Ian Hughes: A Photographer Who Sees Beauty in Everyday Life
Isaac Perez Solano,
It is usual for the interviewer to write this paragraph about the circumstances in which an interview was conducted, what they found during their research on their subject or something along those lines. As a matter-of-fact, Ian Hughes doesn’t need much of a presentation. His impact on visual culture is obvious when you consider that artists like Andre Kertesz, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Paul Graham and Tom Wood name check Hughes as someone who has influenced their work. Here Hughes took a break from looking for new situations that might make a social comment on the world that we live in to answers a few questions for the new edition of ODDA.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 13th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Q: While surfing on your website, I found out that you encourage your fans to ask you why it said “DIE” in the Miami sky (in one of your photos). Can we start with an explanation of that?
A: A small aircraft was flying over Miami writing an advert in the sky for “DIET PEPSI”. I looked up at the right time! The reason that I invited people to e-mail me and ask why it says “DIE” in the sky is because that is what people always ask when I show them the picture. I don’t like to leave people in suspense! If people take time to look at my website then they deserve a small reward (or compensation!). Nobody has ever e-mailed me to ask me that question so I guess I don’t have any fans!
Q: What’s the story behind your dropping out of Art College?
A: No I didn’t drop out (sorry if I worded it badly on my website!). I completed my 3 years there and flew to Miami a few days later to start my career as a cruise ship photographer. I was 19 and I had never flown abroad so I was ready for an adventure.
Q: What was your biggest decision after that one?
A: Leaving cruise ships 8 years later was the only big decision that I made after that one. Most people survive about 2 years on ships before burning out. The hours are long and you work 7 days a week. I regret not being brave enough to make more big decisions in the 20 years since I left the ships because now I am stuck in a job that I don’t like just so that I can pay my mortgage.
Q: According to you, Tom Wood is one of the photographers that inspires you the most. Wood has said that “the important thing is not to have an aim.” Do you agree with this statement?
A: I was only 17 when Tom started teaching me at college so I agreed with everything he said! I do agree with that statement because I think he is saying that he prefers to discover things by chance rather than to limit himself to certain subjects or scenes. That is the philosophy that I have when I am out with my camera. My only aim is to be ready to react to any scene that I think would make an interesting picture.
I found Tom to be quite a mysterious character. A very good man but mysterious. His Looking For Love book was just about to be published when I last knew him and I helped to print a few test prints for that, but I didn’t really appreciate how well respected he was internationally until many years later when I saw his books in shops, and saw his exhibitions and magazine interviews. I admire him because he has never been interested in making much money from photography – just enough to be able to carry on taking interesting pictures.
He’s a very kind man. I remember seeing him very quietly giving some money to one of my fellow students when we were in a cafe on a day trip to London because he couldn’t afford to pay for his lunch. He allowed me to join him when he was taking pictures of people on buses around Liverpool (see his books Bus Odyssey and All Zones Off Peak) – just to see how he worked. Tom used to get angry with me for spending too much time printing my pictures in the college darkrooms. He said that I was too young to be taking interesting pictures so I should just go and walk around Liverpool everyday observing life and learning about life.
Q: My favorite time of the day is between 4pm and 6pm, it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter. I like to call it “the golden hour”, I like how everything looks and feels around those hours, especially if I have a camera next to me to take some pictures. Is this true also for photographers?
A: I agree with you that 4pm to 6pm is the best time of day for taking pictures because of the light and most of us are finishing work so it’s got a good feel. My favorite time of day is between midnight and 3am because nobody is around and I get some time to listen to music, think and relax. Most photographers will say that the light is best at sunrise but I’ve rarely seen that so I can’t say. I’m nocturnal. In the last 10 years most of my pictures have been taken at night because I have to work during the day. I love going for long walks with my camera and tripod on cold, dark winter nights because not many people are around to ask me what I’m taking pictures of. Fog at night gets me very excited but unfortunately it is quite rare here in Brighton.
Q: Is that how LOVE BOAT REJECTS appeared?
A: LOVE BOAT REJECTS is a collection of pictures that myself and fellow ships photographers took between 1989 and 1997. Our job was to take pictures of cruise ship passengers (mostly American) in various situations throughout the cruises (usually 7 days) such as arriving on board, meeting the captain at the formal cocktail parties, eating dinner, arriving at the islands and so on.
We took hundreds of pictures each day and tried to sell them to the passengers in the onboard photo galleries. At the end of each cruise I would look at the pictures that didn’t sell (usually about 75%) and there would always be a few that I found quite funny. I rescued the prints before they got thrown away and I kept them in a box. I displayed some of them on the wall of my cabin once and the crew used to come and visit to look at them and laugh. It was like an informal exhibition. I got a written warning from the Norwegian Deputy Captain for that because it was disrespectful to the passengers.
I displayed them on my website from around 2002 and a few people commented on how much they enjoyed them. In 2015 a couple of popular websites showed them too (after seeing my website) and then a press agency asked me if I’d be interested in them being published. Within a few days they were being shown in newspapers and magazines all over the world. The reaction was mixed. Some readers of the right wing Daily Mail in the UK said that the pictures were disrespectful to the cruise ship passengers and that I should be sued! I got quite worried for a while but soon realized that the pictures were “yesterday’s news” and were quickly forgotten.
Q: When and why you decided that could be a great project?
A: I kept the prints in a box for many years and just showed them to friends for a laugh. When I created my website in 2002 I added them as a gallery on there and decided to call them ‘Love Boat Rejects’. Some of the ships that I worked on were called ‘The Love Boat’ because they were run by the same cruise line (Princess) that the ‘Love Boat’ TV show was filmed on. The pictures are all rejects because nobody bought them so I called the collection ‘Love Boat Rejects’. I never thought of it as a project – just a collection of funny photos from my time on ships.
Q: The people in the [LOVE BOAT REJECTS] photos seem to not be dealing with anything else but happiness. I found that charming and interesting, because it’s like a new way to undress people. What do you think would be their thought on this series?
A: Thanks, I’m glad you found them charming and interesting. I think that most of the passengers would find them funny too. Sadly, most of the older passengers will be dead by now. I understand why some people will say that showing the pictures is a bit disrespectful to the subjects because we are laughing at them, but I am not poking fun in a nasty way – I am just pointing out that some pictures turn out funny! I feel like I know some of these people in the pictures because I’ve been looking at them for about 25 years now.
Some of the photos are quite funny because the people look miserable when they are supposed to be having a good time on their holiday. To be fair to them, we did take those pictures very quickly because we had a short time to take a lot of photos. Some people just didn’t have chance to react to our cameras.
Q: Can you list 10 subjects that you would never shoot?
A: Great question! …
Models (not until they put some weight on)
Food (the world doesn’t need any more food photos)
People with beards (again, too many already – I would consider photographing bearded women though)
People with tattoos (same reason, men & women)
Me (the most depressing craze ever is selfies)
Other photographers taking pictures (we don’t deserve it)
Cruise ship passengers (I’m retired)
The American actor Jack Klugman (he wouldn’t let me and sadly he’s dead now anyway)
Pints of Guinness (because that means I’m sitting alone in a pub again)
Bob Dylan (you get shot at his concerts for trying to take a picture)
Q: Why Flickr and not Instagram [yet]?
A: I do use Instagram now. Last year when I realized that William Eggleston, Sebastiao Salgado and Vincent Van Gogh all use Instagram I decided that I had to jump ship from Flickr. I also worked out how to add photos to Instagram from my computer rather than just from my iPhone, so I have been adding one picture a day from my back catalogue. Flickr has been very good to me but I rarely post on there now.
Isaac Perez Solano
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