Archive for September, 2009

Nicholas Hughes: In Darkness Visible, Verse 1

September 27, 2009

Apologies for the gap in posting, as I’ve been abroad for several weeks, mostly off the grid. During the time on the grid however, I spent a few days in London, on one of which I visited the V+A, the Victoria and Albert Museum. A fantastic design museum from past to present, I was there at the peak of London’s Design Week, and therefore was lucky enough to see several new contemporary and modern exhibitions. I also visited the V+A’s permanent photography collection, which houses a large number of greats whom I admire, along with others I wasn’t as familiar with. An eery image of tree limbs floating in the gloomy mist was one of these.

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A UK born and based artist interested in environmentalism from an early age, Nicholas Hughes brings the natural world into his photography as a central subject. In his series titled “In Darkness Visible, Verse 1”, Hughes points his large format view camera at trees that inhabit urban parks in central London, a city of 8 million people. Layering exposures of tree limbs during what appears to be foggy winter nights, Hughes recreates possible glimpses into ancient primeval forests, maybe even like the Belavezhskaya Pushcha, on the borders of Poland and Belarus, the last European primeval forest in existence, currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The images are dark, moody, and melancholy. They are also contemplative, in the sense that they weren’t all taken in an ancient forest, but instead, in London’s manufactured green spaces. This idea of wilderness amongst the built environment has always been an essential part of environmentalism. While we truly can not have wild and built coexisting freely, as they are polar opposites, we do not stop trying to incorporate wild elements into our built environment, consistently trying to tame and control that wilderness. Nature of course plays this same game with us as well, in that it uses every opportunity to grow and expand and even encroach wherever it can, sometimes wiping the slate clean altogether as can occur with large natural disasters. It is an ongoing battle that must never be won by either side, but instead, reach a harmonious mutual dependency and equal levels of respect. Whether that is a reality we will see achieved in our lifetime has yet to become clear.

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In the meantime, these images bring us to question our relationship with nature, and more specifically, the meaning of nature and wilderness in this modern urban context. We describe small parks as being a part of nature, larger parks as being wild space, yet neither of these terms are accurate. Are we so far from recognizing that we—ourselves– are a part of nature that we now make drawn this distinct line of separation? I see Hughes photographs speaking of beauty, sadness, strangeness even. But I also see them speaking of the fragility inherent in this distinction and separation we have put between ourselves and the natural world. If that separation continues to grow, we have yet to imagine the worst. If we again begin to think of ourselves as a part of nature, with similar importance, and as an integral part of a natural cycle to which we play a huge part (and are no longer contributing our fair share), we can possibly only then begin to come up with realistic and effective solutions to our current environmental crisis. In this way, they are truly haunting in ways other than aesthetically speaking.

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Hughes describes the work as such:

“In reaction to media led sensory anaesthetisation, and wearied by empty political rhetoric, my aim was to construct a forest built from accumulated memory and the ghosts of trees. Spending a period of two winters’ visiting public spaces in central London, this work inverts decorative Arcadian layout in an attempt to restore a sense of the natural in the cultivated, somewhat synthetic city ‘wilderness’ spaces.”

To see more of Hughes’ work, please visit his website www.nicholas-hughes.net or his galleries in London and New York.

Help me support eco-hero Andrea Bakacs!

September 24, 2009