Threaded Icebergs: An Interview with Adriene Hughes by Deanna Witman
I first became aware of Adriene’s photographs when she received a number of awards in 2018 for the Threaded Icebergs work. There was something in these photographs that resonated within me so very deeply, perhaps connected to my own area of interest. In 2019, we both attended Photolucida a professional event for photographers in Portland, OR. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, and there was an instant kinship. I want to bring Adriene’s work to our audience.
How did you come to photography as your medium for expression?
Adriene Hughes: I began to study film photography when I was 11 years old and continued that practice through high school. But when it came to college, rather than pursue an arts degree, I leaned in the direction of literature and poetry. The construction of words is much like the construction of an image, and literature turned out to be the perfect teacher. After college I continued to take classes in painting and drawing, and I also learned the craft of quilt making from elder women in my neighborhood. In the end all of these art practices led me to photography as my current expression. It is what informs my work, in the way I approach subject matter, and the way I ultimately see the environment around me.
Was there a specific event that led you to pursue an MFA?
AH: I moved to Boston with my partner and had taken a tour of the Museum School. At that time I didn’t know what conceptual art was, but I discovered on that tour the kind of artwork I made was considered conceptual vs. commercial based photographic work. I felt excited, challenged, and knew it was the right time to apply for a graduate degree. I submitted a portfolio, and was accepted into the program. I was rather naïve about the process of graduate school, and it turned out to be a very challenging time. But what I learned at the Museum school has carried me my whole adult life.
Your multi-portfolio series “Threaded Icebergs” could be interpreted in a number of ways. What do you hope viewers will understand from these images?
AH: With the threaded iceberg series I wanted to speak to what it felt like to be in the Arctic, more than what it looked like to be there. Sewing into the images helped me express that experience.
How did the experience of spending time in and photographing the Arctic landscape shape your personal connection with the landscape?
AH: Being in the Arctic felt like coming home to a place I had left long ago. The Arctic came alive for me and I knew I had to communicate that feeling I experienced between spirit and place. Now I see everything around myself as relational, and my presence within nature is an extension of the whole.
One of the unique qualities of the work is the handsewn threading—can you speak to the process of threading? What is it like for you, and how do you go about it?
AH: I use my quilting tools: ruler, fine needles, a particular type of quilter’s thread that has tooth and kink. I treat the measurement much like I treat fabric. But the threading is not planned. The image is story, and the geometric design is a building of shape and form, one leading to the other. I reflect on the iceberg, what it felt like to be in front of it, and to tell the story of my engagement. How did the wind feel, what were the conditions, what sounds were floating above, around and over its shape? The shape and pattern is inherent to the remembrance of my experience.
Does climate change and the sense of urgency related to the melting of the Arctic direct your work?
AH: Climate change is an emotional topic. We can see the loss of the ice shelf as a formidable footprint to the global crisis. Urgency is at the forefront. I believe it’s imperative that I not only document what I see as the truth, but to tell the story through the personal. And I do that by weaving a narrative of the experiential, through threading the images, as well as using expressive color and light.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
AH: It’s important to travel and to experience the world in order to be informed and have opinions of your work. If that travel is in your own backyard, then that is where you need to be, but having an experience which takes you outside the confines of your own space is necessary for artistic growth (though Emily Dickinson might disagree).
Adriene Hughes is a San Diego based fine art photographer with an MFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University. She is a multi-media artist whose current body of work is based within the genre of grand landscape and the effects of global warming on the environment through the use of infrared technology, photography, and video installation.
Deanna is a Maine transdisciplinary artist working with photographic media. Her creative practice is a merger of inquiry and discovery with that of experimentation and expression. Her work questions our relationship to the natural world, our place in the universe, and our responsibly to this earth and those who inhabit it. She is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Unity College and the Managing Editor of Hawk & Handsaw – The Journal of Creative Sustainability.