Posted on July 22, 2015
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.
© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2015
Posted on June 15, 2013
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
Posted on September 11, 2012
See here for my previous post about my grandfather.
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012
Posted on April 18, 2012
I have always been drawn to the idea of making a portrait of someone by photographing the things they choose to surround themselves with. I think that our ‘stuff’ has a lot to say about us. Our houses, our posessions and even the way we display things are all like little clues which reveal something about our personalities, our preferences and the way we like to live.
My grandfather is an actor who has had a successful and varied career. He lives alone in London in a beautiful Georgian house. It is a house full to the brim of objects (many of great value) which he has accumulated throughout his life; acquisitions he has made, things he has inherited. He is an eccentric certainly, and a horder; a collector who loves beautiful things. Messy, maybe, but absolutely meticulous. Visitors have to carefully negotiate neat piles of papers, documents, ornaments, nik naks and bits and pieces which perch precariously – everywhere there is surface – on tables and chairs, and scattered across the living room floor. Things surround him constantly – he likes to have it all ‘to hand’. Every object is cherished and important to him; he keenly relates the story of each sculpture, or painting, or piece of random kitchen paraphernalia with equal passion. I love to hear these stories they are so compelling; like extra clues which unlock secrets of his past, and in turn, of mine.
His house is a treasure trove – a true Aladdin’s cave, and I love to visit and just look around. There is always something fascinating and new to discover. (some people would call me nosey – I like to say curious!) His environment communicates so much about him as a person. It’s almost like it’s alive with his being. Every time I visit he seems to have shrunk a bit more; he looks smaller and smaller sitting there in his armchair amongst all the piles and the abundance of things. I guess one day eventually the house will swallow him up completely.
It’s funny because I would say I usually tend towards being the kind of person who gets a bit stressed out by too much mess, but I absolutely love his mess. I feel at home amongst it. (You may be forgiven for thinking we are very close – we are not, as it happens, but though there is emotional distance there is respect, and, of course a resonant familial connection).
These images were taken the last time I was there in November. They were some snapshots I made in the fading afternoon night of a cold winter’s day (I had an idea to test out some images and think about making a project of it at a later date). Everything was where it was (I didn’t place anything – I didn’t need to) and everywhere you looked there was a great photograph to be made. His house has vast, beautifully restored Georgian windows and when the light floods in the whole interior just reveals itself to you – it is just beautiful.
© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012
Posted on April 11, 2012
I was inspired today and for that I would like to thank Camille Pasquin and Natalia Shaidenko and their joint blog-project Diptychs. Their images are responses to a single word selected at random, and they are charming. I love the juxtaposition of their different styles and the way their personalities shine through in their photography. I love the fact that the pictures open up their own secret worlds, but together create something new and exciting. It’s interesting too to read people’s responses to their images, because it seems to me that most people don’t just look at these pictures (although they do that too because aesthetically they are very appealing), instead they are looking for something, searching, interpreting the pairing. This is what I would call active seeing.
I think Diptychs a great example of how collaborative photography can challenge our perspective and make us see differently (in this I am talking about the viewer and the photographer). It also demonstrates my point about how images can take on different meanings in different contexts, which is one of the things have been thinking about a lot. One of my favourite diptychs of theirs is sort . I love the visual impression of a haphazard kind of order and the ‘thingness’ this pairing radiates. It appeals to the collector within me.
As a sort of response to this I decided to look back through some of my favourite pictures of things on windowsills. People do collect interesting stuff on them. A windowsill (or a shelf) is a display of sorts; sometimes neat and ordered and well thought out and other times forgotten and neglected. It can be biographical: a snapshot of a person’s life (but we should be careful not to sentimentalise and read too much into this interpretation; after all windowsills are on display, and what we put on a windowsill represents a choice of sorts). It can also be nostalgic, poignant, eye-catching, inviting, minimalistic, or maybe just empty. Some of these images are of public (shops, cafes), and some private spaces.
© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012