Photographer Michael Hughes has amassed an arsenal of photographs documenting souvenirs worldwide. “I go anywhere in the world, buy a cheap souvenir and I hold the souvenir in front of the object it’s depicting,” says Hughes.
Based in Berlin, Germany, he has been shooting editorial and commercial assignments for more than 30 years, but the seed for the souvenir project took root in 1999 while shooting for a Finnish newspaper in the Rhine River valley on a very dreary day.
From his perch high on the Lorelei — a rock famous known for its mermaid who would lure sailors to their death — he pulled a postcard out of his pocket with the same view, lined it up in his viewfinder and captured “the one.”
“It was magical, like looking through a window” says Hughes. “You look through it, behind it, at it. I knew this could be the beginning of something.”
He’s tackled the most iconic spots in the world, from Times Square in New York City to the Egyptian pyramids. He also put a new spin on the must-have snapshot in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
“My wife found a rainbow-colored lollipop in the shape of the tower,” he says about one of his favorite finds. In the corresponding photo, his daughter, Lea, is pictured licking it in front of the real thing.
Since being discovered on Flickr, the Souvenir series has been featured in National Geographic and Popular Photography magazines and Hughes was asked to shoot an advertising campaign for TAM airlines in Brazil.
His work is also available for purchase on his website, www.hughes-photography.eu. The photographs make great souvenirs themselves, whether you’ve been to the places or not.
As for the actual trinkets, Hughes keeps most of them in a box, while some adorn the shelves of his apartment. Others just didn’t make it back home, including what he says was the most unusual: a windmill that plays “Tulips from Amsterdam,” while rotating its vanes and lighting up.
“I gave it to the guy at Schiphol airport who checks in the Avis hire cars because I had no space in my luggage.”
Maybe he’ll donate a few to the Souvenir Museum on of these day . . .