Carl Hyde’s photographs exude musicality, freedom, beauty and an unparalleled love for jazz. Being interested in photography myself, when I came across Carl’s pictures, I found them very 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 studio that Carl owns in South-East London to talk jazz and, of course, photography.

In a space surrounded by beautiful photos of landscapes and portraits, Carl tells me he was 8 when he first picked up a camera his parents had bought him for a school trip, a 110 compact camera which he still owns, and which I am told is very retro these days! The photos taken by Carl at the time were very ropey, he says chuckling, mainly because there were about 250 of them just depicting ducks!

That trip and the use of his camera were to get Carl into the world of photography at a very early age, but that love of the unusual and natural would also gave him a much bigger vision of what he wanted to become.

Fast forward a few years, Carl’s motivation at school was at an all time low: with very little interest in his school work and more interest in the world outside the windows of his 1960s brick-built Comprehensive. In the distance, he would see the Docks and oil refineries of the industrial Essex which bordered the Thames estuary.

Steve Williamson – Photo © Carl Hyde

Carl found a kindred spirit in one of his school teachers, Mr Warne (who taught photography). All other subjects seemed to vanish as he would spend endless hours in the darkroom, headphones on listening to jazz and soul, whilst mastering the developing techniques.

On talking photographic skills, I ask Carl a question that’s been on my mind for a while so I put to him how people react when he decides to take pictures of them in the street. He says that this is best done with his camera phone which becomes less intrusive and that, to date, he has not been tackled by anyone yet, but “hey, you never know…” (he chuckles).

This leads me to discuss with him what his favourite camera is and why. This, he replies without hesitation and says that his Canon is his “work horse” in both film and digital versions. The film camera dates back to the 1980s when he first discovers photography and music, listening to artists like Wilton Felder and Grover Washington Jr. A few years later, Carl picked up a copy of Miles Davis’s “Around Midnight” and that was the start of a beautiful relationship, the one with jazz music.

Having worked so far for 4 years as the photographer at the epic Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, I want to ask Carl a tricky question and in particular on how he has managed (or not) to tackle “difficult” musicians to date. He replies in a very chilled manner and tells me he has not had a tricky “customer” so far, but everyone is different and, if he has learnt something, then that is that sometimes a mere look can tell all…

Gregory Porter – Photo © Carl Hyde

In such a competitive visual world, I want to hear from Carl how photographing jazz and its artists is seen by him, from behind his camera lens. This, I realize, is not an easy question for him, as he looks and ponders. Is it mainly a black and white or a colour picture he sees?
He explains he now sees that world in tones, different tonalities applying to different situations. It is never an easy, straight-forward task as he tends to “slip into a zone” and does not talk to anyone to be able to grasp the spirit of the performance. He continues saying “it is never a plain, simple shot. Light and shade: it’s all a balancing act”.

A question de rigueur at this point of the interview is to ask whom his jazz idols are. Carl’s face turns to a very serious expression. His idols are far too many so, he asks, where to start?? From John Coltrane to Miles Davis to Lee Morgan to Steve Williamson or contemporaries like Erza Collective, Binker & Moses, Blue Lab Beats or some incredibly talented “cats” like Leo Richardson, Freddie Gavita and Mark Kavuma to name but a few. The list, Carl says, is too long.

Looking around at the pictures adorning his studio walls, I notice some striking landscape photos which leads me to ask Carl how a professional like him deals with relaxation and what, in reality, is the hardest part of his job. He delivers a truthful answer: the hours can be the hardest part as well as the lack of sleep, but then “dropping the needle onto a great vinyl together with a glass of wine (preferably Italian)” or a “bracing seascape” would make him feel human again.

Words: Erminia Yardley | Photos © Carl Hyde | Featured Image © Erminia Yardley