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

bleak fog

Last summer we visited Bodega Bay in California: such a quaint little picturesque seaside town, but who knew the weather would be worse than a British summer? We braved the pacific fog – in any case, it suited me fine and made for some nice lighting – taking lots of windswept walks along the deserted beaches and sampling the various clam chowder outlets. The sombre, brooding tone of these photographs belies the happy memories I have of this place. Perhaps next time we visit there’ll be blue skies.

 

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© images by Emily Hughes, 2016

to the shore (for my mum)

For those who seek strength at this time of year, Emily x

shore, 2013

She ran down to the seashore because he had told her to run, and she didn’t know where else to go. Her faithful chocolate lab, Chess, galloping at her side, long pink tongue flapping in the wind. It was cold – bitingly cold – so she pulled the hood of her fur-lined anorak tightly around her face, still smarting with indignation. At least she had had the foresight to grab her coat; silly she hadn’t thought to change her shoes, she scolded herself regretfully and rather pointlessly as she felt the wet sand squelch uncomfortably into her flimsy ballet slippers and between her toes. When she got there she didn’t know what to do so she stood and threw stones into the shallow water, watching the ripples expand and disappear. Through her tear-filled eyes the horizon looked pleasantly blurry. In fact, it was as if the whole world was out of focus, at that very moment. She watched the tide wrinkle in and out, gently, rhythmically, for some time. It was something she could rely on. As sure as her breath: in-out, in-out. She turned to look at Chess, whose eager brown eyes were fixed on her as he panted noisily, awaiting instruction it seemed. But she had none to give. Her frenzied gaze steadied, resting on the horizon ahead. As she looked on, she realised at that moment that she didn’t know what was coming next, but whatever it was, it didn’t scare her. Suddenly, decisively, she turned her sodden, sand-caked heels away from the shore and didn’t look back.

This image is available to buy in my artfinder shop.

© image and words by Emily Hughes, 2013 and 2016

 

banana leaves in paradise

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© images by Emily Hughes, 2016

Peruvian woman

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Peruvian woman, 2016

taken with Rolleiflex on Ilford pan 50

We were lucky enough to visit Peru this summer. This woman sat outside our hotel in Cusco every day, all day, and that sad, faraway look in her eyes still haunts me now. She wasn’t begging, exactly; it was almost like she just sat there out of habit. She was resigned, but she was also proud. Whilst others ran after us begging us to take their picture with cute baby limas and kids in papooses, all dressed in their finery, she would sit, and wait.  I don’t often take portraits of strangers. I’m far too British and generally worried about embarrassing or inconveniencing people, but I decided to ask her on a whim. She said no at first – I respected that and walked away. She looked so tired and weary of being an object of the intrusive tourist gaze that I felt instantly ashamed, but at that moment my husband was buying a piece of art from a street vendor who worked his patch next to her and he saw and came over, persuading her to agree, so I paid and quickly took my shot, then thanked her. It was a bit of a rushed job: no light meter or tripod and the framing is a little off. I wish I had included her hands. I think there may be some light leakage which explains the weird specks. My rollei is so old and battered now it doesn’t perform at its best and the winding mechanism frequently gets stuck, but I persevere with it. So in the end, I got the shot, I suppose, although, taking this picture of this woman made me sadder than taking any other picture I have ever taken.

 

© image and words by Emily Hughes, 2016

I rise


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The American Flag, Alcatraz, 2016

 

I say this to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

Martin Luther King


Today, on this historic day; a day which will surely be taught in future history lessons as a day when a nation lost faith in herself following the UK’s own crushing despair but a few short months before her; a day when wounds which were yet fresh and tender were ripped open anew, when hearts which were trying to heal were once more broken to find that once again, fear and hatred had won out over hope, and love. Today, on this average day in the school calendar of an average-sized middle school in England, in a poetry lesson with a class of year 7 students, a poem was read, and this poem was called ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou.

I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t even given the lesson much thought, so wrapped up was I in the immediacy of my routine concerns. Yet, as we talked about the historical context: the civil rights movement in the 1960s, about Martin Luther King and about other issues of race and prejudice, I realised how significant it was that we were reading this poem, on this day. I wondered how Martin Luther King would feel if he could see what has become of his legacy; fifty years later and we are really no closer to finding the equality he dreamed of. I thought about how Maya Angelou would have felt today. Devastated, no doubt. If the children had questions about Trump and the future, they didn’t ask me. They listened and instinctively felt the power and importance of Angelou’s message. After all, it is more important today than ever. We watched this song version and they joined in as they worked, singing along. It was a positive mood, uplifting and life-affirming as this poem is.

My year 8 class, on the other hand, was more vocal. We are reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ and we came across the word ‘indignant’: “Many people are ‘indignant’, I said, about the results of the US election”. They were angry. They are angry because they know, instinctively, that it is morally wrong. Yes our young people are angry. Young people who are on the verge of adulthood. Young people who have questions, which demand our attention. It is my job – our job – not to answer their questions, because sadly, there are not always answers: whilst I can tell them what indignant means, or how to find imagery in a poem, I cannot alleviate their fears for the future. No. It is our job to listen and to encourage them to question. I will teach them about history so there is a chance they will not repeat our mistakes; I will teach them that words can have the power to unite, and inspire passion, or to divide and inspire hatred, but the most important thing I can teach them, is to ask questions. Because it is people like Angelou and Martin Luther King; people who dared to ask questions, who gave hope to those who were oppressed and did not have a voice, whose words were not heard. It is people who ask questions of those in power who themselves have the power to make people stop and think that maybe there is another way. It is people who ask questions and keep on asking them with dogged persistence and do not give up, who give us hope.

Today was a good day. Today I felt humble and at the same time as though my job was the most important job in the world. When I looked around at the eager, determined, inquisitive faces of the twelve and thirteen year olds before me, I felt proud. I felt a well-spring of hope rising up inside me.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978
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A Californian Poppy, 2016
© images and words (apart from the poem) by Emily Hughes, 2016
(Written yesterday)

twenty two

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© images and words by Emily Hughes, 2016

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