I was sad to learn that Hugo Dixon died last week, aged just 46, after what seems to have been a reasonably short and unexpected illness. He was a ubiquitous figure in my life in the 1990s, particularly, when I worked at Q magazine, where he was one of its best-loved and most reliable photographers. I was in contact with him last summer when I approached him about a photograph I know he had of me with Blur, taken in Paris for Q in 1994, one of many happy trips we went on at the time. It was during that email correspondence that Hugo informed me that the picture agency he’d been with had gone “tits up.” As a writer and commissioning editor at music magazines, I worked with tons of photographers. As a breed, they tended to be voluble, confident and larger-than-life personalities – you couldn’t really be a shrinking violet and encourage major rock stars to pose for your camera, or indeed engage in tricky diplomatic negotiations with PRs and managers in order to secure the access and time you needed with their major rock star. Hugo was certainly one of the good guys – he went out there and brought the pictures back, and was never one to moan about the often tiresome and unglamorous nature of the sort of job he’d be sent on.
There were always photographers (or “smudgers” as we’d disparagingly call those with inflated egos) who’d get the glamour jobs, the studio work, the cover shots … and Hugo was not one of them. He was the guy you’d send out if you needed on-the-road shots, pictures taken on the hoof or, what became his stock in trade, black and white portraits for Who The Hell … ? He, along with Chris Taylor and Ken Sharp, was as close to an official Q photographer as they came during that era, always pressed into jovial service for awards ceremonies and staff photos. You’re welcome to go and have a look at Hugo’s portfolio, although it is, for me, tinged with sadness now that he’s gone. You’ll see some classic shots from Q’s glory years in the 90s – the one of Michael Hutchence pointing that became a cover shot; Kurt Cobain; Bernard Manning – as well as more formal portraits of showbiz stars and comedians he did for Radio Times after he fell out of favour with subsequent editorial regimes at Q. (This is the lot of the freelance. You have to roll with the punches.) Hugo’s big love outside of music was cars, and I know he also did a lot of work for motoring magazines, which he must have loved. There was a spell with FHM, too, but hey, you’ve got to eat. And Hugo did eat, and enjoyed a pint. He was a big lad, rugby-sized, full of life and laughter and inappropriate comments, and we used to love the fact that, as a petrolhead, he used a tiny orange Fiat to drive into Central London, for ease of parking: it was almost like a suit of armour that fitted snugly around him and had wheels.
I have to admit, when I became features editor of Q, and then editor, I engineered it so that Hugo would accompany me on sporadic writing jobs I did. He came with me to Colchester, to the offices of EMI and to the studios of Later to capture the “actuality” shots of my first Blur cover story in 1994, while the more glamorous Andy Earl got to do the studio cover shots, although you wouldn’t hear Hugo complain. I think in many ways he preferred the free-form fun of the actuality gigs. When I went to Paris on the Eurostar to present a Q award to Blur around that time, I was quick to call Hugo up to do the honours. Again, not a massive job, but fun to do, and that was often enough for Hugo.
Since he died – I can’t quite believe this, yet – I have been in touch with his wife of many years, Jane, and actually discovered a bit more about what he’s been doing these past few years. This is not an official obituary so I won’t go into any more biographical detail, but I wanted to remember Hugo publicly, as he was a fantastic bloke, and one of the key figures in my happier memories of Q. My family will remember him too as he took my wedding photos, too. Who else?
I understood that it was when you reached your sixties that people around you started dying. It turns out it’s your forties. Robert Sandall, whom I also knew well from my Q years, also died this year. It seems so cruel and unlikely that I will bump into neither he nor Hugo again.
UPDATE: The Guardian have printed the obituary of Hugo which I wrote today (December 4), and it takes up almost a full page, which is no less than he deserve. It’s here.