Ask Jon C. Hughes to name the countries he’s traveled and he’ll list them for you on his fingertips: Cuba, Bosnia, Croatia, Thailand, China, Russia, Brazil, Costa Rica ... Hughes begins to run out of fingers.
Hughes, a University of Cincinnati professor, isn’t exactly a poster child for the American Automobile Association. He’s more likely these days to be found at a peasant commune in a third-world country than at a posh resort in Palm Springs. You’re more likely to encounter him at the Bay of Pigs than San Francisco Bay. And you’re certainly more likely to discover the world traveler in Sarajevo than, say, Sarasota.
“I was on assignment in Mexico,” notes Hughes of a recent trip. “That was a good gig, actually. The weather there is nicer than in Cincinnati.”
Hughes’ calling is to travel to the grittier side of the world, documenting daily life in a variety of countries for his photo agency photopresse.
This side occupation is a far cry from his day job, as director of journalism at the University of Cincinnati and longtime English professor. The 63-year-old Northside resident hesitates to call his avocation a midlife crisis. “A midlife something, let’s say. I took my first trip to Cuba. I took some images, and got a shot — it was total luck — that I still exhibit today. It was of peasants at a commune near the Bay of Pigs. I didn’t really know how a camera worked at the time.”

Hughes started photopresse a few years ago as an agency catering to art directors worldwide. Through the agency’s web site,, the two can tap into a worldwide business. “The idea is to market our photography to art directors (of publications) everywhere.”
Life’s been good, and the photographer, notes his work has even extended to the television market. “I produced an independent documentary on Cuba in 1999 that was shown on several PBS stations in the United States.” (Cuba: The Caribbean Enigma also aired in the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Germany, Chile and Brazil.)  The documentary won a Telly Award in 2000.
It’s funny how life goes. When Hughes was earning his political science and economics degree at Ball State University in 1967, he probably wasn’t thinking he’d end up an English and journalism professor at the University of Cincinnati (where he’s taught scores of students since 1972). And while teaching news writing and reporting, he probably wasn’t thinking he’d wind up a photographer and producer of documentary films.

Whether he’s navigating the Amazon or backpacking through the Balkans, Hughes tends to work in black-and-white using Leica cameras, revealing subtle shades of gray. He’s worked for publications varying from WORTH magazine to L.A. Weekly, from For Your Pet magazine to Suddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, from Beverage Retailer magazine to Literatura No Swiecie, a literary journal in Poland. Visual images truly know no borders.
“It is curious how the freelance market works,” Hughes says. “A book jacket portrait I did for a Cincinnati-based writer went along for the ride when his novel took off. In less than two weeks, that image was published in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Village Voice and distributed for publication by the Associated Press.”
Hughes’ work also has been displayed in no less than two dozen gallery and museum exhibitions, including The Taft Museum, The Studio San Guiseppe Gallery at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Whitewater Art Gallery, Indiana University East, Mercantile Library, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, as well as being included in shows at ArtWorks, the Tangeman Fine Arts Gallery, the United States Air Force Academy, Carnegie Arts Center, the Ronald Gallery at Earlham College, and the Fototeca de Cuba, Havana. 

He won a Post Corbett Award for Best Visual Artist and for Literary Artist (in two different years), and his visuals are included in such diverse works as Updike in Cincinnati (Ohio University Press), All Shook Up: Collected Poems About Elvis (University of Arkansas Press), Visions of Place (Ohio State University Press), Cincinnati: Majestic Vision (Towery Publishing) and Pieces of Fernald: Poems & Photographs of a Place (Cincinnati Writers Project).
The English and journalism professor also has shared in three Emmy awards for a program simultaneously broadcast on WVXU and Channel 19, has written radio plays, and is the author of five books including Period of the Gruesome: The Selected Cincinnati Newspaper Articles of Lafcadio Hearn and The Tanyard Murder: On the Case With Lafcadio Hearn.
What’s the next big project for Hughes? He can never tell.
“My bags are packed,” observes Hughes. “When the call comes, or I can talk an editor into the assignment and we can agree on the terms, I am out of here.

“My bottom line rules are that I do not cover wars or celebrities and what I do cover brings some attention to issues of interest and importance. Often, I am very satisfied to stay at home and continue my career-long project of documenting Cincinnati.”