Today we’d like to introduce you to Viktor Hübner.
Hi Viktor, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I was born in an idyllic rural area near Cologne, Germany in 1988 to a family of ethnic Russian German repatriates who emigrated from the former Soviet Union. My family history before the emigration, pervaded by identity turmoil and uprooting deep in the family tree, shaped me from a young age. The personal fates of my grandparents and relatives attuned to my sense of the human experience and eventually would become a driving factor for me to preserve stories for posterity. Looking back, I had an incredibly sheltered childhood in Germany. My mother worked as a nurse in care for the elderly and my father became the pastor of a local Baptist church. With no TV at home, I spent most days playing in the thick woods surrounding the village together with friends and my three younger siblings.
When I started school, it became apparent that I had severe learning difficulties. I flunked German and mathematics, and my parents were advised to put me in a special needs school. Luckily, I got a second chance and was allowed to switch the school where I was particularly watched. Then I went on to attend Hauptschule, the lowest tier of German education. My grades remained the same, with the only exceptions being the History and the Arts. I developed a fierce love of history books that I would read back to back. I spent many hours reading late into the night. If not about history, I immersed myself in adventures based in the Middle Ages, (oriental) fairy tales, the Bermuda Triangle, time travels, and field reports from Christian missionaries. The rest of my school days were interspersed with many ups and downs, to the point that I repeated the 9th grade in order to even receive my high-school diploma. Later I would switch to a vocationally-oriented school with a strong focus on art and design and was finally able to finish school with average grades in 2008.
Up until this point in my life, I didn’t know which profession to choose. As a young boy, I dreamt of becoming an Archeologist. This dream ended when I understood that I was simply not the person who sits for hours in a hole brushing away layer by layer of dust. I was in my early twenties and, to be honest, aimless and at a loss. So I went on to explore the world by traveling to South-East Asia, picking up different voluntary jobs, and broaden my horizon. In Singapore, I met a graphics designer that inspired me to get back into my other interest, art and design, and to make a crucial decision for my future: Back in Germany I would study Design.
In 2012, I was finally ready to start my Bachelor of Arts in communication design at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz. In the course of the diverse studies, I discovered my love for photography, especially documentary photography. My undergraduate taught me one thing above all: How to communicate complex realities in a way that is both truthful and easy to grasp. But my true potential and talent came to light during a one-week photography field trip to Riga, the capital of Latvia, in early 2013. We were given complete freedom in choosing the subject; so weeks in advance of the trip, I researched the darkest and most dangerous parts of the city and marked them on a map. Once there, I explored the dark underbelly of the city, searching for the people in the shadows, struggling with poverty, addictions, crime and no or little perspective. On my own, I wandered around those areas of the town that are shuttered for the eye of most visitors (‘Perle des Baltikums’). The access I gained into people’s lives and homes during those seven days and the sheer tragedy that I encountered was an eye-opening experience for me and kindled a tremendous urge to become a responsible witness. Combining my passion of history and the arts, I started to record small layers of contemporary history through my words and lens.
Shortly after this experience, I set out my first hitchhiking trips in Eastern and Southern Europe to further explore my newly discovered potential. Since then, I have made many more travels and worked on different documentary projects: For ‘Eighty-Two Days on the Road’ I hitchhiked from Jordan, where I had been on an exchange semester, back to Germany. Crossing nine countries with the main focus on the unique stories of the people I met on the way. In ‘Land of God’ I moved for several months into a spiritual-outsider community in the South of France to live and work together with these people. In ‘Das Leben ist für uns.’ I visited the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Northern Iraq during the war against ISIS in 2016. This body of work gives a unique glimpse of the facets of the PKK, their ideology, aims, and influence through personal conversations with the guerrilla fighters. My artistic practice stems from a deep natural curiosity for other human beings and their fate. I explore themes of community, displacement, ideology, and socio-political tensions using photography, audio-recordings, and written accounts. I believe in the importance of contributing fractions of the present narrative to create a perspective of time; lending awareness to the complexity of identity, society, and contemporary issues.
In 2017 I achieved an academic success that I would hardly have thought possible considering my serious challenges at school; I was awarded the internationally renowned Fulbright scholarship for representing German culture in the USA for the mutual and cultural understanding of both countries. With the help of this scholarship, I was able to receive a Master of Fine Arts in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2019.
My most recent project, ‘The Americans I Met’ is a photographic and oral history project that collects portraits of, and conversations with, people that I encountered during a series of cross-country hitchhiking trips across the United States. I covered 41 states and over 16,000 miles, spanning over two years between 2017 to 2019. I found myself as a wanderer between diverse communities, always seeking out strangers who would host me in their homes for at least one night. This project focuses on the Americans I met on my travels, their words, their experiences, and, by extension, the ‘Trump era’ in which they lived. It serves as a timestamp and insight into the thoughts and lives of the people of that era from the perspective of an outsider. While still a work in progress, ‘The Americans I Met’ is planned to be completed and published in late 2021.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I consider myself exceedingly blessed and continuously keep experiencing positive things that naturally fall in my way. But the road of life always had and still has many obstacles and challenges for me to overcome. Starting with my early school career; learning dry theory was never easy for me and is still a challenge today. But over the years, I’ve learned to deal with it and have become much better at finding solutions that work for me. This was only possible through the relentless support of my family from the very beginning. After graduating from RISD, I started working as a freelance documentary photographer. With the start of the global pandemic and the travel restrictions last year, it wasn’t an easy time for me as an artist. But I always hope for a positive outcome, no matter what comes my way. It is very important to me to step out in faith and take risks, particularly in my work; I believe It is my calling to encounter other people, to listen to them, and to document what I see.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My artistic practice stems from a deep natural curiosity for other human beings and their fate. I explore themes of community, displacement, ideology, and socio-political tensions using photography, audio-recordings, and written accounts. I believe in the importance of contributing fractions of the present narrative to create a perspective of time; lending awareness to the complexity of identity, society, and contemporary issues. As a freelance photographer, I am always open for collaborations and commissions.
What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
Almost nowhere else is it so easy to meet new people and establish contacts than in LA. But everyday life in such a big city is too fast and hectic for my taste.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.viktorhubner.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/viktorhubner/
Portrait by Thomas Pirot Photos by Viktor Hübner