Otis Huggins Interview

Please tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?
I’m a postman from Melbourne, Australia. 39 years old, married with two beagles. I grew up in a tiny farming town and went to high school in Geelong, a small regional city. The first decade of my working life was mostly spent in remote rural areas, labouring on vineyards and orchards. I lived in vans, tents and shacks, moving around quite a bit to follow the harvest work. I tried my hand at working in the city as a bicycle and motorcycle messenger a couple of times but it didn’t stick. After I met my wife it was time to move to the city to be together and I wound up working for the post office almost 8 years ago.

How did you come to be a photographer? What inspired you to start shooting?
Growing up, my mum had a camera, and my grandma was quite a keen photographer also, Grandma took photos everywhere and used a darkroom. Both my paternal grandparents were members of the National Trust Photographic Society, I remember going on a few daytrips with them and they were busy with their cameras. I can also remember friends of my parents using Polaroids and that seemed magical to me.

I wasn’t allowed to touch the cameras at all, I definitely wanted too but I guess nobody wanted my kid fingers on their equipment. I recall my family weren’t incredibly well off so wasn’t an affordable item for me at the time. What it did though was create some sort of mystique about cameras that I never got over.

I did make a pinhole camera in science class at high school but we only had 1 piece of film to develop and mine didn’t work properly. Later when I was 15 I borrowed a Ricoh AF camera to use for some school projects, and shortly after mum gave me a Kodak Instamatic 126 camera.

So basically I’d say it was the mystique of something I wasn’t allowed to have combined with a desire to document things that got me started.

What attracts you to film as a medium?
Initially there was only film, so as I got older and made my own money I was able to take photos as I pleased. Later I had a Fuji mdl-9 and Minolta Dynax. I wasn’t crazy about it like I am now, that came later around 2005 when I got my first digital camera, a cheap Kodak 3mp. It seems to me this was about the time film’s popularity started to decline.
Because it was so affordable to take photos I went nuts, taking the camera everywhere and shooting everything. That camera was eventually stolen from a shack I lived in at a pear orchard and my girlfriend (now my wife) bought me a Sony Cybershot in 2008. Sometime after I had my first smart phone around 2010 I got onto Instagram, the filters reminded me of shooting film and then I saw that people were still using film and it looked really good. I was impressed by the Lomography look of cross processing and cheap cameras like Holga. In 2013 I went and bought an Instax 100 and a Holga 135bc and instantly got hooked on film again.
I like the look of it and I like the physical element of having films, a process and something real that is stored in a box not only on a hard drive. When I look at other people’s film photos I’m always impressed with the effort they’ve gone too.

Your work revolves around depicting the urban landscape. What’s your motivation behind photographing the city?
I take a lot of photos of run down parts of the city, any city. I’m interested in the way nature weathers structures, and how man made pollutants like road dust, garbage, oil and smoke tarnish surfaces. Any city I visit I’m looking for these neglected places if the time is available. Often these types of places are quiet and devoid of people, and hopefully spacious. I enjoy the solitude and wandering about just as much as I enjoy taking photos. Often it’s a railway freight hub, or an automotive service district that’s busy during the week and then dead empty on a Sunday. If I’m going out specifically to take photos that’s the type of places I go. I love to get out into the countryside too but it’s a long way and takes time.

I guess I’m documenting these places but there is no real endgame, it’s for my own enjoyment, maybe someday it will be useful or worthwhile to somebody or maybe not.

What’s your interpretation of Los Angeles? How did that view influence your photographs of the city?
I loved the little I saw of Los Angeles, I try to visit a new city with an open mind and not too many preconceptions. It was difficult with LA because there have been so many influences in my life from that city, especially in film and music. From an outsider’s perspective there’s just so much going on there, so many big news stories over the years and it all gets covered by the media. I could go on for ever about this, gangster rap, hair bands, skateboarding, riots, earthquakes, 1984 Olympics, palm trees, drugs and movie stars seem to spring to mind.

My wife and I were visiting family in Texas, and looking for somewhere else to fill out our vacation. I’d built a rapport with Scott Hurst (another photographer previously featured on Snapshot Galleria, here’s a link to his interview: http://snapshotgalleria.com/negative-one-02/) through Instagram, I especially like his photographic documentation of Vernon and the industrial parts of the city. There’s something really special about the hazy quality of the sunlight over there, and amazing industrial landscapes.

He said to me if I ever came to LA we could go down to Vernon and take some photos. We arranged our stay around that, all we really wanted to do was relax in Hollywood for a few days, visit Santa Monica and meet up with Scott and his girlfriend for dinner. My wife splurged on a stay at Chateau Marmont which I’d never heard of but turned out to be an interesting and iconic location itself. I wandered around the Sunset Strip every morning with my cameras, and the same when we stayed in Santa Monica, but the trip to Vernon was the main focus.

Tell us about the set you submitted, is it part of a larger series or a standalone project?
The photos I have up in the Galleria were all taken on the same day in July. A good sunny day out shooting with Scott, we both had mild hangovers from the night before. He had planned a couple of circuit walks around the LA River and a couple of rail yards and industrial back blocks. It was hot but I was definitely in the mood for shooting, it was all just brilliant, and better than I’d hoped for. I took my Olympus Trip 35 and OM-1 slr. Most of the shots were taken on Kodak Gold 200 with the Trip and there are a couple on Hillvale 400 or Fuji Industrial 100 with the OM-1.

They’re a stand alone set, but it’s part of an ongoing theme of shooting rundown, industrial landscapes.
I’d love to come back and explore the area more, I was surprised to see the homeless camps around that part of the city. That’s something that would be rich photographic material, but I have mixed feelings about shooting the unfortunate. As with everything in life it’s a matter of time and money when I get back over there again.

Any projects on the horizon we should be on the look out for?
I’m working on a couple of projects, similar sort of locations and photos. No set goals and nothing too serious. One centres on the rail yard and surrounding industry in North Geelong, and another one at Werribee South, a market garden area outside the city limits of Melbourne. Apart from that I just keep snapping every day things that catch my eye, or take the odd road trip to areas of interest as time allows.

Anything you would like to add?
I’d like to thank Scott Hurst and Lucy for their hospitality in LA, and my wife Belinda for arranging the whole holiday and being so supportive of my hobbies. Thanks very much to Kwasi and Lou for showing such interest in my photography and featuring my photos and interview, you have some great talent on here and I’m proud to be a part of it.

For visitors to LA they have a special handshake, I’m not sure how to do it and it can be awkward. Lovely people, great city, get into it!

Check out https://www.instagram.com/0t15_/ for more work by Otis Huggins!