The intimate is not a space but a relationship between spaces.
– Beatriz Colomina
I was forced, recently, to take a break from blogging. Not really by choice, but because life burst forth in a relentless tidal wave of busyness (as it does every year at the same time), and something had to give. However, I have been continuing to make pictures, and the past few months has been a process of consolidation and gathering together of things which I have been thinking about and working on for a long time, years even. I have not made any ‘new’ pictures as such; it is the nature of photography that you can be extremely prolific when you are clicking a button (that’s the easy part), yet it’s the editing that take the time; the drawing together the threads of the narrative and the sifting through the rubble to seek out those lustrous gems. It has been more a process of looking back, reflecting, and relentless revision, which at times has been tedious and painful, but also extremely necessary and ultimately rewarding, because it has brought some clarity of thinking, and more importantly, some direction.
Many participants in the collaborative Journey of a Photograph project, which I initiated back in February of last year, have commented on the ‘layers’ which the photograph has gathered as it travels from participant to participant in far-flung corners of the globe. An enviable journey it has made so far, hopping from Ottawa to London to LA to Brussels, to name a few destinations. The description of the Winter Garden photograph, which Barthes writes of in the opening of Camera Lucida, opens the blog. With its faded sepia print and blunted corners this photograph was for Barthes a symbol of time past, and it proudly wore its scars in the way that a treasured piece of furniture might gather and wear the scrapes and knocks of everyday familial use – the ‘battle scars’ of age. But this photograph – my photograph – isn’t really old yet. Or at least the reproduction of it is not. The image itself was taken over 10 years ago when I was a different person; a different version of ‘me’.
‘The photograph’ – January 2014
I think that when people are writing about, and indeed responding to the ideas of these layers in their own work in many, many wonderfully different and creative ways (which I will save for another discussion on the blog), they are thinking about the significance that this photograph (as opposed to a photograph, a regular reproduction) – which has become more than just a photograph but a whole package (or ‘a neatly packaged risk’ – as summed up perfectly by Summer Lee) – is gathering. With each journey it becomes a bit more precious, and a bit more unique. The package itself; a patchwork of stamps and postmarks wrapped with industrial amounts of sellotape, is becoming more fragile. It is creating its own memory and its own history. However, this is not a history which is a natural cause of time passing, but a shared history forced through intervention. The photograph, and the many beautiful and thoughtful ‘things’ it has inspired and instigated and accumulated along the way on its journey; the package it has become, which binds a disparate little group of bloggers and artists and writers together, is a very public and self-conscious history. This is of course in marked contrast to the private history represented by Barthes’ Winter Garden photograph.
This project has made me look upon the role of photography and memory is a new way, crystallising many ongoing ideas I have had about photography and objects and memory; giving them form, physicality and practice. But it has also forced me to look at my own past and more specifically my past work with fresh eyes. I started the project off with an image I took when I was in my 20s studying for my MA. It was part of a series of images on the subject of what I called ‘in-between space’. In this case the ‘non-space’ of the motorway journey. It seemed to fit the theme, but I wasn’t really sure why I chose that image when I sent it off. Now I think I understand a bit better. I used to feel I had ‘moved on’ from it all, maybe even a little embarrassed at the immaturity of my earlier work, however doing this project has made me realise that it was and remains yet very much an important part of me. Even though now I wouldn’t make that work in the same way, it is still relevant. If it is still ‘me’, it is a ghost, a shadow of me which contains a small kernel of what I am now, and what I will be. The picture I chose I described as ‘nondescript’, I think, in my post. It had something in it which I thought could become something, but which wasn’t quite up to it by itself, wasn’t quite there yet, and I think that’s why I was drawn to it. I was never entirely happy with what that project became. It almost felt like it was stranded in mid-air…. It was as if I knew I needed to go back to it, and perhaps this was my way of doing that.
So, I would like to thank you all for adding your layers, each and every one, and for helping me get to where I am now. Some of you have commented on how the project has revived, or even changed your practice. Well, this is certainly the case for me. I also feel that, more significantly, within the very public and impersonal ‘in-between’ space of the internet, and over vast distances, we have succeeded in creating a shared space of intimacy represented by this little package, and of course this blog. Something which I tried to realise 10 years ago, but was unable to.
Now that life is finding its way back to a more manageable ebb and flow, I am resuming my blogging journey. The photograph too will journey on again – it is not yet ready to relinquish its voyage of discovery. It sits on my desk as I type, this neat little package. I seized the opportunity created by a lull in the project to bring it back home to me, and I’m glad that I did as it’s quite comforting to have it here, to open it and absorb for myself the little treasures and keepsakes which have been entrusted to it. I have also added my own little token to the package, and now I look forward, with renewed enthusiasm, to what the next phase of the project brings. I think, perhaps, we both just needed a bit of a break.
The images at the start of this post are from a series I have been working on over the past couple of months called ‘Horizon’.
© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014
Reblogged this on searchingtosee and commented:
I’m back! And so is the photograph. Following a brief interlude, it resumes its journey. Read about the Journey of a Photograph Project here…
A ghostly eidolon, billowing from the earth’s heart.
The journey continues…
I had to look that one up! Thanks! 🙂
Lovely photo! Welcome back!
Thanks! It’s really good to be back in the blogging world again.
Glad a rhythm that allows participation here is coalescing. The newer works are beautiful, and the project continues to intrigue. Thanks again for involving us.
I hope it continues to evolve and intrigue…
What an interesting path your thoughts have taken !
I’m glad you find it interesting! Hope you are well, Anik.
I love a break and what it does to our work, giving us rest, perspective and fresh inspiration. Bravo!
It’s so true, and was much needed. It’s a bit of a juggling act though, as always, a break from one thing was not a break from others… now a true break – that would be something!
Glad you’re back! And, with wonderful new images.
Thanks Elena, it’s good to be back.
Beautifully written Emily. Great to hear the extended history of this photograph – we never know when old ideas will spring up again in new form..sometimes I think they wait until we are ready for them. I love your thoughts on intimacy too, it’s something that I’m fascinated by – different kinds of intimacy, and those found in empty space – it is a great thought to think of the travelling package in this way, like a quietly beating heart that we all add a little of ourselves to. I can’t wait until time allows for me to add my contribution, I’m finding the thought of knowing it will be coming very inspiring!
Thanks Cath; the relationship between space and intimacy has fascinated me for a long time. I love the idea of a beating heart too, and I truly look forward to your contribution. I hope you stay inspired!
Yea! looking forward to seeing what you come up with.
Glad to see you back, Emily. Have a great 2014.
thanks Richard, it’s really nice to be back.
Thank goodness for our creative side when a relentless tidal wave of busy ness envelopes us! Our creativity saves us. Reading what you say, I do think with these posts, started by you, we have given a gift to the world. Thanks for coming back, Emily.
I hope the gift continues to travel and grow. It’s great to be back!
I read this a while ago but am only coming back to re-read it now. The images are incredibly tender, and stunningly beautiful. I like what is developing, Emily! Each experience building on another – I think that’s how the richness of life develops.
Fascinating thoughts, too, and I’m happy to see you making an entry to the blog. Perfect.
Thanks Karen it’s nice to hear from you! And thanks for your lovely comments. The photograph is journeying again now. I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop…