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Words Victoria Cagol

Photography Hugh Fox

Lightness of Being

Photographer Hugh Fox and American/Iranian artist Darvish Fakhr invite us to rediscover childhood play through frozen movement and humour. The ongoing series is a needed reminder to slow down, connect with our surroundings and breathe.

Let’s talk about photography. How did you first get into it?

I was turned on to photography as a young kid through iD magazine. Growing up in a provincial town, I’d say it was my first experience seeing the world through a creative lens – It was otherworldly and so exciting to me. I picked up my first camera at college, where I learnt the basics of film photography, but my real interest didn’t come until my son was born 11 years later – he’s now 18 and still someone I shoot all the time.

What currently inspires your practice?

My inspiration comes from my everyday experience and other photographers’ work – at the moment, I like David Vintiner and Sasha Arutyunova. Niall McDiarmid is always inspiring – he’s a master at pulling everything together.

But I think photography is more like something I have to do, rather than being inspired. I’m driven by the desire to hone a skill and try to create something as close to what I’ve seen or felt. A big source comes from my seven-year-old daughter Suki and her intense energy for play and discovery. With both my son and daughter, I find the intimacy of the relationship enriching in terms of images – they’re so used to having a camera around I feel like the give and take is effortless.

Our complex relationships with spaces – physical, metaphysical and virtual – and what they mean to us have inspired me for a long time. I’m particularly interested in the in-between spaces, like an artwork and the viewer – an unseen enlivened space of creativity and play that’s unique to each person entering it. I find myself shooting people looking at paintings a lot! What is consistent in my work is the idea of collaboration. Even with an object, I’m looking for the connection between me, the subject and the viewer and for that to be both subtle and meaningful. That’s a successful image for me.

From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox
From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox

Lightness of Being is one of these collaborations. How did you first meet Darvish Fakhr, and how would you describe him as an artist?

I met Darvish six years ago. We immediately hit it off and have been working together ever since. He is the most multidisciplinary artist I’ve met. He lives his life as art – he’s a painter, an incredible draftsman and always in motion, his thinking is playful and poetic. It is truly inspiring to bounce off and share ideas with him.

What attracted you to his work?

I was immediately intrigued by the movement in Darvish’s work and quickly discovered our mutual interest in exploring these invisible in-between spaces I’m so drawn to. He’s interested in what being human is in an everyday sense and wants to make work that asks people to question their patterns, conformity and routines. He mixes different cultural influences from poetry, film and music, and his unique sense of style.

How did you begin collaborating together?

We were both in a place with our practices where we wanted to explore new ideas and bring lightness and humour into our work. We wanted to communicate that no matter what physical space we’re in, we can slow down and access this in-between space – it’s about making space to shut out the rush, the digital and the to-do list. It’s a luxury, but it shouldn’t be.

From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox

What is the process behind creating such playful images?

Our interactions are always very organic and spontaneous, and our best work always comes together really quickly – when it’s laboured, I always feel like we have missed the magic. We start with a loose idea and let it grow. The idea could be something as simple as “water” or “corners”, but we remain open to anything that may present itself at that moment, as that can often lead us in a more exciting direction. Tweaking conventions, we tease out the possibilities driven by our surroundings and states of mind.

There’s a fair amount of sharing and chatting between shots, and I suppose we have also become accustomed to each other and know what will satisfy both of us creatively. People often comment that my work is very painterly, so I think there’s a common aesthetic. It’s interesting for us to capture and freeze movement – it’s a unique way to work, and I feel lucky to make art together.

Some images make me wonder how they were taken. Was there a time when getting the shot proved particularly difficult?

There is definitely a small element of danger in some of the work we produce (mainly for Darvish). For the image on the chimney stack, we climbed some scaffolding for Darvish to get up on the roof and the final shot was taken on a telephoto lens, in a fairly safe position for me, whilst Darvish risked life and limb painting the clouds.

We have also carried an Olympic size trampoline to the edge of a very long drop on Brighton promenade, so Darvish could get enough height for us to achieve the illusion that he’s falling from the sky.

From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox
From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox

Which image in the series stands out to you?

The image where Darvish appears to be floating mid-air surrounded by hungry seagulls, for me, represents the stillness amongst the chaos and our interconnectedness with everything. At the same time, it could all just be an illusion. It’s one of our most successful images from the series – people seem to really respond to this image and are intrigued by it.

The title “Lightness of Being” truly conveys the feeling created looking at the series. What does it mean to you?

It’s a play on Darvish’s ability to defy gravity and an approach to life we want people to access in their everyday lives – the experience of ‘being’ can be light, playful, calm and fun. It seemed to encapsulate everything we wanted to say about the project perfectly, a reaction to the head down fast-paced living we were becoming accustomed to – a gentle reminder that we can change pace and engage on a different level.

From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox
From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox

There is a longing for childhood and something lost in these photographs. What do you think is the role of playfulness in today’s life? Do we need more of it?

Our world is all about playfulness and connecting with our inner children – I believe we are all creative beings and that playfulness is the absolute essence of creativity, not just within the arts but in all aspects of life. Without it, we wouldn’t discover new ways of being or seeing. When we create with a playful mind, we are not fixed on the end result; we are only engaged in the process itself – making mistakes and reworking things is all part of the fun. So yes, we absolutely need more of it, especially in these heavy times!

You are a father of two. Has fatherhood and the interaction with your kids changed your photography?

I think sometimes as artists, we can take ourselves too seriously, so there is nothing like being around children to bring you back down to earth and remind you that creativity is about exploration and play is a very accessible and direct route to that. I have an 18-year-old and a 7-year-old, both with very different perspectives and ways of being. It’s great to be reminded of these ways of seeing and reconnecting with them. It’s also pretty cool to have two magnetic, spontaneous, unfiltered, ever-changing subjects in your home all the time, who are mostly willing to let you make photos of them. Obviously, sharing them online is another thing, and I’ve learned that I need their permission to share images of them.

From Lightness of Being ©Hugh Fox

You have worked on this project for years. How can the series be read now – in the context of what we have all been through in the past two years?

The work is there as a gentle reminder that whatever is going on in the world – and there is some pretty heavy stuff going on. We can access our inner child and connect with our environment on a deeper level accessing this in-between space. There is an inner world that we can delve into, shape, and share, which is personal, has meaning and creates a connection with others.

We started this series three years before the pandemic, so initially, the work was a reaction to the fast-paced world we were living in and a call to action to slow down and connect with ourselves and our environment. But since many of us have been forced to slow down and redefine our public spaces, I feel like the work has become relevant in a different way and resonated with people feeling this change in pace. It was an interesting time in terms of sharing images and seeing how people read different images. It definitely felt like photography in general – especially on social platforms – had a role in capturing people’s emotions and feelings of collectiveness. I would say that was one of the silver linings for me.

You mentioned this is an ongoing piece of work. How do you see it developing further?

We are working towards a show and giving it life beyond digital and small print runs. This will include photography, video, paintings and a live performance element. Ongoing, it’s about the process, not the outcome, so something new always emerges even when we feel like we’re going over old ground. It’s a very forgiving and nurturing collaboration in that sense – it’s rewarding, and I don’t see it ending any time soon. We both have a lot of love for the process and the outcome.

Lastly, what are you currently working on?

I have a couple of other ongoing projects. One of them, ‘Always and Never at Home’ is again about our relationship with spaces. In particular, the inner spaces we retreat into when in public – our ‘safe place’ and virtual spaces like that of a smartphone. I’m drawn to people that appear to be somewhere else entirely.

I’m also working with a really inspiring photography group called (re)structure. We meet once a month to share new work, ideas and give/receive invaluable feedback. It is important to get in a room with other photographers when so much of my time is spent working alone.

Lastly, I’m a co-founder of Pinkie Films, a collaboration between myself (as DOP) and writer/director Ross Jameson. We create proof of concepts and narrative short films. This is a completely different approach for me. I feel I have a lot to learn, but it satisfies the urge I have to work at something and get better at it – it keeps me feeling fresh and optimistic.

Victoria Cagol

Victoria is a photo editor and writer based in London. She is Monocle’s former Deputy Photo Editor and is currently collaborating with the NYT. She reports and shoots stories for print while a doctoral student at Westminster University.

Hugh Fox

Hugh is an award-winning British photographer. He has worked commercially for over ten years, shooting portraits and documentary projects. The main focus of Hugh's work is spaces; physical, metaphysical and virtual, how we react and interact within these spaces and what they mean to us, particularly now as the lines between these spaces become more and more blurred.


In this issue we feature photography and writing that explores Play through playful processes of photography, play therapy, nightlife, performance and identity, collaboration, virtual realities, and war play.

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