Dominant Wave Theory
Andy Hughes has devoted a significant portion of his photography career, spanning more than 30 years, creating images in and around various coastal areas. It was during the late 1980s that he learned to surf and embarked on a journey of photographing different types of discarded objects found along the intertidal zone. As a young art student, Hughes was greatly influenced and inspired by the exhibition "Rubbish and Recollections" by artist Keith Arnett, a collaboration between the Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno and the Photographers' Gallery, London. Between 1999 and 2006, Hughes focused extensively on documenting the plastic waste that accumulated on the beaches where he enjoyed riding waves.
Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2004
This image defies the pursuit of the "perfect moment" and challenges the idea of a "special moment" at sunset. The upturned cigarette lighter serves as an inverted black monolith, similar to the one featured in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which explores themes of human evolution and technology. The sun is positioned perfectly at the center of the image, casting its light through a scratched and distorted plastic surface, causing the plastic to resemble distressed, bruised, and scarred human skin.
Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2004
'Interestingly, however, when it comes to the "message" transmitted by the "medium" of trash, not all beach rubbish is created equal. Archeological artifact aside, there is a class of beach trash that is disturbing in a way unprecedented in human experience. This is the burgeoning flood of feculence and rejectamenta produced by contemporary technology, consumerism, and demographics that generates a dread of apocalyptical proportions. The secret message of industrial, non-biodegradable garbage on the beach is that some things are for keeps, and some mistakes can never be corrected'.
Lencek, L.M (2006). 'The beach as ruin', in Hughes, A. Dominant Wave Theory. London: Booth-Clibborn. pp.144-147.
El Segundo Los Angeles, California, USA, 2004
Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, England, 2004
Santa Barbara , California, USA, 2004
Gwithian Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, England, 2002
Muscle Beach, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2004
Balnekeil Beach, Cape Wrath, Scotland 2002
Gwithian Beach, Cornwall, England, 2003
Santa Barbara, California, USA, 2004
The essays open with a discussion by Dr Christopher Short, of the visual context of Hughes’s work as a contemporary art practice. The wider implications of these photographs, in terms of art history through formalism and the development of modernism in St Ives (Hughes is based in West Cornwall), are speculated upon together with tourism in this locale to draw anthropological perspectives. The political dimensions of environmental activism; the tackling of waste and changing our relationship to waste generation, are developed in writings by Chris Hines and environmental advocate Joshua Karliner. The latter in his essay discusses ecological and industrial development and counters with alternative futures. In contrast, the existence of the beach as a physical and metaphorical site are explored and linked with histories and archaeologies in the essay “The Beach as Ruin”. Here Lena Lencek makes wide-ranging connections that play histories into the present and focus Andy Hughes’s work in time: as both representative of the present while simultaneously prophetic of possible dread futures. No less prophetic is the discussion, by Dr Richard Thompson, of scientific marine data, gathered about the effects of plastic debris in the world’s oceans; the scale and persistence of which makes shocking reading.
The photographic work produced in this book creates references that allow a wide cross-comparison between the images; this is carried through into the page design of the appendix which acts as both a catalogue of all the images and locations as well as an accumulating visual glossary of beach waste. The structure of this book is striking visually, defined by the everydayness of the objects and the uniqueness of their depiction. The breadth of ambition of this book is wide and the issues that are addressed of contemporary significance. Visually it deals with these in a thought-provoking and seductive way; the essays extending these images into far-reaching debates, the whole work culminating in an important contribution to the ecological paradigm.
© Stephen Brigdale 2006
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