Nowhere Far by Nicholas Hughes is a deceptively simple and beautiful object-book which takes you into a dreamland of murmuring colours and hints of being adrift in the vastness of the natural world. His seemingly distant landscape photographs are in fact all created within short distances from where he finds himself: in London, Wales or Cornwall, investigating the human relationship with the environment.
This is Hughes’ first monograph, representing work created over the past fifteen years across six different series. A cloth-bound hardback cover with shadows of winter trees promises some darkness inside, as do the black endpapers and opening images of inky night-time seas; there is a sense of presage of the end of the world as one opens the book. One might question the choice of a portrait format for this work, given that Hughes almost exclusively produces landscape images, which generally benefit from as large a presentation as possible and are here sometimes too small, and sometimes cut by the gutter. But there is a logic to the large amount of empty page space; each photograph is given a swathe of white in which to breathe. With a foreword by Brett Rogers of The Photographers’ Gallery and essays by Jay Griffiths and Martin Barnes, the reader of Nowhere Far is invited to consider a critical look at Hughes’ oeuvre in both an historical and contemporary context.
To call Hughes’ work Turner-esque is clichéd, but the term does convey the subtlety of tones and the watercolour-like clouds and waves of colour washing across the pages. He presents a somewhat synaesthesic approach in his work, interpreting the landscape with a Romantic eye to both the vast and the tiny, citing the strong influence of music of different kinds. The ethereal, the reflected, the not-quite-perceived. Perhaps he is photographing the music of the spheres? He often suggests rather than declares; has us glance towards the infinite while showing us dust particles. Nowhere Far takes us on an observer’s journey through the elements, but the views on that journey are as if seen through obscured windows, or a kaleidoscope or Victorian binoculars. Fire, earth, air, water and life (in the form of trees, mostly, no human figures are ever seen) are never entirely clear – although we understand, sometimes only on an instinctive level, or one of memory, what it is we are looking at.
One tends to initially respond to Hughes’ images on an emotional level, and over time and repeated looking, perceive the deeper metaphorical story in the collected work. Some would criticize a photographer-as-artist aspiring to the abstraction of say, a Rothko, in that painting is a skill and an art from first principles, and as such more suited to creating images that seek a route to the sublime, while photography, by definition and necessity records the actual, the physically present in time and space; how can it speak in metaphor and intuition? How can it allude when it is necessarily descriptive? This book demonstrates that photography is indeed able to provide a glimpse of the incomprehensible and its shadows.
As Griffiths observes, Hughes’ work “speaks simply of a possible and ascetic truth, that this will all remain when there is no human eye to view it.” And that is both a terrible and glorious thing.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Lottie Davies
Below, images from Nowhere Far :
The Relentless Melt #1 (2016) © Nicholas Hughes
Edge (Verse I) #29 (2003) © Nicholas Hughes