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Hazel Hughes

Hazel Hugh­es is a UK based pho­tog­ra­ph­er and artist who is jug­gling type 1 dia­betes, Long Covid, ME/CFS, endometrio­sis and oth­er con­di­tions. With pro­longed hos­pi­tal stays and reg­u­lar out­pa­tient vis­its, she com­bines pho­tog­ra­phy and text to cap­ture this expe­ri­ence, address­ing aspects of struc­tur­al injus­tice, trau­ma, crit­i­cism of the med­ical estab­lish­ment, or society’s view on the chron­i­cal­ly sick.

The works shown belong to a pho­tog­ra­phy series reflect­ing on places like hos­pi­tals and their mean­ing for the long-term inhab­i­tant, but also the expe­ri­ence of mov­ing from place to place, as well as the ten­sions of striv­ing to cre­ate under these con­di­tions. The pho­tos were tak­en and edit­ed with a phone cam­era; a delib­er­ate com­ment on acces­si­bil­i­ty, and often­times a neces­si­ty based on phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions when han­dling a cam­era. The small size of the images reflects on the posi­tion and vis­i­bil­i­ty of peo­ple with chron­ic ill­ness in society.


Social Ther­a­py
Pho­tos and texts

Exhi­bi­tion view Kün­stler­haus Fac­to­ry
Image lay­out: Black Ferk Studio

Five min­utes with my phone, some fairy lights, a dusty old dolls house, et voila. Pre health crash, I’d just ven­tured into stock pho­tog­ra­phy. The plan? Pas­sive income and an easy side hus­tle. Sick­ness hap­pened; hus­tling on hold.

Cur­rent chron­ic chaos = can’t cope with cam­eras. At least not weighty ones. Today, I thought hey! Stock agen­cies take phone snaps. I could even give them some of the clas­sic Long Covid news fea­ture pho­tographs; for­lorn woman cries in to cup­pa while gaz­ing mourn­ful­ly out of win­dow. They’d have the authen­tic­i­ty edge?

Phone in hand, creepy dolls house in situ, ready to roll. Play­ing around with flick­ing switch­es on/off, it struck me how dra­mat­i­cal­ly the whole mood changes in an instant. Six weeks ago my hope and strength were renewed; new meds had giv­en me a glim­mer, enough to total­ly trans­form the inter­nal pic­ture. I KNOW all it takes is a sin­gle switch, and the fairy­lights bring the whole scene to life again. The trick is to just. Keep. Mov­ing until we land on treat­ment that brings last­ing relief.

Pain, ver­ti­go and sen­so­ry pro­cess­ing issues are all ramp­ing up today. My gut is wag­ing war. I tried to find some­thing to pho­to­graph while on a short dri­ve with Mum, but had to down the phone to focus on sim­ply existing.

Deter­mined not to break the pho­to-a-day steak I resort­ed to self­ies in bed.
Some­thing about the pas­sage of time with chron­ic ill­ness. Day, night, day, night, sum­mer, win­ter, year on year on year.

I want to redo this image in a way that makes me look less bald, but I’ve reached capac­i­ty of ener­gy expen­di­ture and need to cocoon. The incom­plete­ness and dis­sat­is­fac­tion I guess can be part of the representation.

From being dis­charged as an inpa­tient at one hos­pi­tal, to an out­pa­tient appoint­ment at anoth­er. A ground­ing appoint­ment with the GP fol­lowed by a clin­ic vis­it full of val­i­da­tion. My body hurts, but my heart feels heard and I do believe that I am believed; an eat­ing dis­or­der is not the cause of my low BMI.

A throw­back pic­ture from a pre­vi­ous hos­pi­tal trip. This spooky fel­low made me smile. 20 years ago, I was begin­ning research for my dis­ser­ta­tion on the sub­ject of the uncan­ny, a theme that has both haunt­ed and healed me.

My old dia­betes con­sul­tant once talked to me about the psy­chol­o­gy of med­ical devices as a con­stant reminder of depen­dence and death. Freud wrote of the dop­pel­gänger as an ‘uncan­ny har­bin­ger of death’. My insulin pump; my mir­ror-pan­creas in my pock­et. An organ dou­ble. The memen­to mori that my life depends upon.

A few months back, our friend­ly appari­tion in the hos­pi­tal win­dow had brought an instant light­ness to a very heavy day. Some­times when shit gets real, you just need to look it square in the eyes, and laugh at it.

I think there is a gap in the mar­ket for ther­a­py phantoms.

Time is pass­ing. My body is pre­sent­ing me with cre­ative chal­lenges that I naive­ly nev­er imag­ined to exist. I sus­pect that many peo­ple find them­selves in a sim­i­lar boat, with all of the chaos that this new nov­el virus has left in its wake.

For me, this has led to extend­ed hos­pi­tal stays. This lat­est one is very test­ing, and near­ly five weeks in which not much progress has been made. I’ve downed all the tools and hiber­nat­ed, but today decid­ed to start upload­ing some of my phone pho­tographs from var­i­ous hos­pi­tal meanders.

This one was a cou­ple of months back, in a dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tal where they turn the lights off in the cor­ri­dors at night, allow­ing for some shad­ows and shapes and gen­tle glows to come alive against acci­den­tal frames in the still­ness. More tomorrow.

Been in hos­pi­tal for what feels like for­ev­er. Have not been pho­to-tak­ing for plea­sure, because I don’t have the spoons (or the prop­er cam­eras). Today I did a phone selfie.

For the first time in months it is a self-indul­gent, ‘pos­ing and mess­ing around with fil­ters’ type of self­ie, instead of a self­ie doc­u­ment­ing yet anoth­er hor­ri­ble rash.

I’m usu­al­ly a pho­to snob who loves to hate sepia and would turn my nose up at mix­ing colour with mono, but arghh I’m so over it. Muck about with phone self­ies and sparkles, and do what makes you hap­py. The end 🙂

A night dri­ve in search of auro­ra, play­ing a game of ‘is that the north­ern lights, or is it light pol­lu­tion?’ with Mum. After set­tling firm­ly on the lat­ter, I have noth­ing to offer pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly oth­er than these chaot­ic blurred coun­try lanes.

I call this sequence ‘trau­ma ther­a­py’, in hon­our of the sim­i­lar­ly fran­tic and con­fus­ing com­mence­ment of such, this morn­ing, long before my brain had reached capac­i­ty for insight­ful intro­spec­tion. Hav­ing said that, I’m glad I went.

In the same way that I ret­ro­spec­tive­ly col­lat­ed these furi­ous night-dri­ve images into some sort of dis­turb­ing sto­ry-time slide show; many hours after my long await­ed ses­sion with the health psy­chol­o­gist, I’m col­lect­ing the snap­shots of morn­ing ther­a­py, and arrang­ing them into some­thing vague­ly mean­ing­ful (with an unset­tling sound­track, of course).

Invit­ing tex­tures and colour on a rusty old skip. Weath­ered, but in many ways more beau­ti­ful for it. I *could* make this a metaphor for all of my chron­ic ill­ness friends. 3 years ago, i would have jumped on that train quick­er than u can knock anoth­er crack in a kintsu­gi con­tain­er. But.

The trau­ma­tised are not *more* beau­ti­ful because of their trau­ma. My fel­low spoonies would have been just as glo­ri­ous with­out all of the gaslight­ing, neglect, abuse and pain. I feel we’ve lost some­thing in the trans­la­tion of what kintsu­gi is all about. We’ve west­ern­ised it, appro­pri­at­ed it and turned it in to a cliche that min­imis­es the most painful, ongo­ing expe­ri­ences and pack­ages them in neat, pret­ty lit­tle pots that make it eas­i­er to a) ignore the rag­ing cracks in the sys­tem, and to b) look at the sick with­out feel­ing guilt.

I think that kintsu­gi is more about being *unashamed* of the object’s his­to­ry. So: Show those scars, but not to make your­self more visu­al­ly accept­able to the pub­lic. Show them to make peo­ple uncom­fort­able. We are not pret­ty orna­ments to be held up to the chil­dren, to prime them to expect oppres­sion because “it’ll make you stronger”. Our gold-filled scars are light­ning-bolt warnings!

Take a lump of clay, and start to sculpt a safer future. Stand with the strik­ers. Vote. Shout. Riot. Don’t tell me I’m more beau­ti­ful because of my pain. I’m paint­ing it red+green+gold not for sym­pa­thy, or admi­ra­tion, but for hopes of sys­temic change for all.