Jordan Curtis Hughes is a London-based photographer with a knack for shooting live music. Be it the dingy back room of a pub or inside an international arena, Jordan’s ability to capture the distinctive character of a performance, whatever the genre, is second to none. Having had his photographs published in the States, Japan and the UK, as well as securing a freelance spot with NME at the tender age of seventeen, Jordan has a natural talent for bringing photography and music together. YGT caught up with him to talk roots, music and new projects…
How did you get into music photography?
My cousin had always played in a band, my uncle had always been a DJ and I guess I just wanted to be involved with music. I could never play an instrument and I definitely couldn’t sing so I guess photography was my only way into the industry.
To be honest, it’s only recently that I’ve been exploring other areas of photography other than live music. I think I was given my first press pass when I was 14 years old and started working for NME at 17 so I didn’t have any time prior to that to explore other avenues.
What inspires you as a creative, what are your greatest influences?
I think what inspires me is anybody that’s willing to go against the grain with their ideas, no matter what industry they’re in; whether that’s fashion, literature, film, music or photography. I love Paul Smith as a designer and George Orwell as a writer, for instance.
At the moment my biggest influence is probably Kanye West – he’s constantly pushing boundaries with what you can do with hip-hop and visuals in music. I went and watched his new song with a visual being projected onto a wall in Covent Garden and Brick Lane to promote his new album. No press. No lead single. No pre-orders. Just 66 projections across the globe and ‘June 18′ written on his Twitter. I also went to two of his shows at the Hammersmith Apollo a few months back and his visuals absolutely blew me away. He gets a lot of hate but I think he’ll be seen as a very important figure for music and the arts in general in the future.
What about your processes, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?
Post-processing and ‘gear talk’ are probably the only thing I dislike about being a music photographer. I use Lightroom and Macs to process my images and shoot everything on a Nikon. If my camera is capturing the images I’m imagining in my head then I’m cool with that. When people try to talk to me about photography gear I tend to just nod my head and smile to be polite as I find it a little boring. Sorry tech guys.
How did you start working with NME?
I remember messaging bands on Myspace when I was 14 practically begging for photo passes and reeling off the bands I had shot before (I hadn’t shot many) to impress them. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes they never replied. I quickly realized that you wouldn’t get a reply to 90% of the emails you send out so I sent loads. Through Myspace I managed to photograph some of my favourite bands as a kid such as The Bouncing Souls, New Found Glory and The Gaslight Anthem. I quickly built up a nice little portfolio of badly shot images and the wonderful Steve Gerrard offered me a chance to shoot for Birmingham Live! – a website that reviews live shows in and around the area of Birmingham.
My first shoot was for OFWGKTA where I was told by Tyler that he’d kick me in the face if I didn’t move after shooting two songs. Welcome to music photography, eh? Through Birmingham Live! Steve managed to sort out some big profile shows for me and my portfolio grew stronger and stronger. I began shooting the likes of Stereophonics, Tinie Tempah and Tinchy Stryder for them.
Then the NME Amateur Photography Awards popped up in 2011. To cut a very long story short I ended up coming 2nd in the 15-17 year old category and went to see my photo in an exhibition at the 02 Arena where I met some of the NME staff. I spoke to Zoe, the picture editor at the event and managed to blag a week’s work experience at the office.
Whilst I was in the office I photographed Example at Shepherd’s Bush Empire off my own back. I then showed Zoe and the picture desk my shots from the night and I was offered a freelance contract right there on the spot. You have no idea how stoked I was. It wasn’t until I moved to London last September that the NME work really started to come through. I recently just shot my first feature for them which was published 19th June. That’s a very pared down version of my story so far – it excludes all the phone calls and emails, all the no’s and the struggles.
Who are your favourite artists to listen to and photograph?
As I mentioned earlier Kanye West is probably my favourite artist I’m listening to at the moment. I’m also listening to Merchandise, Bago, Sharks, Gabrielle Aplin and Maverick Sabre. I always tell people that you can see in my pictures if I’ve enjoyed the show or not – it also makes a huge difference if the band are having fun and not just going through the motions.
I photographed a band called The Weeks in the back of a pub the other day and had probably one of the most enjoyable shoots of my career. Photographing JLS at the LG Arena was probably was one of least enjoyable. What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter about the scale of the show or the genre of the music if the bands are genuinely having a blast I tend to have a blast too.
Which artists would you most like to work with?
I’d love work with Jay-Z, Mike Skinner and Kanye West creatively. I’d love to tour with Green Day. And I desperately want to shoot Dillinger Escape Plan and Eminem live.
Have you met any of your heroes?
I met Mike Skinner at XOYO in London when I photographed his new band The D.O.T a few months back. That was cool. The Streets are the best thing to have ever come out of my lovely hometown of Birmingham. I’ve come to realise that all of these music heroes we have are actually all just normal people though, so I try not to hold anybody up too much, you know?
What has been your best experience as a creative?
Quitting my day job was the scariest and most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.
Do you have anything exciting planned for this year?
I’m hoping to be at a few festivals with NME throughout the summer that I’m looking forward to – they’re always good fun. Hopefully get on tour a few times before the end of the year and yeah, as most freelancers will tell you there’s loads in the pipeline. Last year I lived in Australia and I realized that I hadn’t seen any of Europe so I’m also hoping to carry on travelling Europe throughout the year whenever I get any time off and take some travelling shots on my film camera. I think I’m going to Monaco for my 20th birthday.
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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth