09 October 2007

Beauty From The Filth

Photos from Dominant Wave Theory by Andy Hughes

Some 'primitivists' argue our modern existence is so filtered by symbology from its essence that we are disconnected from what it truly means to be human. Perhaps, in an ideal world there would be no need for art. Life would be art. But while we live this complicated and disconnected existence we may as well make art out of the shit we are in. 'Beauty From The Filth' was Foulweather's tag-line from conception as I have always been inspired by the flower that blooms out of a steaming pile of crud.

In his novel 'The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born' Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah goes to great lengths to describe to describe the coruption within the government and bureaucracies of his country. In one passage, he uses a stair banister as a metaphor for government corruption. The description of the muck that has accrued along this banister as a result of improperly washed hands post arse and nose wipe, is truly astonishing. Of course there are plenty of novels, songs, paintings and so on that create beauty out of dark and horrific situations but what stuck me when I read this novel was how Armah was able to make something so crude on a base level, so inspiring.

Consequently, when I came across Andy Hughes' Dominant Wave Theory, I knew it would be right up my alley. Hughes spent a decade photographing refuse, garbage and rubbish mainly along the coasts of Cornwall and Southern California. The results are stunning.

By now, its common knowledge how damaging plastic is to our environment, particularly the ocean and its inhabitants due to its non-biodegradable composition. Yet, Hughes has managed to create monuments out of civilization's plastic discards. For instance, a seemingly insignificant red lighter is captured and illuminated by perfect coastal light and elevated into awesome sculpture stubbornly situated in the golden sand of Hermosa Beach. A blue water bottle (above), almost looks organic, bending over like a deep sea jelly fish or perhaps swaying in the sea breeze like a fragile plant in the dunes.

The big question is how is the viewer supposed to feel about this? Aesthetically, these photographic captures are certainly eye-pleasing and would look great decorating my wall. So does that mean the excess of our consumer culture and waste of our destructive industries are OK after all?

I think Hughes and the fine writers that have written scientific, ecological, cultural, artistic and politically themed essays to accompany Hughes' photos would argue otherwise. I'd think they would argue that in an ideal world Hughes would not have had to spend the last decade photographing this filth but because the state of our oceans and beaches he has been obligated to do so. And in creating beauty from the filth, hopefully he will inspire some meaningful attention to his subject matter.

As an added bonus, the book is laid-out by legendary graphic designer/ surfer, David Carson.