I first met Hughes in Rostock, Germany in 2007. The G8 leaders were meeting in Heligidamm and protests had been planned in and around the city of Rostock. I was fresh out of photojournalism school. I had never shot a major protest before. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Hughes on the other hand had covered all kinds of protests.
I got in contact with Hughes via Lightstalkers, where he said he had a hotel room he was willing to share for a week.
The first day of the protest started out as a quiet march by several thousand people. Hughes had brought his black military style helmet. I thought to myself that looks a bit like overkill. Well the quiet march soon turned into a stone-throwing riot and burning car mayhem. The Black Block against the German police. Boy, did I wish I had brought a helmet, a very amateur move on my part.
In the chaos of it all I met some other photographers; Bastian Ehl from Magdeburg, Germany (he became our unofficial guide to the German society and translator) and Philippe Leroyer from France. As the week went on we became good friends. The four of us would photograph during the day and relax and have some beer during the evenings.
Eventually the planned protests came to an end. I went back to Sweden and then back to Canada, Hughes and I kept contact on flickr and facebook, I would comment on his pictures and he on mine.
Fast forward to 2010. Toronto and Huntsville was hosting the G8 and the G20. Hughes said he would come over to photograph the protests. I also asked Bastian and Philippe if they would make it over and the Four Amigos from Rostock could meet again. Unfortunately Bastian and Philippe couldn’t make it.
The protest in Toronto started as a quiet march. Hughes told me that he wasn’t sure if it had been worth the money coming to Toronto for this. He said that he had seen plenty of riot police lines before and marches that didn’t lead to anything many times before.
Then Saturday came, with the Black Block smashing it’s way through the streets of Toronto. By the time Sunday evening rolled around a massive summer storm with plenty of rain barrelled down on Toronto and over 1000 people had been arrested. Including several journalists from different media outlets.
I had been detained by the police. Hughes took several photos of me on the ground with several riot police standing around. He was told to leave or he would be detained as well.
Not knowing if I had been arrested or just detained Hughes sent me an sms telling me where he was. At that time Hughes thought that I had been arrested and he was on his own to find his way back to where we were staying. I was let go by the police after they went through all my bags and didn’t find anything to arrest me for.
I sent an sms back to Hughes, telling him I had been let go and that we were just a few blocks from each other. Rain soaked we returned to my friend’s house.
We said a quick good bye, I was leaving early in the morning so I went to bed. That was the last time I saw Hughes. He had invited me to come to France this summer, as they would be the host for the G20. I told him that sounded like a great idea.
Hughes went back to France where he worked for Wostock Press, a small photo agency. I got an email from him in January saying that he would be moving to Brazil until the end of August. Hughes did a mad trip to Egypt during the uprising, his trip there only lasted a few days I never got the chance to talk to him about it. But I remember reading a posting on facebook, where he said that, “it’s not safe to leave the hotel room.” I told him to be careful and to be safe.
On Tuesday March 15th, I got an email from Philippe saying that Hughes had been in a car crash outside Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on March 13th. Seven people died in the accident, including Hughes, his wife Andrea and his sister in-law Angela. Arthur, their two-year old son, survived the crash and was being treated at the local hospital.
I only got to know Hughes for four years, but I’m really glad I did. During his short career, Hughes won an NPPA award in 2007. He had a huge following on flickr. I will always remember the smiley happy Frenchman. No matter what was going on around him, it seemed he always had a great big smile on his face. He told me that he used to be a banker, that’s how he met his wife in Brazil. I don’t think that Hughes was meant to sit still and count numbers all day.
His photos touched many people and he was a great source of inspiration whenever you needed one. His talent for street photography was second to none. You will be sadly missed my friend, thank you for all the great memories.
More about Hughes:
By Andre Gunthert: In memoriam Hughes Leglise-Bataille
Street Reverb Magazine: