Festival Feature: Meet Photographer Karl Hugh
You probably recognize his name because you’ve seen it for years. Who is Karl Hugh? He has been the Utah Shakespeare Festival photographer for over 25 years. And his name has been in every photo credit during that time. An invaluable part of the Festival, his work plays a significant role in sharing the power of theatre with our patrons.
A Cedar City native, Hugh left to attend Brigham Young University, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. He returned to Cedar City in 1993 and opened up a photography studio, Studio West, so that he could pursue his passion full-time.
Hugh’s Start at The Festival
Hugh grew up next door to the late Festival Founder, Fred C. Adams. He went to a few shows growing up, so Hugh was familiar with the Festival, although he candidly shared he didn’t have an appreciation for theatre yet.
“When I started photography for the Festival, I don’t think that Fred took me seriously, because I was [once] just the kid next door that played with his kids,” Hugh laughed.
Hugh deeply admired his former neighbor’s work. In fact, Hugh’s favorite Shakespeare production at the Festival was when Fred directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011.
“When he told me I did a good job on production shots, it meant a lot to me because I really respected him,” Hugh said.
In 1994, Hugh started taking on smaller photography jobs at the Festival.
“They were selling statues at the Festival, and so I photographed those,” Hugh said. “I also did candids during rehearsals on black and white film that had to be shipped to Salt Lake City to be developed.”
Gary “Mac” MacIntyre, former Festival Technical Director who started in 1965, encouraged Hugh to learn stage photography.
“It’s a very specialized type of photography, but Mac said that if I learned, I’d always have a good job working at the Festival,” Hugh said. “Back in that day, it was all done on tungsten slide film, which had to be metered and carefully exposed.”
Hugh noted that it was very technical, and it took him several years to learn to perfect this type of photography.
“I started photographing productions for the Southern Utah University theatre program,” Hugh said. “In 1997, I told [the Festival] I was ready to go for the full production shots at the Festival.”
Adjusting with the Times
Since Hugh began photography at the Festival, he’s used ten different cameras.
“It used to be on slide film, and then we transitioned to digital in 2002,” Hugh said. “When we first started production shots [digitally], the camera was very low resolution and it would take about a minute to process the shot.”
Hugh said that because of this, the production would have to be stopped for several minutes while the camera caught up.
With film photography, “[it] had to be flown to Salt Lake City to be developed and sent back that night,” Hugh said. “We never knew if we got good shots until the next day, and so it was very stressful.”
Now, Hugh quietly photographs without interrupting the shows. He mostly takes photos during dress rehearsals or preview performances, but if he shoots during regular performances, patrons may not even notice pictures are being taken. Another advantage to today’s digital cameras is that the photographs are available almost instantaneously, aiding in the speed of being able to use them for various purposes.
“It’s been amazing to watch the technology improve every year,” Hugh said.
Now, not only are his photographs used to market the productions and the Festival, they are also shared extensively on social media, used on the Festival’s website (bard.org), and shared in the annual souvenir program and playbill, among other important uses.
How the Festival Impacted Hugh
“When I started, I knew nothing about Shakespeare,” Hugh said. “I’ve really learned to appreciate [theatre].”
Now, Hugh sees all of the Festival productions and brings as many family members as he can each season.
“I’ve been a part of the behind-the-scenes of what it takes to put together a production since 1994,” Hugh said. “I’ve always loved the artistry and creativity that goes into every production, and I can’t wait for the next season.”
Hugh has also made valuable friendships with staff, performers, and artisans over the years.
“I think the people at the Festival are some of the most creative, gifted people I’ve ever worked with,” Hugh said.
Hugh has formed friendships with many actors, and has kept in touch with them throughout the years.
“I love seeing them in different productions,” Hugh said. “My whole takeaway from working with the Festival is that the artistry that happens here is amazing to see.”
Although Hugh doesn’t do photography full-time these days, he returns each year to do production shots for the Festival because he enjoys it so much. He is selective about the photography jobs he takes, now mostly focusing on real estate and aerial photography.
To see Hugh’s production photography from 1999-2023, visit bard.org/about/photos.