The Stoney Path to Successful Photography a Biography
I was born in Kingston, London, on the 18th of May 1952. I first left home in june 1953 when I wandered, naked, up the Queens road in search of something which I have since forgotten. I have also forgotten why I was so angry with my teddy bear who, a year later I repeatedly threw over the fence to the dustmen, who repeatedly threw him back. After being sent to a public boarding school in Reading, I went on to study History at London University in 1971. The use of the word “study” in this case to elegantly cover up my dissolute life in this institution. Borrowing my father’s east German SLR , I began photographing in 1973, buying a Pentax the year after and my first Nikon, an FM in 1975.
I took evening classes at Barnet college of Further Education in 1974 and 1975 with Bruce Hart, which resulted in a group exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery. Photography became a part of my political radicalisation together with Autonomous means of organisation which had sprung up in Italy and France. Very importantly, the Women’s Movement was a huge influence.
I became involved with the Half Moon Photography Collective, funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain, joining the Camerawork editorial group and contributing regularly through 1978 and 1979. Out of this and other initiatives, the “Socialist Conference of Photography” was arranged. My first wife left me in 1981, which although painful, led to two very positive developments; I decided to become a full-time photographer and my weekly migraines disappeared for ever. Actually it has become time to revisit this belief. It seems to be one of the more disconcerting but also perhaps liberating fact that ideas which seemed to be unshakably and irrecoverably true turn out to be quite questionable when viewed from a different angle. An angle which experience and the habit of review can suddenly reveal. I now believe that I can admit that my first wife’s departure certainly lead to a change in circumstances which, in turn, lead to a life in photography, but I do not think it was responsible for the end of the migraines. Instead, I believe that my parent’s reaction to this departure the following weekend, a catalogue of reproach and disdain and my subsequent reaction to it; a determination to live another kind of life as their’s, with their petit-bourgeois ambitions and bitterness of a life lived by the standards of others, was what freed me from their clutches. So, belatedly, sorry Dorothy.
The Move to Berlin
In 1982 I accidentally went to Berlin, met a group of politically active but thankfully not Trotzkyist, squatters, fell in love and began to build a life there (here). 1983 moved permanently to Berlin. Became involved with the FDGÖ, a politically based media collective, producing stickers, postcards and latterly a video performance installation based on Samuel Beckett, which toured Germany and was invited to the “Dokumentarfilmtage” in Leipzig, then DDR in1985.
A portrait project which I called “True Stories”, Black and white photos are combined with a text which synthesises the history or aspirations of the subject, complementing or contradicting the perceived impression of the photo. The project continued over the next few years, resulting in an exhibition in Berlin in 1986, and was shown, as part of the European Cultural Capital in Glasgow in 1987.
The Berlin Wall came down while I was working for Stern, I was suffering from a cold and went home, something for which I was never forgiven.
Went off to the Ivory Coast with an amateur football team as the east germans were storming Berlin. Another project, which was later to become “Dead or Alive” was premiered as “Bilder, Bücher, Seiten, Sprünge” in 1990, together with the texts of Dieter Stolz using big format, colour prints (1,50mx 1,00m). The exhibit is based on Eisenstein’s Theory of Montage which predicates; 1+1=3. The idea is that by putting two or more pictures together, a third meaning is read off by the viewer which is altogether different from that of each of the pictures individually.
Shocking content and a deliberate absence of context made the show Umbau together with a group of radical artists, a big success in a disused factory building close to Checkpoint Charlie in 1992. Part of the exhibit was taken to Galerie Raab where it was shown under the titel “Dr Mabuse empfiehlt”.
A book of another exhibition, “Schöne Autowelt”, was printed which included my series of car interiors which had been decorated by the owners. Joined a Gallery group which used the entrance to a factory as venue and showed in 1993 “Window Shopping” and then “Der Fremde sieht nur was er Weiss”; a black and white series from Marocco. In 1994 came “Nachlese” which consisted of panorama photographs taken in a second world war explosives plant near Stadtallendorf.
Family Life is no Hindrance
Samples of earth and objects found at the site were exhibited with the pictures and made into objects by Robert Schmidt. During this time I taught photography three consecutive years at the Marburg Summer Academy. 1994 my daughter; Lea Luzia Hughes was born.
The advent of the personal computer and childcare responsibilities led to a move to colour photography, away from the darkroom and onto the computer. 1995 married my present wife and mother of my child; Marion. Ironically I have forgotten what I did for the next exhibition; “Remembrances” in 1996.
Joining Zenit Fotoagentur in 1997 was not entirely successful. It did have the effect of consolidating my reputation as a photographer into a verifiable quantity and brought me the connection to Laif photoagency in 1998. The ossified financial structures and view of itself and what a photo agency is or should be were extremely exhausting and time-consuming.
The classic attitude of unattached men; that the agency should offer some kind of ersatz-family, went unacknowledged. This and the testosterone-fuelled competitiveness barred any hope of constructive or creative discussions on and around photography. The episode remains in my mind as a largely barren place it had been a mistake to visit.
Started my own web site in 1999; www.manma.de which has since been sold for €300, which should be a lesson for all those who thought that the name was idiotic. The first and second attempts were largely overloaded. 2000 left Zenit and changed to 6×7 format. Oh and I began Souvenirs with a postcard on the Loreley.
Won my first and only photo competition “Beagle Club Deutschland” with my photo of our newly acquired Beagle; Galli inspecting the contents of our fridge.
2001 Holiday in Finland (nothing much else happened). 2002 my series Souvenirs which had begun in 1999 at the Loreley as part of a reportage for Helsingin Sanomat was published by Geo Saison. 2003 proud introduction of painfulpix.com – a milestone in web content.
2004 humble closure of painfulpix.com due to feeling of extreme tiredness whenever I felt guilty enough to actually design the site. 2005 continuing bad news in German economy provides time for expensive hobbies to distract from shitty business situation. Buy boat. Exhibiton of “3 Angels” (part of “Dead or Alive”) in oldest church in Brandenburg leads to controversial public meeting where the artist (me) trounces the forces of oppression in the shape of a young FDP lawyer with a display of controlled passion and sharp arguments.
2006 German economic upturn means that boat purchase will not lead to bankruptcy and life in gutter rerolling richer people’s cigarettes. Travelling exhibition of revised “Dead or Alive” thoughout Lithuania, of all places, causing a controversy in the Lithuanian Media which has not been translated and therefore I am not too sure what the problem was.
Souvenirs goes Viral
End of 2006 a combination of events led to Souvenirs being discovered on Flickr in a big way. Between November and January I got 500,000+ hits on Flickr and in January an unprecedented 250,000 hits on my www.manma.de. The absolute high point was when I got an email from the producer of the Jay Leno Show asking me if I would be interested in coming over to Los Angeles to appear on the show. The ensuing telephone conversation was enough to persuade her that I would be utterly useless on TV, so I missed my big chance.
Trying to cash in on my unexpected popularity; I opened a web shop with Souvenir prints, closed it again a year later as no one appeared to be interested. Invested in two new domains: hughes-photography.eu, .de. I’ve started a new project called Teams which has reached a highpoint after I photographed an entire hospital – 236 portraits – and put them together to make a huge print 8m x 5m which now hangs on the side of the hospital.
2008 Has been very rewarding; I was featured in National Geographic in August, in September Fivefootsix in London produced a lovely little book of Souvenirs and my Flickr site is currently well beyond the 9 million mark. One day during the year saw an astonishing peak of 434,000 hits! The Teams project advanced with a further Hospital, this time in Dessau. This project was unfortunately blighted by one particular Doctor who without entering a dialogue tried to sabotage the whole thing. Fortunately, the majority of people were unimpressed with him and entered into the spirit of the thing.
Souvenirs goes from strength to strength, with France, Egypt and the UK delivering some nice images, Denmark finally got on the map and a return to New York just before the Election produced a few for the archive.
Bringing this up to date at the end of December 2014. In 2010 I joined the photographer’s agency EUP. The founder was a friend who I had been with in Zenith. The agency mainly delivers the Danish and Scandinavian press markets, where apparently people still buy newspapers. This seemed to be a good idea because the press market in Germany had been declining for years, making it increasingly difficult to earn a living. The pressure on the media to make a profit had followed the route of least resistance. And that route was exploiting the badly organised, self-employed freelancers who, caught in a downward spiral, were prepared to accept less money for their work. The squeeze included restrictive contracts and ones which required exclusivity on all productions, making second use all but impossible.
The philosophy of EUP as expressed by its founder was to refuse to work for less that before and to increase prices by 5-10% per year. Needless to say it became difficult to get new business – if they found out our prices before a job was commissioned, they backed off and if they found out after, that was the last time they called. My “friend” refused to countenance any deviation from his policy and so we foundered. Well, I left and he is sitting alone in his underground office dreaming about a world agency which is just around the corner.
I have to ask myself if it is just bad luck that I have never found anyone to work with or if I am just an impossible lone wolf. Probably a bit of both!
Thanks for reading and see you around.