What I most like about Hughes’s work is the distance that he creates between the viewer and the subject. There is a lot of room for contemplation and interpretation in his images, which reflects the often banal landscapes that he chooses to photograph. His primary concern or obsessions seems to be with places that exist on the peripheral, which simultaneously have and don’t have a place within society. They are places in which a brooding atmosphere often lingers, and makes the viewer feel slightly uneasy. Some of the work points to juxtapositions in the landscape, such as where the urban meets with the rural, whereas other images are best described as being ‘non-places’ or to use Foucault’s term, heterotopias.
Hughes’s distanced style of photographing and his investigative eye when exploring the landscape is something that I found particularly interesting, and I can draw parallels between the ideologies that we both concern ourselves with. The idea that an image could have the potential to exist at any time is something that greatly interests me. That is to say that although the photographs made by Hughes obviously sit in a particular time frame, i.e. the exact time that the shutter was pressed, the subjective and withdrawn style means that history is in part taking out of context. These heterotopias are effectively timeless, and exist to serve partly as a document of what physically exists in a certain place, but also to serve as a comment on Western culture and the confusion that descends on people in urban and rural environments. Due to a mass shortage of housing, particularly in the UK, there seems to be an ever growing number of developments occurring across the country where the urban blends almost indistinguishably with the sub-urban. The result of reclaimed brownfield sites is that housing is beginning to look increasingly identical, and there is a not a lot of personality within these new developments. Their main objective is to fulfil the demands of the population, which is not necessarily a bad thing but the juxtaposition of the new mis-matched housing, which is usually located in strange parts of the city means that the urban landscape is constantly evolving and expanding.
Although my work is not explicitly concerned with housing estates or housing in general, I think the idea of population and urban sprawl is important to consider when exploring the idea of non-places. People have to live somewhere, and naturally, the environments in which I have been exploring are inhabited by people in some way. From stairwells to bridges, archways to manicured pieces of grass, people influence the space in which they inhabit and in turn, the space influences them. It is a symbiotic relationship. I have therefore found it useful to consider the work of such photographers as Stephen Hughes, and it has been beneficial to read in detail about his process and thought processes.
Words taken from photo fusion.org:
Stephen Hughes is gaining widespread acclaim for his first major solo photography exhibition, in which he introduces an outstanding body of work dedicated to the peripheral, marginal zones and strange disconnected gaps of our social landscape. Produced over the last five years across Europe, these strangely haunting images sit as uneasily as they make us feel, between genres.
‘In Hughes’ photographs, as in David Lynch’s films, the banal constantly hovers on the dream’s uncertain boundary, or perhaps conversely, the unconscious has its own bright presence in the real world.’ (David Chandler, catalogue essay)
Buildings as apparitions, gleaming white apartment blocks stranded by the shore, lone figures drifting and daydreaming across the barren edges of newly built cities. With wit and precision, Hughes photographs geographic and social hinterlands, in part a comment on the peculiarly western phenomenon of the suburban, but especially on regions neither urban nor sub-urban. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what’s going on in these images – to guess what country Hughes is in or define exactly what people are doing, caught as they are in inexplicable acts. The photographs are sited in a limbo between worlds and are somehow adrift from reality – shorelines, building sites, juxtapositions where urban meets rural, where buildings are homogeneous and landscape anaesthetised. Half empty hotels and tower blocks are captured in the numinous light of early morning, their etiolated colours taking texture with them.