Photographer takes alternative approach

Artist Nancy Hugh has never been one to take a conventional approach. Born and raised in Hawaii, Hugh spent many summers at her family cottage on the shore of Halfmoon Bay on the Sunshine Coast, where she now lives full time. Hugh’s life has encompassed a wide variety of adventures in work and leisure – she is her neighbourhood’s favourite dog sitter, for example – but now that she has ‘retired’ from her other pursuits, it is her love of unique and unusual approaches to making art that is capturing her attention. 

Hugh’s creative eye takes her in varied directions. Her first passion was photography. The artist says, “I was introduced to photography at an early age [during elementary school] when a friend of my parents got me interested. At first all I had was a plastic Kodak camera, but then in high school my dad gave me his old rangefinder. Then I took a photography class and pretty soon I was hooked. Eventually I obtained a BFA in Photography, at the University of Hawaii.” 

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Hugh made photography her career for a while. “After college I worked for various companies doing different types of photography: multi-image slide productions (this really ages me); a stint with the military as a civilian photographer; I worked for a portrait studio doing kids’ pics and school pics
, plus I did lots of other things on the side such as wedding, fashion, and portrait photos.” 

But the conventional couldn’t hold her interest for long. “One day I found a book on Polaroid transfers. I loved the look and I fell in love with the process. I took a workshop and that was the beginning of my work in alternative photographic processes.”

This term refers to non-traditional photographic printing processes. These do not involve the traditional gelatin silver process typically used to create photographic prints. The alternative processes were developed over 100 years ago, before the gelatin silver process we now use. Hugh’s favourite alternative processes include Polaroid transfer (now done with Fuji film), cyanotype, wet plate collodion, and platinum/palladium, and the artist is happy to explain these processes to curious viewers of her unusual photographic images. Some of her most popular recent images involve fresh flowers frozen in ice. The resulting photos are enticing, drawing the viewers in closer to discover just what they are actually looking at. Hugh likens the effect to watercolour, with swirls and fluid motion surrounding the blooms. 

Having discovered these processes, over the next few years Hugh took several workshops with Christopher James, who became a big influence, at the Santa Fe Workshops in New Mexico. These days, she also works a lot in digital, printing onto different substrates for unusual effects. 

For most artists, becoming proficient in one medium would be challenge enough. But a year or so ago, Hugh’s roving eye drew her to a completely different art form: that of Japanese Saori weaving. Misao Jo founded this contemporary approach in Japan 40 years ago. A hand-weaving method that allows anyone to freely express themselves, the name Saori stems from the Zen word for ‘individual dignity’ combined with the word for ‘weaving.’ In the words of Misao Jo, “… life cannot be measured by a yardstick. It is this individuality that makes everything meaningful and the uniqueness of each thread … creates the tapestry of life.”

For Hugh, who learned the technique from Terry Bibb on Salt Spring Island, the method appeals because “Saori is a freestyle form of weaving. It is very organic, there are no patterns, no mistakes, just weaving from the heart. The technique opens the heart and the mind. I use everything from yarn to recycled silk saris.”

For now, most of Hugh’s weaving has resulted in unique and colourful scarves, but eventually she plans to design clothing that incorporates the woven cloth. 

You can see Nancy Hugh’s unique art, both photographed and woven, at the Landing Artists’ spring show at the Gibsons Public Market from May 17 to 19 (noon to 5 p.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday). Artists will be on site throughout the weekend.

– Submitted by Ruth Rodgers

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