Aspects Of Cosmological Indifference (2009 – 2014)

The visual reverie of dust particles rising through the projector beam of a darkened London theatre formed the genesis of this series. An observation of light and matter that offered a glimpse into the formation of the universe itself.

In keeping with the practice established in my previous series’ of working only within walking distance, I sought to minimise my impact in the creation of new work to the nth degree through the capture of dust on the glass top of a scanner bed - making imagery this time without actually leaving the house. The intention being to investigate the ephemeral patina of our existence.

Finding within these representations of disintegration a strange beauty akin to stars and the vastness of space as well as the end of nature's life cycle. Later upon learning that atmospheric dust particles form the nuclei that give rise to mist, clouds and possibly even rain (thereby reaffirming the cyclical pattern of nature) - I felt drawn back to my concern for the world outside. Spurred on by the thoughts of Sarah Nardi commenting on earlier works from the series ‘Edge’.

"The images are desolate, almost bleak, but there seems to be a calm about them. They seem to reassure us that the existence of life or the lack thereof is inconsequential to the universe."

Whilst concern for the environment has become more of a mainstream preoccupation it remains to be seen if we have not already used up nature’s goodwill towards us. The slash and burn ecocide of previous generations suggests the future is unknown and the tipping point may already be passed. We fail to heed warning signs at the risk of great loss, yet nature offers a greater lifespan by virtue of the fact that it would eventually profit from our disappearance.

Whilst we continue to rapidly evolve our resource dependent lifestyles, the Cosmos shrugs its shoulders, completely indifferent to the mesmerising mess we make of this planet.

Observation of repeated patterns in nature, its beginnings and endings are given greater understanding through staying still - trying to capture scenes devoid of our presence, also engaged a deeper level of contemplation. I found myself looking for traces of wilderness (or our complete absence) and finding it mostly above, beyond the ground, and thereby the wider universe.

Gazing at night skies and overwhelmed by millions of stars not unlike the specks of dust on my scanner bed I found fresh wonder and the obvious origin of the word we commonly use to refer to space.

Through study of the dissolution of matter, and in experiencing our insignificance I found reassurance. We are no more than fleeting passages of time, temporary layers that shift, change, combine, universally we swarm and are gone.

These are our moments…here and gone, as the fleeting passages of light so are the changes we have wrought upon the earth’s surface, we can but amount to mere scratches upon the surface no more than splashes of colour before we return to dust.

Nothing lasts very long in the grand scheme of things, dust rises and light falls - the continuation of our existence remains inconsequential to the universe and our demise will signal the natural world as the likely benefactor. Despite having thoughts centred on the apocalyptical, there came visions of beauty and rebirth

FIELD 2007 - 2009

"The dream of deep ecology will never be realised on earth, but our survival as a species may be dependent on our capacity to dream it in the work of our imagination". From ‘Song of the earth’. (Jonathan Bate).

Having sought previously to create a primordial forest in central London, it seemed an appropriate next step to remove myself to a more remote location in order to further examine the human relationship with nature. At the outset of a two-year period spent in the far southwest of England I determined to restrict my attention to only that which lay within my immediate vicinity and was accessible by foot. In line with previous attempts to work within a defined space I made a field bordering my home the arena of my activities. Submerging myself within this space satisfied my desire to restrict my impact on the Earth, for in place of travel to new and exotic destinations I sought the new and exotic at home.

I found inherent in this field a powerful symbol of an historic and continuing paradigm. Upon leaving our ancient forested home, the cutting of fields marked our first attempts to colonise the wilderness and harness nature for material gain, and in our misguided use of the rainforests today we see how little our philosophies have progressed since.

Yet whilst the land carries the tale of its own destruction, it continues to present alternatives for the future. Finding little to disturb my camera work enabled a clawing back of senses from the oversaturated and over-stimulated media driven world and offered the possibility, through isolation, of being open to the transformative powers of nature.

This highly concentrated field study drew support from the symbolism inherent in depictions of the rural idyll, and from there emerged an allegory of three parts; an investigation of our past in order to gauge a better measure of our future.

Verse I (Apart)

Initial observations of the geography within my field of vision, despite my exile, were clouded by the congestion carried from elsewhere. Whilst aiming to capture aspects of detachment, there is considerable baggage to shed in order to gain a clearer view of the world in slower mode.

Despite carrying these thoughts into open space and wrestling with the expectations of the English landscape tradition - it was noticeable how days became a lot longer when less time was spent travelling.

In the post Romantic period of the British countryside the conflict exists between our mental construction of wilderness and the realities of an overdeveloped world. The demands of industry and the vanity of human ownership have squeezed out the parameters of the rural idyll – leaving maybe only the illusions of space available through the constructions of the camera.

In overcoming feelings of isolation I concurred with Alpers’ affirmation that "Artists often need to be withdrawn from the world for the purpose of attending better to it." (Modern Painters).

Verse II (Outside)

As my feelings of separation progressed it became clear under the unyielding presence of the sky that up there or out in the oceans exist the only remaining true wildernesses. The land for its part is divided and fenced off, quarries lurk beyond the ‘freedom’ of the road. A conflict exists between our mental constructions of nature and the reality of an overdeveloped world. The demands of industry and the greed of human ownership have squeezed the parameters of the rural idyll, only leaving the possibility of space for the mind to struggle free through the reworking of nature.
 

This sky was not without its invaders, for under certain conditions it offered up atmospheric visions of the distant urban night, disturbing the silent dwelling space with visions of atmospheric pollution.

Verse III (Surface)

I had regularly found myself deeply alarmed by the level of destructiveness that accompanies the desire for economic growth, but this localised study of nature eventually offered glimpses of our salvation whilst extending my own metaphysical musing.

Looking back on these investigations whilst becoming increasingly distanced from the world's material desires, I have discovered the temporality of everything. We are here now but soon we are gone, and so too the impressions we make upon the world. By nature our existence is superfluous but the natural world thrives in our absence.

The complexities of the work faded as I grew in this knowledge. It is as though a process of resurfacing has enabled me to consider stretching further afield to re-approach the outside world with hope. Communion with nature ultimately proves a cathartic experience and its curative powers essential to the growth of humanity.

"The walker in the familiar fields… sometimes finds himself in another land than is described in their owners’ deeds, as it were in some faraway field… the world with which we are commonly acquainted leaves no trace." From ‘Walking’ (Henry David Thoreau).

© Nicholas Hughes (October 2009).

"What Hughes is doing with both verses of his elegy is asking us –‘ to slow down to find the still small voice of calm that in the darkness may yet be visible.’"

"By challenging himself to work within traditional media, Hughes is able to extract through the silver halides…… a luminosity of light that is life itself : spiritual , fragile, and sublime.”

- Bill Kouwenhoven 2007.

IN DARKNESS VISIBLE 2005 – 2007

His luminous photographs could well be considered paintings in the sense that they are often multi-layered constructions. Yet they remain pure photography……Hughes is indeed both writing with light as the root of the word photography implies and using the camera as one of photography’s inventors, Henry Fox Talbot described it, “as the pencil of nature.”

Verse I

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.

Verse II

Turner was moved by what he called “The weather in our souls” - he could see the universe in a rainstorm. This study of ocean currents found added gravitas through the weight of childhood familiarity.

This search for emblematic last points of light within ensuing darkness involved long periods of contemplation on the complexities of nature, from a familiar vantage point, finding company in the words of Thoreau in his retreat to the American wilderness of Walden:

“All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle, which is taking place every instant.”

Edge Verses I and II 2002 –2006

“Nicholas Hughes’ seascapes and snowscapes are calm and quiet; yet retain a deep underlying contemplative presence. His strong yet delicate photographs serve to show the fragility of our relationship with the natural world. Hughes’ work examines the space between the world that people inhabit and that which nature still claims as its own and in this intermediary space seeks to explore the essence of the human spirit and its relationship with nature. However his contemplation of the distant horizon is by no means a perpetuation of the Romantic. He sees the notion of the natural world as forever vast and mysterious, quickly evaporating. By focusing on boundaries, plains and surfaces he acknowledges the existence of limits. These are images that not only speak of the infinite character of the natural world but of the finite character of the world created by human nature.”

- David Low 2005

IMMATERIAL 2000 – 2002

“To show things for what they are and what else they are.” Minor White

Taking domestic subject matter out of scale and allying it to formal concerns I began to approach that which I sought for - the dissolution of matter. Realising a more refined essence of expression through the isolation of detail and finding a universal aspect to the works symbolism. Agreeing with Dawn Perlmutter’s ‘Reclaiming the Spiritual in Art’ (1999) that in recent times, that which had proven to be the inspiration of countless practitioners since the birth of art had recently fallen from the agenda.

Works of this nature having been more prevalent in turbulent periods, the elevation of the everyday to a platform of contemplation seemed appropriate as the wider world appeared increasingly devoid of reason.

BIOGRAPHY

Nicholas Hughes was born in Liverpool 1963.  Although beginning to make photographs in his youth, it was not until completing a formal photographic education through a Master of Arts degree at the London College of Communication in 2002, preceded by a first class Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998 that he realised his vocation as a photographic artist.
 
Hughes became interested in environmentalism at an early age and seeing how the natural world suffered at the expense of corporate profit led him into fundraising for an environmental pressure group. Increasing awareness of the fragility and preciousness of nature drew him to the landscape. His work has gained increasing international recognition through recent selection for solo shows at the Photographers’ Gallery in London (2007, 2009 and currently 2013), at the Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, in 2010 and as an exhibitor at 'Earth' The Houston Biennial Fotofest in 2006 as well as in ‘Landscape,’ the 5th International Photo Festival in Seoul (South Korea) 2005. His work is included in the Victoria and Albert Museum and was a part of  'The Histories of Photography' exhibition in London from 2009–10 as well as the contemporary selection for the tour of India 'Something that I’ll Never Really See' from 2010–11.   His work has also been seen at the world’s major photographic art fairs in Los Angeles, New York and Paris.
 
The work seemingly dependent upon a transient lifestyle alludes to universal Romantic themes, allied to an environmental sensibility.  Each seeks to illustrate the frail residue of the contemporary wilderness through reduced visions of the sublime within localised nature. Examination is given to the space between the world that people inhabit and that which nature still claims as its own. The current series 'Aspects of Cosmological Indifference' is a post apocalyptic allegory of nature’s renewal regardless of human folly.

Hughes is a UK based artist who works mainly within his immediate location whether that be - central London, Cornwall, the British coastline, Switzerland or Germany. He has recently (2013) published his first monograph and has work featured in numerous publications, including Next Level, Exit, Hotshoe International, The Photographer and the British Journal of Photography, and is held in a variety of photographic collections worldwide including public selections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston) and the Gana Art Center (Seoul).

 

 

 

LINKS

 

Fotofest
Transistion Gallery
Gana Art Center
The Photographers' Gallery
Lens Culture