John Huba’s photographs capture a world that seems almost impossibly exotic right now to my color-starved, winter-weary eyes: a quartet of zebras crossing in formation on an African plain; a spiky-spined iguana blinking lazily in the sun on the shores of the unspoiled Galápagos Islands; and colorfully dressed inhabitants of some far-off land, wrapped in unfamiliar garments, tending flowers, or elephants, or bathed in mysterious shadows.
Is the life of a travel photographer as glamorous as it seems like it would be? “Sometimes it’s more sitting in airports for hours on end,” says Huba, “but when you finally get there and you get to road trip across a really magical country and you manage to shoot your top stock photos to date, then it’s all worthwhile.”
The Woodstock-based photographer’s first professional gig was at the tender age of 16 for his hometown paper, the Peekskill Evening Star. By age 19, he’d moved to Manhattan, where he had the nerve to badger legendary photographer Bruce Weber into taking him on as an assistant. “There were three photographers whose work I admired a great deal: Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber,” says Huba. “So when I moved to the City, I just kept hounding Bruce because I loved his work. Eventually I got taken on a job, and then became his full-time assistant for three years.”
Huba’s persistence paid off, as working for Weber afforded him not only the chance to be mentored in photographic techniques by a master, but the opportunity to benefit from Weber’s life experience as well. “Of all the photographers I could have worked for, he was definitely the best choice,” says Huba. “He didn’t just teach about photography; he taught about life: how to travel, how to live life – a lot of other lessons.”
Once out on his own, Huba continued to travel on assignment for magazines like Travel & Leisure, Town & Country and Vanity Fair. Recently returned from a trip to Morocco for Condé Nast Traveler, Huba says that he has been getting back on the road more lately, after taking some time off from traveling after having children. “I went away for three weeks once to Brazil when my daughter was a year old, and when I came back, I hardly recognized her. So I took a little hiatus and only took jobs in the New York area for a while.”
Huba does a lot of portrait work as well. “You have to be really diverse these days, with the advent of digital,” he says. “I consider myself a travel, fashion and portrait photographer.” In November, Huba had his first exhibition of his travel photographs at Sawkille Company in Rhinebeck, and he maintains a print studio in a converted barn, where he can do large-scale fine art photographic prints that he sells primarily through word-of-mouth.
He’s also a filmmaker. Lately he’s getting into exploring the local culture through filmmaking in addition to his photography, currently working on a short documentary about Woodstock’s Lenny Bee. “Everybody kind of knows him,” says Huba. “He does a lot of things: He smokes fish, he makes honey, he’s an inventor.” Last year, Huba’s short film about another local resident, Seamus, was screened in the Woodstock Film Festival.
Is it possible to have a favorite location when one gets to go pretty much anywhere in the world? “I love Africa,” says Huba, “but I’ve been lucky enough through the travel magazines to go to so many places, and each one is kind of amazing on its own.”
If Huba’s work has a signature, he says it would be that he looks for the positive side of life. “I’m a pretty hopeful person,” he says. “I like to say that ‘There’s no wrong turns on a travel job,’ because you’ll be going one place, but take a wrong turn and then the most magical things happen. You’ll run into something incredible, like a Buddhist ceremony that’s so colorful and amazing that you couldn’t have expected it.”
Photographer John Huba; www.johnhubastudio.com.