Talking inspiration & inclusivity with graduate Abbi Hughes
21 June 2022
Lead image credit: Jack Johns
Abbi Hughes graduated from Marine & Natural History Photography at Falmouth University in 2013. Now, she’s heading up photography for sustainable surf brand Finisterre and producing her own ocean photography. After shooting with Abbi for our campaign video, we wanted to know more about her inspirations, career highlights and experience at Falmouth.
Abbi joined the Marine & Natural History Photography course at Falmouth University in 2010. As one of the only degree courses of its kind in the UK, Abbi says it was a no brainer. “The location just couldn’t be beaten. I was a professional surfer before coming to university, so being by the sea was very important to me and also, as it turned out, my career.”
After graduating with a first-class honours degree, Abbi set out on a career with her lens set firmly on the ocean – working for the likes of SurfGirl magazine while continuing to produce her ocean-scape artworks. Today, alongside her growing portfolio of freelance work, she’s putting her talent to good use as Senior Photographer and Studio Manager at Cornish sustainable clothing and surf brand Finisterre.
Here's what Abbi had to say about her relationship with her work, what inspires her and her proudest career moment to date.
Capturing the beauty of the ocean
Waves of inspiration
For me, inspiration comes as more of a feeling than anything else. My work comes from the emotion of being in the ocean. The textures and colours. The whole feeling that I’m experiencing when I’m in the water. I sometimes find concepts from that emotion that I can use in my work.
It changes seasonally too – especially here in Cornwall! In the winter, when the landscape feels rugged and the sea is rough, my work is often quite raw – I end up doing a lot more black and white textural images. Whereas, in summer, when the golden light comes in and we get the lighter evenings, you’ll see a lot more warmth and colour in my photography.
Research also informs my work. I learnt how to fall in love with a subject through research while studying at university. I remember getting fully immersed in my dissertation and I loved seeing how the areas I was studying impacted my final projects.
For the first time in my educational life that barrier was lifted, and I felt free.
Like many creative types, I’m dyslexic. So, finding such joy and inspiration in research, in academia, was a revelation. Falmouth University was the only place throughout my education that my dyslexia was recognised. The support I, and so many others at the University, received was really amazing. For the first time in my educational life that barrier was lifted, and I felt free.
One thing I try to practice in my personal/freelance work is being present. I think I’m privileged that I get to continue to make my own artwork alongside my nine to five. I always come back to it because it isn’t my money-maker. I feel so connected to it – it’s something that’s just so ingrained in me. When your subject is the ocean, it’s always exciting and enticing. There’s no ripple, colour or light that’s the same. And, as you might have found if you take your phone out to snap a sunset or a wave, it’s also quite difficult to capture. I find the disparity between what I see and what I capture exciting too.
That’s why it’s important to be present – to be in the moment and recognise the beauty of the environment, and then to understand that what you see when you get home and go through your images won’t be an exact replica of what you saw. But you hope it will convey the feeling, the emotion of witnessing it… and that’s where the editing comes in too. Using technology to enhance that experience for the viewer.
Using the camera for good
I love being able to share my love of the ocean with my camera. I also love using my discipline to highlight and support good causes. Luckily for me, I work for a B-Corporation that puts sustainability and inclusivity at the top of its agenda.
I’m particularly proud to be a part of the Seasuit project for Finisterre, which has just launched after almost 10 years of development. Typical women’s swimwear and wetsuits can be a deterrent for many women, whether due to body confidence, religion or beliefs. So, the Seasuit is all about making the ocean more accessible to all women.
The project has been led by women – from concept to design to production. And I’m very proud to have done all the photography for the project, all the way from the prototypes up to our final product marketing images. This photoshoot was an absolute joy – located at Clevedon sea pool, we had women of a range of ages, body shapes, races and religions getting into the sea wearing the suits.
As someone who has had the privilege of enjoying the sea since I was a young child, it’s just amazing to know that this product could empower so many more women to take the plunge. And I’m happy that I can use my creativity to help spread the word.
Explore more of Abbi's work