/ by Tasha L. Harrison / fine art photography by Erin Hughes / portrait by Latoya Dixon Smith
There are five levels of boredom: indifferent, apathetic, calibrating, reactant, and searching. The levels are mapped on an axis of how negative they feel and how moved we are to do something about it. A 2014 study in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that bored people “are likely to engage in sensation seeking.”
This is especially true for creatives. Nine months into a pandemic, we have all worked through these levels and back again. And, evidence of spikes of creativity are all over social media and found in the innovative ways folks have reinvented their businesses under restriction.
Erin Hughes is a fine art photographer and an encaustic painter with studio space at GCCA. She began photographing “beautiful things” to work through the grief of losing her father earlier this year. While capturing floral arrangements in her home studio, her daughters’ “fancy rat” Piper entered the frame.
“She was just as surprised to be in the scene as I was to photograph her there,” Hughes says. “This is when the beauty of reality, even the often seen as ugly side of reality, began to demand my attention.”
A long-time lover of art and art supplies, it took Hughes some time to find her medium. In a darkroom, watching an image she’d captured appear on developing paper, she became hooked. “I love photography because you start the process with an established frame and then make decisions on what to include and exclude from that frame. It’s a conversation between you and the world in front of your lens.”
Hughes says the intention behind her work has always been to grasp the sense of beauty and wonder that accompanies a child’s view of the world. Creativity has always played a role in help-ing people deal with stress, fear and uncertainty in times of crisis. Her father’s death was the first real loss she’d ever experienced and Piper’s visit into her studio was a moment of unplanned grace. “I desperately needed to escape into that goodness, that magic of light,” she says. “This moment is where my quarantine education began.”
In the days that followed, Hughes and her three daughters created an environment for Piper to explore, adding snails or carpenter bees to the composition. At first, she would shoot the scene and add Piper in later but found that the image was simply less interesting.
Admittedly, Hughes has never been overly fond of the idea of a pet rat. “Their faces, their mannerisms, and bodies were adorable but then there’s the tail,” she says. “I mean, hamsters look so similar, yet no tail. The tail still gives me goosebumps!”
But while photographing the rat within still life florals, she watched Piper discover new things, watched how she moved, and her sweet expressions and she came to care for her personally.
“The absence of the usual noise allows us to see more clearly and pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us each day,” says Hughes. “It’s right in front of us but we rarely take the time and let it hold our attention.”
The photo series of Piper has become a dose of much needed whimsy during a strikingly difficult time and she has garnered a growing audience on social media, thirsty for inspired content. “I had so many people telling me how much they looked forward to the Piper pictures each day,” she says.
She’s finished about three dozen images that include Piper and believes the series is complete. They will become matted and signed fine art prints. To keep up with demand, Hughes has expanded and will also sell event style posters with text, a first for the artist. Since Piper has retired her position as muse, Hughes has added tortoises, ducklings and a hedgehog into her compositions, which continue to feature flowers from her garden and what she can source locally that’s in bloom.
“These are more singular still life scenes,” she says, “built on the same idea of finding beauty in the reality right around us.”