Stephen Hughes is drawn to marginal landscapes, often where the urban and the natural worlds jut up against one another. Each location is carefully selected, but nothing is staged; Hughes captures unexpected moments by observing life as it unfolds before him. David Chandler examines some of these moments in his essay on the artist's work: "a family holds hands as they peer over the cliffs of Beachy Head, edging towards oblivion; the sci-fi architecture of the Atomium in Brussels looms over a young couple as they embrace in a featureless park; and a child lays prone, gazing through the glass roof of Sunderland's Glass Museum." In each image, occurrences such as these prompt us to question what is transpiring and to anticipate what might come next. The work of Stephen Hughes is invested with a sense of possibility—an expectation that in these peripheral, dream-like landscapes, anything might happen.
Stephen Hughes was born in Brighton, England in 1968. Exhibited for the first time in 2001 at the De La Warr Pavilion, he has shown work in France, Germany and the United States. He is featured in Blind Spot #28 and has appeared in numerous art magazines including Tema Celeste, Portfolio and Camera Austria. PhotoWorks and De La Warr Pavilion published Stephen Hughes: Photographs for his inaugural exhibition in 2001. Stephen Hughes is currently an Arts Council England International Research Fellow in photography at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He lives and works in Brighton, England.
The New Yorker
February 1, 2005
A selection of exquisite color landscapes, most of them in the margins of European towns and cities or by the sea, identified only by the sketchiest of place names. If Andreas Gursky, with whom Hughes shares a kindred formalism, is the glittering existentialist of the European aesthetic, then Hughes is the demure poet, concerning himself less with the thrilling, ghastly spectacle of modern life than with the private moments of strange beauty contained within it. These are pictures about dislocation but not really about alienation. In "Far Rockaway, USA," the bleakness of an urban coastal landscape in winter is perfectly rendered—inscrutable high-rises in the background, a blank tract house in the foreground. There are no signs of life except for a few gulls walking the shoreline—and, in the water, a miraculous swan.
Art on Paper
Hughes finds a desolate beauty in transitional zones in exurbia and in the Netherlands at the edges of cities, fringe areas that often feature new construction encroaching on natural environments: a lonely trailer park in England's Lake District (a TV glowing in one window); a man digging in the soil beneath a newly built highway overpass in a Welsh suburb; a seaside boccie court with a view of forbidding cliffs in the Canary Islands. In almost half of the pictures, there is no human presence, and almost as many include just a solitary figure; all the sites are photographed from a distance and intentionally convey little sense of a distinct geographical identity, emphasizing the melancholy they evoke.