Posted on January 9, 2015
I don’t often photograph birds, mainly because I’m not a fan of big unwieldy telephoto lenses. It is not because I don’t like birds; quite the opposite in fact. Although I don’t confess to being an expert, I can spot a few more common varieties, and I appreciate their beauty and grace. More recently, my six-year old daughter has become obsessed with birds, and enjoys spotting and painting them, at the keen instruction of Alex – nature lover and regular bird expert. We spend a fair amount of our free family time at RSPB reserves, and more recently at this WWT wetlands centre in Slimbridge (which is well worth a visit). It was a beautifully clear, ice-cold frosty day and the light was pure gold. Perfect. Quite the most beautiful light I’ve seen in a long time, actually. Usually at these places I’m content to busy myself with photographing the scenery, or getting up close with my macro lens, but the swans, ducks and geese were abundant and friendly, so I managed to get close enough to steal a few decent shots.
I named this part II, because I realised I had done another birdwatching post in Easter 2013 (although there were no birds in that one – just an egg!).
© images and words Emily Hughes, 2015
Category: scrapbook Tagged: birds, birdwatching, cape teal, ducks, family, frost, geese, hide, ice, light, macro, nature, photography, seagull, slimbridge, swans, winter
Posted on March 2, 2013
It’s still so cold and bleak out.
As I walked my feet trod a dubious path of churned up mud and wasted bracken. I nodded at occasional dog walkers. Grim smiles. It was a cold day, and I kept my gloves on until I needed to take a shot. The wind whipped up around me on the open fields, and stung through the gaps in my loosely woven woolen hat. Inadequate, I now realised. I pulled it tighter under my chin and sought out bushes and hedgerows for shelter. I had my tripod, but decided to chance it, and when I squeezed the shutter I held my breath and stilled myself against the wind.
The lens picked out ghostly apparitions of dead seed heads dangling dejectedly. Their spidery limbs turned upwards, as if beseeching. They seemed to be whispering their final confession to winter’s close. When I visited them in Autumn they yet guarded a thousand jewel-like secrets; tight, alert and intent, but now they hung open carelessly, tired and resigned. Their secret treasures spent, abandoned.
After a while the wind stilled a little, and the sun showed up and played a little game of hide and seek, dancing capriciously behind the clouds.
Eventually I found what I was looking for amongst the amongst the razed, endlessly barren fields, the naked trees, the menacing thorns and the brittle, tangled weeds: Embryonic signs of almost-life
It was sweet, deliciously candy coloured, and perfectly poised. The tiniest burgeoning sprouts and shoots. Budding. Nudging into newness. Promising life, warmth and light.
I ran home like a child with a smile on my face. My cheeks rosy pink; my heart humming in time with the carefree twittering of the birds.
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
Category: Uncategorized Tagged: buds, colour, dead seed heads, life, macro photography, nature, photography, Spring, winter
Posted on January 22, 2013
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.
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.
But there is still something.
There are still two.
One for a boy, one for a girl.
Strong and tall and vibrant.
The life, 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.]
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
Category: Uncategorized Tagged: creative writing, feathers, game birds, macro, pheasant, photography, short story, snow, winter
Posted on January 9, 2013
Once upon a time the photographer was thought of as something of an alchemist. A shadowy, enigmatic figure who spent far too much time frequenting small, dark, windowless spaces, wearing a faint aroma of ammonia and something like salt and vinegar crisps. He* would produce beautiful images, which would appear before your very eyes – as if by magic – from blank sheets of paper. He would spend hours squirreled away, honing his craft, proliferating prints. Working away tirelessly under the dim, seedy glow of a single red light bulb.
Perhaps it is because I am currently reading a book about magic, or perhaps it is because I am looking at a lot of magical winter photographs in blogs: skeleton trees towering eerily in winter mists; bright, crisp snowy scenes and macro shots of perfectly formed snowflakes glistening like frosted jewels against a backdrop of a perfect cerulean sky. In any case, I am occupied by thoughts of magic and fantasy. January is such a dull, frugal month. I am yearning. I need to believe. I need to find some magic – some wonder – to make it sparkle for me.
I discovered these charming images by French photographer Alain Laboile whilst browsing through the blog emorfes. When I looked at them I felt that little flicker of something I can’t explain…. you know that feeling you get when something connects with you in a positive way. It’s like a little jolt of excitement which progresses into a surge of recognition, with all of your senses immediately heightened in anticipation…
… and then, afterwards, you feel a little bit more content than before and even a little bit changed. At the same time, you have understood something new about yourself. The magic has taken effect.
Perhaps it is something in the dreamlike world he creates, or the way he fuses childlike wonder with gentle humour and surreal elements. Or perhaps it is the quirky perspective; the water which casts a wobbly dreamlike haze, but which also threatens an element of danger to the happy family album: hidden depths, murky waters, a sense of foreboding…. Maybe it’s the big wide sky – more than just background it is centre stage in many images. Children while away so many hours looking up. Daydreaming. Spotting birds, aeroplanes; flying kites; climbing trees to get closer to the clouds, gazing at the moon and the stars and imagining other worlds and whether one day they might visit them. The wonder of the vast, unfathomable sky. It has the power to put us in our places on earth.
I have looked at these photographs a lot recently. I am not really sure why that is. They seem to me to re-capture a bit of that old photographic alchemy. They are not polished, or sophisticated. They are quite low-key, like snapshots, yet obviously considered. They are a constructed dreamworld. Eccentric, you could say. They have something of the air of the slightly mad, nerdy inventor about them – the one who cooks up crazier and crazier scenes whilst his excited wild children froth around him, egging him on. A kind of professor Potts of the photographic world. (I am sure I am completely wrong, by the way and this part is entirely my fabrication, but I do believe Laboile is also a sculptor, which would account for the sculptural elements featured in the photographs.)
Each picture, each little burst of magic speaks to me of its own story, weaving a narrative of a strange, fantastical fairy tale, in which dreams and imagination have leaked into our conscious world and taken hold. And the children – wild and free – are the kings and queens.
Oh, the fun they would have with our dreams.
© images Alain Laboile
© content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
* of course, photographers can be females too 🙂
Category: Uncategorized Tagged: Alain Laboile, Childhood, dreamworld, family, fantasy, January, magic, narrative, nature, photography, photography and alchemy, sculpture, winter