Carl Hyde’s photographs exude musicality, freedom, beauty and a love for jazz. Being interested in photography myself, when I came across Carl’s pictures, I found them so refreshing. There is humanity behind the glossy façade which makes them so much more than just photographs! We meet at the small but perfectly formed “Bar Italia” in Frith Street in London to talk jazz and, of course, photography!
Words: Erminia Yardley, Cover Photo: © Carl Hyde
Q1. How old were you when you first picked up a camera?
I was 8 when I first picked up a camera. My parents bought it for me. It was one of those instant ones. I was going away with my school and it was really my first exploit into photography. I took 250 pictures of ducks… Needless to say, the pictures were ropy… not brilliant…, but that was the start into the world of photography for me.
Q2. What was your motivation behind this?
Initially from school, I had a teacher come in to discuss future options, he said why don’t I consider photography as a subject. A couple of weeks later there was a documentary on television on David Bailey which involved lots of scantily clad women… so I thought that’s a job for me, but it kind of rolled on from there.
The area I grew up is quite industrial. I remember I was quite lost when I was about to leave school and didn’t know what to do so I went to a careers’ convention and there was a guy there from Barking College.
I started studying photography at O level, then went on to do a BTec at Barking College and also worked as a lab technician.
Q3. Do you find yourself snapping at people in the street as well? (and if yes, are most people compliant?)
Yes, I do, but more with my camera phone. It is less intrusive… not been confronted by anyone yet, but it might happen soon, maybe it is a matter of time… (he laughs)
Q4. What cameras are you currently using and why?
I use a Canon 5D. A pro camera. Gives real depth to the pictures. It has quite a legendary status as well. It is a studio camera. It has proven to be a good camera and a good natural progression for me. It works so well in low lights which is ideal for what I do really.
Q5. Without being too technical, tell me which is your favourite camera and why?
My favourite camera is my film camera which I have had since I was 13 years old, but it is a bit painful to get things developed… I went into digital kicking and screaming, but it is alright now!
Q6. How did you get into jazz before you started photographing the musicians? Or did it all happen at once?
There is about 20 years gap between the two. I was 13/14 years old. I was gravitating in the periphery, so to speak, I was listening to Kenny G, Wilton Felder, Mark Cotgrove (aka Snowboy) more jazz funk stuff. I find myself learning all the time. I get to see and listen to so many musicians, which is great, so on my flickr page, for example, there is information that I have added from Wikipedia! When someone is looking at any of the photos on there, then they can read about the artists as well. It is like a big learning process. I like that.
So the jazz element has been there all along, photographing musicians started about 3 or 4 years ago. I started gate crashing gigs… with some other journalists, then started photographing for UKvibe online magazine which was great and got me into so many places, for example, going to Omar’s studio. A big eye-opener. A soul and jazz cross, brilliant for me. So a great journey so far.
Q7. Have you ever had a tricky musician to photograph?
Stroppy? No, not met such a person so far. The hardest thing for me so far has been when I was at the Jazz Café for Omar, with no stage lights!… Well, there were blue lights only. And so you can imagine, the definition was so difficult to pick up! Not my best gig!
Ronnie Scott’s is easy to photograph in, it is well lit; other places, clubs, it really depends on the lighting there is or there will be on the night.
Q8. How does the world of jazz look to you from behind the camera?
Oh, good question. I see it in black & white, sometimes in full colour. It really depends on the artist, how he or she will come across. It is hard to describe. I tend to slip into a “zone”, I don’t talk to anyone. I focus on the band/ the musician. It can be difficult to listen to an artist whilst I am photographing… so sometimes, if there are two shows by the same, I will photograph the first show but then stay on for the second so I can really take the music in! The jazz world is very exciting, can also be quite arty at time.
It is never a plain, simple shot. Light and shade: it is balancing act. You try and feel what the artist is feeling. What the crowd is picking up. When I can do that, then that’s a great achievement for me.
For example: Stacey Kent played at Ronnie Scott’s recently. The chemistry between her and her husband, Jim Tomlinson was just electric. So intense. Difficult to portray in one single shot really!
When she was looking at him on stage, the intensity was incredible. To see it, to feel it and getting it on to the lense can be quite tricky, but challenging, too!
Q9. What do you think is the hardest part of your job?
Lack of sleep!
But apart from that…. I just enjoy my job so much, I have wanted to do this for a long time, I have worked hard for it. When you get to do what you really love, some of the practical, difficult bits don’t feel that bad at all!
Q10. So… who is your jazz idol and why?
It changes daily, but to mention just a few…
Steve Williamson. The guy is a genius.
Grover Washington Jr
Lonnie Liston Smith
And I could go on!
Q11. How does Carl Hyde, the jazz photographer, relax?
Well, maybe half a bottle of Jack Daniels… (Carl laughs out loud, a wicked laughter)
No, seriously, I live 100 yards from the beach, I have a 5 year old son so we just spend the time running along the beach!… Sometimes a glass of wine chilling with some music on or time with the family.
The end of the interview. A farewell to Bar Italia and to Carl who has to dash off to prepare for another night of wonderful jazz!
Life can be so tough!…