, somewhere, anywhere… a place which harbours our daydreams.
Through these narrow chinks new possibilities emerge to dazzle the eye like sunlight glimpsing through a cracked wall, and we can dream a different story, or imagine another journey which our fate does not follow for a fleeting, precious instant.
These intimate, indulgent moments in which we (if only temporarily) dwell, offer us shelter, escape, hope, despair, contentment and yearning.
These images chart a period of being a passenger; of frequent journeys I have made, places I have been transported to and daydreams I have had along-the-way.
As the window frame fills with transient scenes I freeze them in an instant, drink them up greedily, and then erase them with one click of the camera shutter. Now they are mine.
Blurred by my eye, they become something other, these non-landscapes of my journeys; not here, not there, not quite anywhere. But they are stored forever in my dreams.
The quote is from Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media by Beatriz Colomina
© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012