Hughes’ photographic work explores the littoral zone and the nature of waste with reference to the materiality of plastic, its form and usage in contemporary society. His methodology utilises traditional photographic materials and digital technologies, encouraging viewers to question the nature of materiality in relationship to waste. Challenging the agency of waste by various visual means and juxtaposition, he attempts to reveal ‘thing-power’, a topic explored by Jane Bennet in her book Vibrant Matter. In his photographs of plastic, coffee cups, rubbish bins and unknown thrown away items, the objects come alive; they seem to speak to each other and to us. He is interested in radical conceptions of materialism and the implications this has for politics, ecology and the everyday way we think of ourselves, others, and the world. His recent studio works apply recording and lens-based activities, which combine both traditional analogue photo materials, alongside scanners, iPhones, video games consoles and other materials such as wax, plastic, inorganic and organic materials.
In 2013 he travelled to Alaska, invited as part of an international team of artists and scientists to work on the project Gyre: The Plastic Ocean. This project was a world first and unique project that explored the integration of science and art to document and interpret the issue of plastic and human waste in the marine and coastal environment. Supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Geographic, Smithsonian Institution, National Endowment for the Arts Ocean Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Rasmusson Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Wells Fargo and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation.
His book Dominant Wave Theory includes essays by world leading commentators and scientists, designed by David Carson, published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, London and Abrams Books, New York. He was the first Artist in Residence at Tate Gallery St. Ives and short-listed reserve residency artist for the Arts Council England Antarctic Fellowship. He has supported many non-profit and NGO’s such as Surfers Against Sewage, The Marine Conservation Society and Surfrider Foundation. In 2014 he was invited to speak at two major science and art symposia one in Brussels and the other at Blue Mind 4.