Nadia Huggins: A Brief Interview with Repeating Islands

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[Interview by Ivette Romero.] Nadia Huggins is a self-taught photographer from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She is a full-time freelance graphic designer (see the invisible creative) and co-founder of ARC Magazine. In her own words, her primary focus has been documentary and conceptual photography. For her latest work highlighted in our previous post Nadia Huggins’ “Circa no future”, Huggins has focused on the use of Instagram, capturing unexpected, astounding (and sometimes joyful) scenes of life by-on-in the Caribbean Sea. [Photo above: Reeling. Digital print in saltwater, 6lb fishing line. 2015. Image courtesy the artist.]

Repeating Islands/Ivette Romero [RI/IR]: In your description of “Circa no future” you explain that you explore fearlessness, the present moment, and the camaraderie of the boys you have photographed. Could you speak about how you were inspired to choose this topic?

I returned to St Vincent & the Grenadines in 2013. I think in most cases when you are away from home for an extended period of time, and then plant yourself back into society you become hypersensitive to all of the issues surrounding that place. I believe there is value in this if your concern comes from a place of empathy and subsequently a desire to make a positive contribution. I was perturbed by the amount of adolescent boys and men hanging around on the streets- mostly because of unemployment or inadvertently, poverty.

Photo 1 NH[Photo 1: From the series Circa no future. 2014. Image courtesy the artist.]

As a photographer, it is difficult to quantify the impact of an image in the exploration of situations like these, but I was determined to start a project. I just didn’t know how or what form it would take shape in. I wanted to contribute to the portrayal of the black Caribbean male in a positive light. I believe in order for us to begin the process of healing and transforming the region, we need to nurture and empower both our men and women. Fortunately, photography has allowed me the means of representing a familiar collective experience. It has also enabled me to create a record of ourselves so we can have a point of reference while moving forward.

Photo 2 NH[Photo 2: From the series Circa no future. 2014. Image courtesy the artist.]

After about a year of being back home, I bought a small point and shoot underwater camera to take on my daily swim. The intention was mostly to capture my experience and the feeling of being in the water. I eventually noticed a group of boys swimming out to Long Rock, the main islet people climb up on to dive off in Indian Bay. One day, I followed them out and observed them for a while. From a distance, they didn’t realise I was a woman because of my bald head and also because the rest of my body was underwater. I found this interesting as their guard was down and I was able to observe the camaraderie and tenderness they shared with each other. However, as soon as they realised I was a woman the dynamic changed and they started to perform for me by seeing who could do the most stylish jump. I eventually asked if I could photograph them and they agreed. I think it was exciting for them to have a camera present to document a moment that showed how brave they were. My interest was in rediscovering that moment of vulnerability and tenderness they expressed from that initial observation. I realised when their bodies pierced through the water, the performance ended and their disposition transformed; they were once again the boys I had encountered at that initial meeting. From then, I spent about 2 years photographing various adolescent boys.

Photo 3 NH[Photo 3: From the series Circa no future. 2014. Image courtesy the artist.]

RI/IR: Could you please comment on the title you have chosen for the new series?

The title came from one of the first set of images I shot. A young boy was performing for me by climbing and diving off of a fishing boat. He was wearing a wearing a graphic t-shirt with the words C1rca no future written on it. I felt it captured the idea of these images perfectly. I liked that it was poetic and it gave a sense of a disregard for time and place, which I feel happens when we are in the sea. The idea of a future becomes irrelevant in a moment fuelled by adrenaline; the moment in each dive is always now. These boys are living in their moment and it is fascinating to observe.

Photo 4 NH[Photo 4: From the series Circa no future. 2014. Image courtesy the artist.]

RI/IR: You also speak about your identification with these boys and their joyful interaction with nature in and around Indian Bay (in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). How is your own experience linked to the central subjects in your work: water, the Caribbean Sea, play, the body, etc.?

I always felt I lived in a world that intersects between class and race. My father was a mixed (Portuguese and East Indian), well-educated middle-class man and my mother was a working class house wife who came from a very large Portuguese family. They became separated when I was young, and I lived with my mother and grandmother at their home in Indian Bay until I was 15. I struggled a great deal growing up with this disparity between class and race, because of the differences in my upbringing from both sides. I had access to two different worlds and because of this I had a difficult time understanding where I belonged. Still, I was able to find joyful escape by spending my time with boys having similar experiences; diving off rocks, fishing, and playing football. I was always excited by the adventures of and around the sea and I was less interested in doing things girls my age might have been doing. I am grateful for this, as it has given me a sense of grounding. It has affected my core philosophy behind what I photograph and why.

The identification I feel with these boys, comes from this shared experience of play. I feel a sense of nostalgia when I am in the water photographing them. To come to the realisation of being an adult some 15 odd years later, and reliving a past experience through the life of another has informed other aspects of my life and has given my work a new context and direction. Furthermore, the most dominant types of representations of ourselves are either commercial imagery or seen from the outsider’s gaze. While, there is a place and value in this, I also believe there is a real need for us to articulate our experiences not only for the sake self-growth, but also for the growth region.  It is crucial for us to create a record of our own bodies and experiences in our environment. I hope to contribute to this in some way through the image.

Photo 5 NH[Photo 5: From the series Circa no future. 2015. Image courtesy the artist.]

RI/IR: When I commented on your work in “Circa,” I said that they had “a healing quality about them.” Later, when I read your interview with Designer Island, I saw that, in answer to a question about your source of inspiration, you answered: “The sea. I know it sounds really trite, but within the last year I’ve been finding it to be a really powerful source for ideas and healing.” Although many people consider the seas and oceans as sites of healing par excellence, everyone has a different experience and perspective. Yours seems to be tied to many aspects, including your creative thrust, work and play, views on society and ecological concerns, and perhaps, spirituality. Could you expand on this notion of healing?

I think it boils down to the idea of home for me and the desire to retreat to a familiar place to regain a sense of grounding. That place may not necessarily be a physical house, but somewhere I can associate good experiences with. I often feel displaced as there is always a constant battle in my head about belonging. I am somehow able to move past any conflict I may be having and become present in the moment once I enter the water. The physical interaction with the water plays a huge role in the process of healing, I’m not entirely sure what happens to the body when it becomes submerged, but I definitely feel a shift in my state of mind and everything becomes settled. Also just to expand a bit more on the idea of home, I think when you grow up in such a small community it is difficult to let go of the comforts that exist in its familiarity. Another important aspect of grounding and healing to me comes from the community of people on the beach. The people I encounter in and out of the water become family in a way just from constant interaction and also as a result of relationships I’ve developed over the years. There is a ritualistic aspect that happens between myself, the community and entering the water. I think the process of leaving my home, walking to the beach, greeting people and entering the sea all ties into each other in the end.

Photo 6 NH[Photo 6: Nato tying his boat. 2015. Image courtesy the artist.]

RI/IR: Your work, old and new, seems to approach a great many subjects, places, and people with a loving eye. It seems to me that there is an ongoing exploration, a common feel and/or a specific personal signature in your different cycles of work. Would you be able to trace a fil conducteur or common thread in your work in general and your trajectory as a photographer and graphic artist? [Here, I prefer the French term fil conducteur because it also gives a sense of the electricity or currents animating your images.]

During the first 7 years of photography, my focus was to learn the craft and develop a style. I have always been interested in photographing the ‘everyday-ness’ of Caribbean life and a lot of that foundation stills remains in what I do. That approach has allowed me to pick out certain points of interest and as a result, within the last 5 years I have been able to identify a common thread in my work. My work has become more intentional. I have been making massive strides as of late to hone in on specific themes and ideas in order to create richer and more impacting bodies of work. I’ve become more interested in exploring ideas around death, identity, sub-cultures, gender politics, and land.

Photo 7 NH[Photo 7: The Garden. 2006. Image courtesy the artist.]

Similarly, I have spent a lot of time trying to develop my skill and style in graphic design. This has taken a lot longer to do because I have created mostly for commercial purposes, which focused less on creating a Caribbean aesthetic. However, it is something I do integrate into my photography; mostly with composition, colour and texture, and I am attempting to understand how to marry both worlds in a subtle way. I am making efforts to develop a specific style and explore certain themes through my design work as well. It’s challenging to do so when designing commercially for others, and it also determines which clients you take on board to work with. There needs to be a healthy blend of function and aesthetics.

At the moment I am content with having my design and photography remain as two separate practices even though they both inform each other. I like the idea of having this pot of skill sets to dip into every now and then. My creative output doesn’t remain static too long because of it. The personality split keeps me working constantly and at the end of the day I’m able to communicate using a visual language.

For more on the artist’s work, see http://www.nadiahuggins.com/

Follow Huggins on Instagram http://instagram.com/nadiahuggins

Also see interview with Designer Island at http://designerislandlife.com/interviews/instagram-interview-with-photographer-and-graphic-designer-nadia-huggins

 

 

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