Andy Hughes - An Alaskan Diary
Finisterre friend and local photographer/artist Andy Hughes headed out to Anchorage Alaska to talk plastic.
Words and images © Andy Hughes 2014
Leaving behind a run of deep low pressures, big storms, huge waves and wet weather, I thought that traveling to Heathrow would be problematic, it was, my sleeper was cancelled and no trains were in operation from the Cornish peninsular. The British weather was once again in the news and Cornwall's rail link broken. Eventually I was on my way, and flying above the pole, Greenland and then onwards to Alaska.
Twenty four hours later I was in Anchorage, Alaska, buildings gleamed in the morning sunshine, crisp and cold outside, but unseasonably warm for this part of the world. Anchorage is a small city right on the edge of the last frontier, a wilderness where you might really consider your place in the world, over half a million square miles with just over 700,000 people across the whole state. Where an average winter daytime temperature might be around - 25 it was now touching zero. However this winter there has been little snow in the city and its environs, and what snow there was had a grey dusting of grit, it looked more like concrete than snow.
Everyone was talking about the warm weather, so much so it that the Iditarod might have to move to Fairbanks. Climate change is here for all to see, topsy turvy weather is now the norm. When I visited last summer I was really shocked to see at first hand how far the exit Glacier has receded. During my expedition the sun was shining every day with calm seas, very unusual. On some days I walked the beach in a t-shirt and barefoot !
So six months later after the my first visit I arrived in Anchorage for the launch of the Exhibition GYRE: The Plastic Ocean, a full weekends events were planned from media previews to public meetings and a symposium. First on the agenda was the media preview of the exhibition on Thursday morning. Many of the team were there including Julie Decker, Peter Murphy, Dave Gaudet, myself and Alexis Rockman. I was looking forward to meeting Alexis, he’d been scheduled to go on the original Gyre expedition along the coast but was unable to do so. It was just great to meet him and see his painting for the first time. Myself and my partner Dom were familiar with his paintings, dystopian futures meet hybridised animals. We were also excited to meet everyone else and for them to see my work for the first time. My photographic work was printed in Cornwall and then sent to Anchorage to be framed, making circular frames with floated mounting was not going to be easy, the museum did a great job. I was so please to see the work in situ and alongside Mark Dion was great.
There are six works in total, each is 47 inches wide.
[further information can be viewed on website at www.andyhughes.net]
The following morning I rose at 5.30am to get to CBS KTV studios, its seemed far to early ! Two and a half minutes to promote the show.
Saturday, saw the opening symposium take place, its provided a chance for attendees to participate with scientists, removal experts, and artists in an interactive sessions. To explore the issue of marine debris: its origins and impacts, as well as cleanups and communication efforts, and how science and art can help us in understanding, capturing and communicating the issue. Participants were from a huge range of organisations such as NOAA Marine Debris Program, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institute, NOAA NMFS Auke Bay Labs Oceans Conservancy ,Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation and many others.
Thoughts about the show and the specifics of the topic of plastic and ocean pollution are well versed and many of you who might read this blog will be well aware of all the organisations big and small that campaign to spread the message about looking at our profligate use of plastics and the damage they cause. Also many of you will know of the work I have made over many many years and the charities I have supported. As far as my art practice goes one informs the other, but don't be mistaken in thinking that what I do if purely didactic, its not. To understand more about my work read my website or better get hold of a copy of the book from the show, its has much to offer for a whole range of readers. My thanks to Finisterre for the long johns that kept me warm on my dog mush and the jacket that was so, so comfortable and cosy.
All American Road.
Taking a trip for two hours toward Mt. Mckinley was indeed truly spectacular. On my way to go dog mushing and stopping at various roadside cafes I came across this ice cream cone. I must go back to Alaska as its full of the incongruous and somewhat ironic symbols and signs. The kinds and type of subject matter that for many photographers is now part of the grammar of photography. Ordinary subject become compelling, fixed by the present has transfixed both art and commercial photographic practice.
All American Road, Open.
All American Road, Moose
On a sunny afternoon my treat was to go dog mushing. It was very very cold, but amazing, crisp snow, steaming dog, wonderful company. Imagine my surprise when one of the mushers gathered I was a photographer and as we sped through the snow he asked me if I knew the work of Martin Parr? Not a question I thought I would here out in the open wilderness.
A dog named 'Tux'
My thoughts returned to art once back to Anchorage, I spent the last few days of my trip looking at the collection of art both european and indigenous. Drawn to this painting of Mount McKinley by Sydney Laurence I was surprised to discover he and his wife traveled to Cornwall and lived in St. Ives, Cornwall from 1889 to 1898. Now back in Cornwall I'm still contemplating the both journeys.
Travel is easier than ever, surfers, climbers, tourists, artists and many in the rich west undertake trips of one kind or another. It enriches our lives, make us better people, sometimes it might bring you sublime moments [ on my first trip I came within 20 feet of a Kodaik Brown Bears ]. However there are costs to the planet, how does one square this with both the political and moral imperative to reduce our profligate lifestyles. I don't have an answer but for myself I try to make the best work I can make, work to inspire, explore and reflect.
© Andy Hughes 2014