theprintspace’s Ameena Rojee speaks to photographer, writer and SMBHmag founder Barry W. Hughes about the importance of writing in photography, the challenges of running an online magazine and some essential advice. Read on below to find out more!
Hi Barry, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Let’s start at the beginning - please introduce yourself!
Well I’m a photographer, writer and the founder of SuperMassiveBlackHole, an online photography magazine (SMBHmag). I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and in 2014 I moved to London. The photographs I make are usually based on researched stories of coincidences, or represent the idea of coincidence.
I write mainly for Hotshoe magazine (since 2012), and for the SMBHmag blog. Between interviews, reviews and features with or about contemporary photographers this is something that has come to occupy a lot of my time. I’m currently editing and working on content for SMBHmag, while I also have some of my personal work from the project NEOP in a group show in Berlin.
What’s your story?
Like so many sanctimonious little monsters I remember only ever wanting to be an artist, but it wasn’t until university that I discovered which of the visual arts best suited my temperament and compulsions at that time. I’ve found various ways of working with photographs over the years, and would happily spend the rest of my days doing so.
But the so-called creative industry is a strange place; while much of it is an apathetic mix of wild capitalism, infantile obsessions and the confused led by the conceited; there is a thin line of genius and grace that almost validates the absurdity of the rest. That’s at least part of why I’m involved with the creativeindustry, because that thin line speaks loudest to me.
More specifically, what were your reasons for founding SMBHmag?
Being somewhat isolated while based in Dublin, and exhibiting my work in exhibitions all over the place for a number of years, I became bored and uninspired. Dublin was very dull and from what I could tell myself and the Irish photography world lacked perspective. So I created SMBHmag to make something that reflected my interests while keeping myself interested. I had no idea if it would continue; I just wanted to show the good work being produced at home and beyond, and to create a unique focal point of interchange.
As well as the founder of SMBHmag, you’re also an award-winning photographer yourself. How do you balance the two careers?
I don’t know about winning awards, but I do know that over the years I have been slowly learning where I see my own work within photography. Having said that, I can’t see myself as a photographer alone anymore, but as long as I am given the freedom to continue to make my own work and have an outlet, I’m content. My experience is tinted by a certain cynicism but sometimes I allow myself a little hope in my images meaning something to someone.
One can only try to balance things out through effort and faith, and so it is often a choice between one and the other on the understanding that there must be a little sacrifice along the way.
Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since founding the magazine? And on the other hand, one of your best experiences?
Challenges are tediously frequent, and most often it comes down to there being a shortfall in time and money. I’ve worked approximately 8,000 hours on SMBHmag in six years with no budget. It hasn’t been easy, but on the other hand having David J. Moore assist me in the last couple of years has been a great help in holding it together.
Of course there have been good experiences traveling to new places, making new friends and everything like that. I have learnt such a great deal in the process. The best is when someone shows genuine appreciation for something like a review, that something I’ve done has achieved something positive. Gaining industry insight is another reward, although how it is acquired is a matter of taste.
Many in the photography industry disregard the skill of writing. Have you found that an understanding and adeptness at writing has helped with your photography, and/or vice versa?
Disregarding the skill of writing is idiotic. For me, it is terribly important that an artwork can be given context by its creator and if someone can only talk waffle about the work, then they’re probably bluffing. To speak or write clearly about one’s work often helps the creator better understand it and where it is going. It also helps others to quickly discern the value of the work, through intention and meaning. That doesn’t mean we have to write a thesis, or bore the living daylights out of people with soft-witted redundancy.
Writing about others’ work has helped me in terms of defining a motivation, structure and execution. But it is equally true that none of what I have written about others’ work would be of any use without my own personal experience. There is a self-serving empathy that is mutually beneficial.
If you could travel back in time, and go back to just before you launched SMBHmag, what are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give yourself?
Wait for nothing, and take your time.
Reinforce your smile with steel.
To quote Wilde: ‘There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.’On a more personal note, what’s next for you?
I’m taking it as it comes. I can tell you that I am still working on my long-term project NEOP. There are one or two new developments in the pipeline, and there are a couple of other projects under consideration too. They continue in the same vein as previous projects.
Apart from this I am on a judging panel for an international photography grant, and I’m sure there’ll be some SMBHmag projects happening in 2016.
Finally, what inspires you?
I’m inspired by anything from Francis Bacon talking with David Sylvester to Pacino’s glare in The Godfather. Space exploration and cosmology obviously. There are too many artists to mention. However, I recently came across an interesting character called Paul Villa, who photographed staged UFO sightings in the US during the 1960s and 70s. He wasn’t an artist per se, but people like him inspire me.
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Barry W. Hughes