Travis Huggett is a New York photographer who works mainly in portraiture and a bit of fashion photography. Travis started out shooting bands for smaller music publications. Out of college he assisted with some great photographers where, he feels, he learned something different from each of them which ultimately led him to discover that he is at his best when shooting people.
ARC: You have a project you’re working on. Tell us about that.
Travis: I started less than a year ago. I was out on 14th street and Avenue A and a bus pulled up to the corner. There was a girl on the bus, and it was raining so it was foggy inside, and she had wiped away the fog on the window. I could see in but only where she had wiped away. I saw her in there looking out at me. It was just great, you know, it looked really good. I pulled out my phone to try to take a picture of her before the light changed and took a really bad one of her. Really blurry, couldn’t tell what it was. But it made me start looking at the people on the bus differently and my relationship to them on the street. The way they looked at night. With the lights on in the bus. I got into the habit of going out each night and loitering around a bus stop. Whenever the bus would pull up I would do a quick scan of the bus for something interesting. I’d walk up to the window and take a picture through the glass. Sometimes people would see me. There were different spots where I was in the light too and they’d see me. Other spots I was in the dark and it was a little creepier.
Sometimes I would get a reaction from people. Most times they’d just ignore me. They were too tired to care, or it didn’t really matter to them. I would do that every night. I built up a consistent set of photos and could figure out pretty quickly what was working and what wasn’t. That happened organically in the way that often with a commercial project you don’t have. You’re limited by so many things, whether it’s a portraiture project or not. I’d always liked street photography so I was attracted to that too.
I’d like to say that I went into this having these sort of philosophical reasons but I was mostly just attracted to the visuals. The striking contrast of dark and light. Shooting people has always interested me but then, as it happened, I started thinking about a lot of other things. I was shooting at night so I would say 90% of the people were on their way home. I wasn’t shooting in the morning so I wasn’t getting people on their way to start their day. It was people who were done with their day and you can just feel that weariness. You can see it in their eyes. I’ve known that feeling. I’ve been on that bus. I’ve been the person that really just wanted the bus ride to be over. Seeing all those people just made it really interesting and weirdly attractive. There’s a strange appeal in exhaustion. I found it really interesting how people let their guards down when they’re on their way home because it’s a sort of shared experience. It’s a step between work and home and that transition just felt more relaxed.
Are you going to caption them? Title them?
I thought about titles but I don’t know how I would title them all without sort of falling into just descriptives. I tend to, in portraiture, name my photos after the name of the person, but I can’t do that here because I don’t know their names. I wish that I knew their names. I think that would add something personal but it’s not like I’m going to get on the bus to ask people their names. That would be weird and even creepier. I already feel like I’m just flirting with being a weirdo. So I haven’t thought of a way to title them properly that felt natural.
As far as getting their permission when taking their picture, have you thought about that where your book is concerned?
I’ve actually thought about it a lot. There is some concern because I shoot in my own neighborhood a lot and I see the people I shoot all the time. One time I was behind a woman at the ATM and I thought I knew her. I was staring at her trying to figure out how I knew her and I realize I had been editing a picture of her three days earlier. I also found out later that there was a couple I shot and I’m pretty sure they live in my building. If they don’t, someone they know does because they walked in one day and it was funny because I reacted like they were a celebrity. I sort of have this idea that if it does happen that people do get out there and see themselves in it that I would offer prints to anyone that found themselves [in my work]. I would give them a print and it doesn’t even have to be a photo they’re in. Just pick one and I’d make them a print for free. That’s my peace offering.
Do you find that you are more isolated now that you’ve been working on this project?
Professionally I work with teams, which is great. I like collaborative work. This is photography and that’s photography but it’s so different. It’s really nice to have that difference. It helps keep everything interesting when there’s a lot of variety it’s just always better when things keep changing. I can find personal projects to work on that are still shooting, but different from what I’m doing work-wise. If I go through a lull, then this is just a really great break from all that.
My goal is to always do this, always be working commercially and then always have some personal project. I feel like all the best photographers have that because if you get satisfaction out of the work you’re getting paid for then it’s like hitting the lottery.
Is there anything you’ve learned that you’d like to share with our readers?
I’ve learned not to be afraid to start projects. It’s better to start them and figure out that they’re not working than to just sit on them and hope maybe they’d work one day but you don’t have the time or a chance to start them.