Jordan Curtis Hughes is a young photographer who at the tender age of 22 has flown all over the world shooting live shows with some of the world’s biggest artists. We first discovered Jordan’s work a few years back and had the pleasure of interviewing him as he began cementing his reputation as an NME favourite and talented image-maker.
Since then we’ve learnt that being a music photographer is a unique and demanding job, though it does have its perks. Having just returned from shooting Austin City Limits in sunny Texas, Jordan is already looking forward to the next trip from London to wherever his professional and personal projects take him.
When he’s not spending his time with his girlfriend who’s converting him to the church of obscure indie cinema, attending grime and hip hop shows and eating any vegan food that London has to offer, Jordan works on inspiring and original projects and of course, calls in to the NME offices from time to time.
In a recent turn of events that came as only a mild surprise to the talented photographer, the NME flew Jordan to LA in July to shoot one of the world’s biggest pop stars for this month’s cover. The spread marks a huge milestone in Jordan’s portfolio and career, showing what he’s capable of behind the lens. So, with the October issue now circulating, we caught up with Jordan to find out more about his steady climb to notoriety, his love of travel and animals, new projects and of course, his thoughts on music.
Tell us about your recent shoot for NME…
Well one day I was called into the magazine’s offices about a job. You don’t really get called in so I was like, ‘what have I done wrong?’. The next thing I know I’m flying out to LA to shoot Taylor Swift for the cover of the NME. I’m so used to working with indie bands or bands doing their first cover, which is great and something I love, but was really struck by Taylor’s professionalism. She’s obviously done this sort of thing hundreds of times. I actually put on a grime playlist while we were setting up and the PR was like, ‘can we change the music to what Taylor wants to listen to?’ so I don’t think she’s a huge grime fan. It was a pleasure to work with her though. The cover came out on Friday and really marks a new era for the NME.
Aside from shooting Taylor Swift, what else are you working on?
I’m currently shooting for a personal project on grime artists though perhaps not in the conventional sense. Obviously there’ll be some live music but this project is more about identity. I love grime music. JME and Skepta were massive when I was in year 9 at school just outside Birmingham and since then it’s been important to me. I feel like now I’m at a place where rather than taking it all in, I can contribute and give back to something I care about. I’ve been contacting all the artists asking to photograph them in their homes and environments that are personal to them.
A lot of the guys making grime music are from second generation African families. If their mum and dad are from Nigeria and they’ve grown up in Tottenham or Bow, there’s a mix of cultures and that’s partly what I want to capture. The guys making the music sitting in their mum’s kitchens.
I’ll probably get flack for saying this but I think grime is the closest thing that will ever resemble punk rock in our generation. It’s so DIY; everyone has their own labels and there’s the attitude. Aside from the ones in the charts, these guys don’t make tonnes of money and what they do is amazing. I’m shooting wide with flash so that these portraits look like the old punk rock shots.
How do you take an image from the stage to the page?
It really depends on what I’m shooting. Usually I have plenty of control, playing with colour palettes in post production and retouching my own images. I’ll hold my hands up now and say I’m not the best retoucher, there are guys that focus solely on that and they’re amazing. I just don’t enjoy it as much as meeting people and shooting and see it as a separate entity to photography in some ways. That’s not to say I’m a stranger to editing.
At live music shoots or on tour, the band will be talking to family and friends after the show and I’ll have locked myself in a room to produce the images so the band can share them on social media straight away. It can be done well in a matter of minutes and I have fun going through phases where I favour different colours for subtle changes to shadows and highlights. Things were different with the Taylor Swift shoot and that’s the first time I’ve simply handed over raw files and then seen the outcome in print. I had great trust and respect for the guys doing it though.
What do you make of the NME becoming a free magazine?
I said for a long time that they needed to do it. Selfishly, as a photographer, more people are going to see your images per week if the biggest music magazine in the UK is free. There’s now a huge reach and there are big stars on the cover as well as the bands that will always be featured. People just need to be patient. I can’t think of better people to have guided it through the current massive changes it’s going through. The editors, creative directors, graphic designers; the people at the helm are insanely talented and they aren’t afraid of taking on young, fresh talent alongside legends like Dean Chalkley.
Your influences must have changed a bit since we caught up. What inspires you now?
I remember shooting Johnny Marr on stage in Brixton and Noel Gallagher came out and I was next to him backstage and I thought, unless I’m doing a world tour with the biggest band on earth, it doesn’t get better than this. Touring’s really important to me but these days I’m more interested in portrait photography and photographers that make me laugh.
I like people like Martin Parr, who subtly take the piss. When I travel, I think of the way he shoots. I’ll take a point-and-shoot film camera, put my own vibe on the culture and capture it in a tongue-in-cheek way, while still being respectful. I’ll go the eiffel tower and instead of photographing it I’ll go down the backstreet behind it and take a photo of… a chef who’s 45 and sad.
I don’t channel anybody but I appreciate plenty of people. Mario Testino for example and people that step outside their known genre to create a brand empire. I’m interested in high fashion. Alexander Wang’s campaigns are the sort of thing I’d like to shoot. It’s a nice take on fashion and proof that you can do it without being super polished.
I’m inspired by William Eggleston; he made it ok to shoot colour photography in the professional world. Back in the day, if you shot in colour you weren’t a professional. His photos are of American culture but they also kind of feature nothing.
What are your plans for the future?
I recently realised my end goal in life. It’s to be able to earn enough money to be able to buy a big house with lots of land and open an animal sanctuary. I’ve been vegetarian for eight years and vegan for eight months and now I know that I’ll never not be vegan. It’ll be for life, until I wither and die in my compost grave. I’m not big on spiders so I probably won’t save any of them but I would love to be able to make a difference to animals lives, especially the traditional meat industry animals like cows, pigs and chickens.
For another personal project I’ve been contacting animal sanctuaries to get really strong portraits of the people running them, volunteers and of the animals. I’d shoot it like I would a powerful band, with dramatic lighting and a bold backdrop, but it’d be a photo a legless pony. I’d love to be in a position where I could rescue a load of dairy cows. It’s a horrible cycle because whoever I got them from would just get more in, but if I can make a difference to those cows’ lives, I’d be happy.
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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth