A conversation between Marsha Pearce and Nadia Huggins
Marsha Pearce: How are you, Nadia? What are things like, on the ground, in St. Vincent?
Nadia Huggins: It’s been a very up-and-down experience, but at the moment I feel as though I’m getting to a place of acceptance and I’m trying my best to continue dredging out what I can from this period of solitude to sustain my practice.
St. Vincent has been handling the situation fairly casually compared to some of the other islands. The government has put a few things in place to curb the importation of cases. However, as far as business goes, people have been proceeding as normal. With that being said, some major private businesses have tried their best to implement systems to reduce contact and spread. Most of the people who have kept informed throughout the pandemic are trying to do the best they can, but I think people generally feel it’s hard to sustain the right safety practices with an invisible threat.
You mentioned sustaining your practice. I’d like to talk about your recent work. A couple of your Instagram posts in March are of photographs of the human body submerged in water – close-ups of skin that render the form ambiguous. The images read as perhaps both a hand, a knuckle, and a hill, the crest of a cliff, a valley. What is equally striking is the accompanying caption: “Distance is measured by the longing between two places.” I am interested in these images and your caption, especially in this time when distance can be lifesaving and we are thinking in terms of 6ft of separation. What can you tell me about the photographs and the notion of measuring distance, particularly during this pandemic?
I’ve spent some time observing the headlands of islands from the perspective of being in the sea, either from a boat or swimming. I’ve always been moving between two places in one way or another – I’m either moving between Trinidad and St Vincent, or the Grenadine islands and St Vincent – so I have been trying to make sense of the relevance of that space between those two points or islands. I have been thinking a bit about the concept of powers of 10 and how to explore this idea visually in the context of photography. I am referring to the mathematical concept, but I think the Powers of 10 video illustrates the idea really well. I’ve been thinking about how to approach my work in a similar way – especially in relation to the body, the landscape and the natural elements within it. How do all of these things look up close? And, how are they perceived from afar?
I’ve always been interested in using the body as a metaphor for the topography of the island landscape, and as a result, started experimenting with macro shots of my hands underwater. It was through this I was able to figure out simple gestures using my hands to mimic the land. I find the details of the body up close fascinating and there are so many ways this is seen mirrored on a larger scale in the landscape. The middle image represents the hull of a boat as seen from below the surface. Again, I’m trying to use the body as a metaphor to show a relationship between the objects we encounter in everyday life and finding ways to give them new life through a mimicking of the body. These are images I have been exploring and thinking about for a while, however, in relation to the pandemic, it gives old images a new context. When two places (or the body) are so far apart from each other, what is the vessel that we use to connect ourselves to each other?
In the last few weeks you have shared majestic photographs of earth, sky, sea and lush foliage – scenes teeming with life in the midst of reports of death. With these images one can almost taste the saltwater and feel the cool covering of trees overhead. They seem to have the power to transport us from kitchens and living rooms. Tell me about these views of outside and their significance.
I’ve been revisiting a lot of older images that I started shooting from as far back as 2009, and trying to give them a new context. In some of the work I have been shooting recently, I am also seeing a thread of similarity between the old and new. I believe this pandemic has made a lot of us really reconsider the value of our contributions to our societies. When the world is reduced to the “essentials,” I can’t help but ask myself: What makes my role as an artist valuable? It’s fair to say our movement has been restricted a great deal and most of us are home, consuming a lot more social media than usual. I’ve used this time to share my images as a small escape for others, even if the work takes the format of pixels. It’s been an experiment to see what experiences people desire most.
While images aren’t as tangible and as crucial as food, water and shelter, I think the value of photography is undeniable especially in a time where we are “trapped” inside and can’t explore the world in the ways we have been used to. This has always been the role of art, even without a pandemic – it is a huge component of our existence. It’s our creative thrust and desires that propel the world forward in new and exciting ways.
You have also been focusing our attention on colour, pattern and texture. Do you see these elements as being therapeutic in a time when focus can be difficult?
Yes, absolutely. I treat some of the work I do as a mood board, with the aim of developing a much larger body of work. I’m always trying to identify the various aspects of a photograph that make it compelling. The focus on these elements really is a part of my process to expand my skills and grow as an artist. While some images stand on their own, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
You’ve mentioned that imagination is a foundation of your work and life. During this time, many of us have been stocking up on food, drink – and even toilet paper. How might imagination serve as our sustenance in the Covid-19 context?
Our physiological needs will always be at the base of the pyramid, that’s just one of the basic universal laws of human existence. I wouldn’t necessarily say that imagination serves as sustenance. However, I believe that as we ascend the pyramid of needs, each step along the way requires a bit of imagination, and by imagination, I refer to it in the sense of problem-solving. This spans across various types of work and can come from both an individual or collective place. You don’t have to be an artist to be imaginative, but we do tend to approach problems more abstractly without any real need, sometimes, to reach a resolution. It’s a risky line of work, but there is also a type of freedom that comes with it.
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