OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Hughes

She's Sweet N' Sour

AMY HUGHES' photographs are colorful, textured and sensual. Combining found props and crafted objects with the human figure, she invites the viewer to imagine the taste, smell and feel of her "fabricated world of surreal imagery and visceral pleasure." Amy earned her BFA in Fine Art Photography (2013) from Texas State University, San Marcos. She's exhibited her work at Flatbed Press, UP Collective and the University Galleries at Texas State University. Amy lives and works in Austin, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You construct scenes to photograph, as in Conscious Fantasy, and photograph scenes you discover, as in Revert and Enter Exit. From a process point of view, do you prefer one way of working?

Amy Hughes: I do prefer one way of working, but it was a task to find what that was exactly. In general, my process still starts off with street photography as in Revert and Enter Exit, which was photographed in my home town of Midland, Texas. Those photos are not only nostalgic to me because they are remnants of my roots, but street photography fulfills me in that same manner. I love the experience of reloading film and roaming until my senses and eyes grab onto what I find appealing. And I’m enamored with the history of street photography.

But there came a time when I was looking at my street photos littered across that white wall, and I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the banal. I thought, yes, I do like these photos, but where’s the weird? Where’s the challenge? Where are those bits of funk that exemplify me as the creator? That’s when I decided I needed to take it to a level where I felt like I had stamped a piece of my individuality on every photo.

I began a new approach of executing these odd combinations of visions I’ve always had floating around in my mind. I began to feel overwhelmingly fulfilled by the control I now I had over my work. Layers of pleasure and satisfaction came from directing the models and taking them out of their comfort zone, constructing scenes rather than stumbling across them and using my hands to craft the three-dimensional props I envisioned rather than hoping they fell into my lap. Street photography is not be my main focus anymore, but it certainly got me to where I am. It still warms up my artistic eye and mind to get the ball rolling on what I really love to do: constructing the scenes in Conscious Fantasy.

She Wears the Pants

OPP: Texture and color are dominant features in Conscious Fantasy. The photographs are very visceral. They are visually seductive, but almost immediately I imagine what these scenes smell and feel like. Photography, as a medium, doesn't usually have this capability. Could you talk about sensuality and photography?

AH: The bright colors in these photographs are the initial spark that sets off a trail to other senses. I like my viewers go through the process of being far away and thinking, ok, that’s a bright portrait or still life. Then as they approach, they think, oh gross! that’s actually sardines, PB&J or raw meat. Ultimately, I want that prop to spark a memory of what the object really smells and feels like.

Photographs are powerful visual fragments of documented time. They trigger past memories. It’s pretty remarkable how smell, taste and touch have just as much power to evoke strong memories. I find it fun and challenging to kill a few birds with one stone and incorporate layers of colors, textures and distinct smells or tastes so the viewer does step away having felt that odd visceral combination you don’t always come across in photography. A majority of my photo shoots involve getting messy. That’s what I love about it. I’m leaving the mark of my hand in each photograph.

Potent Gems

How you go about choosing/collecting the props you use in the Conscious Fantasy photographs?

AH: My prop approach comes in different waves, but I have to credit my love for fashion photography and my antique shopping addiction. I’m drawn to retro/vintage anything. Items from my collections work their way into my photographs because I see them as individual pieces of art on their own. I especially love the aesthetic of the 1950s-70s. I try to combine the pieces from that era with contemporary prop choices.

Aside from constantly collecting for my photos and personal pleasure, my approach is to simply lay in silence with a notebook and pen next to me. I love seeing where my mind goes with no restraint. Many interesting blends of nature melting into the artificial world roll across my eyelids. I grab my pen and hurry to write down what I saw, then repeat. From there, I pick what objects on the list are most affordable and what I’m able to get my hands on. For Potent Gems, I wanted wearable food. I settled on getting my hands on some shrimp cocktail. Then thought of ways to push it further to make the shrimp a main focus. I decided to string a shrimp necklace! Then that’s when I go into my stash of retro clothes, bedding, china and style something that appropriately compliments the crafted prop.

I prefer portraiture to still life, so I always incorporate human or animal properties when possible. But mostly I enjoy opposing elements and placing objects where they aren’t supposed to be. It’s like I’m creating these temporary sculptures that are too surreal to exist in the mundane world.  


OPP: Even when humans are present, these photographs are never portraits in the conventional sense. Most often, the face is obscured or only partially revealed. Could you talk about your choice to obscure faces?

AH: I usually don't show the whole face for two reasons. In practical terms, my props often don't scale up to the size of the human body, so I zoom in to display what it is I'm trying to focus on. More poetically, the eyes are the windows to the soul. If I include the eyes, the focus becomes the face and who that person is. I don't want viewers thinking, Is the model pretty/ugly? Uncomfortable? Do I like her makeup? Do I know her? I try to avoid evoking questions which would render the rest of the photograph as a second thought.

Ingrown Hairs

OPP: Do you always carry your camera?

AH: My cameras are like children, so I don’t take them places they may get severely hurt or lost. It really just varies depending on what that day’s plans hold. I always have my 35mm on me while traveling or trekking around unknown territories, but no, the kids don’t accompany me on daily errands. As for my constructed scenes, those photos are mostly set up inside on designated shoot days.

OPP: What's next for you? What's your next planned shoot?

AH: Wrapping up the second part of Conscious Fantasy in Austin, Texas is what’s on tap for me! This city oozes bright, eclectic and inspiring visuals everywhere. I couldn’t be in a better place while working on this series. The next planned shoot is this week. It involves working a mini cactus into my friend’s hair bun. I’m surprised I have friends by the end of these photo shoots. . . hahaha.

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amyhughesphotography.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.