Interview for "Locus Literario" about my career and my book "Estelas de Jazz"


I'm very pleased to present you this nice interview I've gave to Marilu Antunez for "Locus Literario" on 2010. It was originally published on spanish and I will publish soon the spanish version.

You can read the interview directly here .. there are some photographs  .. some unshowed on my blog

Hope you will enjoy it and if you have any further questions don't hesitate to contact me directly


Juan Carlos Hernández is already preceded by his fame which is more than attributable to his talent. This is more than evident in the photographic world despite his recent incursion.

« Aaaah, Juan Carlos Hernandez!
Cleverly neglected beard, angelic smile, smooth talk…Those who are regulars at the Sud des Alpes know well his Latin charming silhouette.  Juan Carlos has become the blue note’s « eye » by passion and the Genève photographer has met and immortalized all the great - well not all of them, but the list is getting longer day by day-of contemporary jazz.  Ornette Coleman opened his New York apartment door for a portrait session which Juan Carlos remembers with emotion.  Sonny Rollins, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas and many others live as well a second life thanks to the photographer’s lens.  When Juan Carlos perfectly masters the science of framing and light, he has a hell of a good ear nonetheless! » 

Luca Sabbatini – Tribune de Genève, November 2nd, 2007. 

Regular photographer for : All About Jazz, Jazz Colours, and Tomajazz.
With special collaborations in: JazzMan, Jazz Magazine, Drummer Magazine, Jazzwise, Viva la Música, Telerama, Improjazz, Coda, Time Out, and New York Times.

Juan Carlos objects when I try to emphasize his work in the world of jazz: 

“You talk to me about jazz photography but I’d just talk about photography itself, in its whole. I’m a photographer. Being a « jazz photographer » is too restraining for me, even if jazz is the core of my interests.”

But, let’s start from the beginning and do a little memory… When and where were you born? 

I was born on January 29th of 1971 in Genève, Switzerland, from Spanish parents.

Your roots are a one of a kind combination that might have an effect in your temper and way to perceive life. So, tell me:
What do you feel more familiar with? I mean, do you feel more familiar with your Spanish roots or your Swiss ones? 

I feel more familiar with my Spanish roots. I’ve got an outgoing and talkative personality which is very unusual in Switzerland, especially in Genève, Calvino’s city. People from Genève usually have a more stern personality.
I think that what I inherited from my Swiss roots is the responsibility with which I carry myself out and my sense of duty.

Which were your childhood dreams? 

I wanted to be a teacher! By the way, I was a great student until I was 12, but then… 

And regarding your studies, did you study anything related to Graphic Arts? How is it that you discovered the magic of photography? 

I’m completely self-taught!  I like to study by myself without being told what’s good or what’s not. I let my hunch lead.
At age 10  I used to practice photography with my friend Martin. He would have all the equipment we needed: A reflex camera and the material needed for photography. We would have lots of fun! Speaking of those times, I still have some photos which aren’t that bad at all, really. 

But, when I was 12 he changed schools and we lost touch. And so I lost touch with photography as well. Then, when I was 18, I became a jazz lover and started buying several magazines full of fantastic pictures of the masters of jazz photography like Herman Leonard or Guy Le Querrec, among others. I always enjoyed carefully staring at jazz images. 

At age 33, I had an emotional mishap which unexpectedly led me back into the world of photography. She was an amateur photographer (which I wasn’t, by the way), and we ended up buying one of the first Canon digital cameras, an EOS 300D.

Upon breaking up, I was left with the camera. And after a month of semi-depression, I went back to life again by taking the camera and going out to take pictures to a concert at a jazz club called Sud des Alpes, AMR of Genève, where I was a regular.

Before I forget, that time I took lousy photos but about a week later, in a better mood already, I went back to another concert and spontaneously took a really, but I mean, really great one. 

That encouraged me a lot. Indeed, it inoculated the virus of photography in me and also the will to carry on with my life. Four years later, I was already a semi-professional photographer, and two years later (in 2009), I became a pro.

Do you remember the first photo you took in the world of jazz? 

It was on the 28th of February of 2004 and I managed to portrait all Stefano Saccon, Guillaume Perret, and Cyril Regamey together in the same photo. Not only are they truly talented musicians, but also my friends now. 

And what comments did you get for such picture(s)? 

They didn’t say a thing because there was truly nothing more to say! I must say that those were really lame photos, in fact.

Did you trust your artistic talent would open the doors to the great jazz musicians for you? 

Well, not really. But everything came up naturally, little by little without even noticing. I never meant or schemed to make a career in photography.

Was there anyone (perhaps a friend o relative) who supported you in the decision of going the way of jazz photography? 

Yes, that was Christian Gauffre. He was the Assistant Manager of the French magazine «Jazz Magazine» as well as the Manager of its website.
Three months after my debut, I showed him some prints to hear his professional opinion and with no hesitation he offered to display those in a gallery called «Jazz in Switzerland» in his website!

His opinion about my work gave me a lot of confidence, considering the fact that Christian was in charge of the prestigious photography magazine called «Photo» at some stage in his career as a journalist.
I also had the support of José Francisco « Pachi » Tapiz, who is in charge of the outstanding Spanish webzine «Tomajazz». He always had faith in me.
I cannot forget about Ernie Odoom, a Scotch saxophone player established in Genève, who firmly encouraged me to become a semi-professional photographer.

I must also mention my friend Ramón López who is a drum player in the Trio of Joaquim Kuhn, among others. I remember that in December of 2008 he encouraged me to be a professional photographer by telling me:
« Art is risking ».   So, I risked and I don’t regret it at all!

I was also supported by my friends Nadia and Marie, who always had faith in me to carry on in the world of photography.

Do you look up to any artist of the lens, from whom you got any “tips” or influence in your work? 

Two names:  The master, Herman Leonard, « The Eye of Jazz » who inspires me very much and Sebastian Salgado, who in my opinion is the « humanist photographer by excellence ».Then, there are other photographers whom I admire, such as:  Roy de Carava, W. Eugene Smith, Willi Ronis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Francis Wolff, Giuseppe Pino, and many others…

Is photography talent, practice, technique, intuition? What is it? 

It’s definitely all four of them, but in my opinion it is far more important to have the intuition first and then the talent. Along with practice comes technique itself.
My advice for those who are just diving into the world of photography is always the same: 

« Take pictures, take pictures, and take pictures »

Now let’s go to a special point of your life, to a period full of magic where you could see your dreams come true, and I’m talking about the trip you took to America, particularly to United States.
How did you come up with such a trip? 

I went to New-York in January 2007. And it was very easy to decide my fate because New York is the Mecca of jazz and I JUST HAD TO GO.
I rented an apartment to an Argentine photographer friend and stayed there for five weeks, living like a local photographer and going from club to club, night after night...
I attended up to 4 concerts a day!  It was a fantastic and memorable time.

Did you go on an adventure or did you have work recommendations? 

I went on a full adventure!

Let’s continue talking about this magical period. How is it that you are able to get in touch with Ornette Coleman and then have the portrait session in her New York apartment? 

Before leaving to New York, I had sympathized with a saxophonist who has a MySpace page, called Soon Kim. I had really enjoyed his music, and I had told him that he somewhat reminded me of Ornette Coleman’s music.
When he knew I was going to go to New York, he invited me to photograph him while in a rehearsal. I accepted of course!  In this photo shoot one of his friends, a Japanese movie star called Yakuzas, was visiting. At some point during the portrait session, he told me he was fed up with his promotional photos which were too careful and asked me to take spontaneous real pictures of him in New York.  Thus, the three of us planned a full day of photographs throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. I remember that day I was taking pictures like crazy.

Two days later I sent them both the pictures by e-mail, and we arranged to see each other the next day to react to them. The day of the appointment, the two artists were more than happy with my photographic work.
So great was the enthusiasm prevailing that Soon Kim told me he was sort of like «the spiritual son of Ornette Coleman» and gave me his home phone, advising me to say I was calling on his behalf... Which I did the next day, very anxiously by the way …

What happened next is really weird because a stranger like me, who uttered in very poor English and also asked to talk to Ornette Coleman, was simply surreal.
Ornette answered the phone and was really nice to me. He invited me to carry a portrait session at her New York apartment the next day. He even asked me for lunch! That of course took some time away from us, because by the time his manager arrived, we only had 20 minutes left for his photo shoot.
At that moment I became a machine, and began to lead Ornette Coleman during his portrait session ... now that I think about it, I still cannot believe it.
Ornette liked his photos so much that he used them to promote his Pullitzer Prize in 2007, besides using a very special one on the main page of his website, until he changed it in 2009.

Speaking about one of my idols, by this I mean Sonny Rollins… How is it that you ended up making the back of one of his DVDs plus a calendar with his pictures?

Indeed, I made the back for a DVD of his. And, the calendar I made came up in a really simple way since he came to play in Genève, Switzerland in May 2006.  I covered the concert by Sonny and I took many pictures, which I later on sent to his manager. They purchased several photos they liked a lot, and 2 years later I got in touch with them to make a calendar with the photographic material I already had.  Sonny agreed to it, personally chose the pictures and we put it together.

By the way, at the Sonny Rollins concert in Genève, we barely crossed a few words when he left his dressing room. I’ve always thought it is better not to be in the way of musicians before a concert, because they’ve got to concentrate to be able to give the best of them.  

In records, the most prestigious covers I've done have been for: Dave Douglas and Phil Collins.

Tell us about Steve Coleman, how did you get to him? 

The same as with Sonny Rollins happened… I took some pictures of him during a concert in New York City and then sent them to him. He really liked them and purchased some for his promotional tour right then.
I didn’t really have a close relationship with him like I’ve had with lots of other musicians, though. The truth is I’m not one of those photographers with a fan attitude. I’m not used to going after them. I tend to be very discreet. It may be a personal flaw to neglect the relational aspect with such musicians, but I feel good being this way. 

There have been so many famous musicians photographed by you that I’ll only mention some and you can tell me what you remember about them in a few words: 

Phil Collins:   He is nice and easygoing. I met him during a special gala of a prestigious Genève school which celebrated its centenary.
Phil lives near Genève and his son is studying in that school.  His concert was solemn and very professional with musicians in addition to sound and light engineers from all over the world.
My photographs were printed in the unofficial and not marketable (except for the copies «piracy» has been selling) commemorative album.

Dave Douglas:   It was a huge honor to be able to make the cover for his new record. The disc is called "Moonshine" and I must say it’s really good! 

Sonny Rollins:   Though I was a bit tired in the beginning of his concert in Genève, it grew and turned out a colossus. An awesome 3-hour concert!
Steve Coleman:   I went to cover his concert in New York which started just an hour after my plane had landed. I felt really exhausted but… his music was so fantastic that I even forgot about my tiredness!
Cassandra Wilson:   I didn’t quite like her concert. She seemed very tired on stage. I guess it was because of those huge tours usually arranged, so she didn’t give her best.

Ron Carter:   A gentleman… I still remember that when I shook his hand I promised him not to wash my hands in days. He laughed out loud with my comment! His concert… A jewel!

Ornette Coleman: A music genius, a very humble and easygoing person.
Pete la Roca Sims: A close friend. I’m really happy about having been there since the beginning of his summer tour in France in 2008.  I went to Paris especially to see him and support him.

Antonio Perujo:   A fantastic flamenco dancer. What a show did he give on stage! He is a pro… A few days before, his father who was also his manager had died.  He gave everything on stage, pure breed!
Lucio Dalla:   I just love his records! And, I wasn’t disappointed by his concert at all. He’s a human being with whom I would love to have a closer relationship.
Dee Dee Bridgewater: An astonishing show in every sense is what this woman brings on stage.

John Abercrombie:   I saw him in a very small club in New York, it was almost a concert among a friends. How lucky I was to hear it! He’s a jazz genius.
Otomo Yoshihide: A genius of jazz improvisation; spontaneous, impulsive, and courteous.
Scott Dubois: A fantastic human being, a loyal friend, a sincere musician with an extraordinary talent; he’ll definitely be famous no time from now.

Who else would you like to photograph in the world of jazz? 

Archie Shepp without a doubt! Somehow he’s always escaped my lens. He’s my favorite sax player! What sounds he creates!

And speaking about landscape, objects in general, and daily life photographs, do you enjoy them? If so, would you show us some of your favorite ones? 

Well, to be honest, landscaping isn’t something I’m really passionate about. But the flow of life in general, objects, people… Those DO inspire me a lot!

My blog to take a look at «Life Photographer» besides on stage photography.
Do you prefer artistic freedom or the comfort of a job with safe pay? 

Freedom before all, always! It simply lets you breathe better! 

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be? 

A musician! I have that very clear.

And speaking about your trip to Mexico, tell me… What is it that you remember most? Images perhaps? Exotic weird flavors? Music? 

Wonderful and very hospitable people all the time!  Yet, the trip I took in Chiapas was really weird; everywhere was covered with military checkpoints and strict identity controls. On the brighter side, the fantastic images of the ruins of Palenque at dawn are memorable to me, besides the landscape and the smell of jungle. 

It was a dining experience to eat live insects! On the other hand, “mole” tasted too exotic for my taste ... and I could not pass the gourmet test.
 What's more, I ate Mexican beans every single day. My travel budget didn’t allow for many luxuries.  I would’ve liked to be a professional photographer when I visited your country.

When you don’t have a camera in your hands, what other activities do you like to do? 

I’m a very average person who enjoys being with his significant others. I have a fascination for movies and I don’t know whether I’m a “cinevorous” or a cinephile. I’m interested in what’s going on in the world at large. I like to eat well and also read poetry. 

Now tell us about a surprise which is waiting for you in the next days… and of course I’m talking about the release of your book « Stelae of jazz ».
What is it about? Who is publishing it? Who writes the texts? When is it released?

It is released in late June this year, although some copies are already available as an introduction to the market.

The book is a collaboration I made with the Andalusian writer Belén Carmona who, with her great literary talent, created a series of poetic texts to accompany my 123 portraits of musicians, both recognized and unknown. Hence the name « Stelae of jazz »  (Amazon) rather than « Stars of jazz ». We were interested in tributing music, musicians at large, and musical instruments. And we fully accomplished it! I can’t wait to have the book in my hands!

*A fragment from « Stelae of jazz » (on the book .. the text is in spanish)

Juan Carlos Hernández kindly shares the portrait of Chris Potter and the literary text which accompanies it:

« There are men who lead countless and assorted daily means of transportation. There’s   no one like Chris Potter to show hundreds of fascinating landscapes to others. He is the machine operator of a train made up of wagons loaded with different melodies, hooked together by a score of "tone holes." Jets of life are fired, emanating from each wagon. Hundreds of musical notes arrange waiting their turn to orderly leave or leave in droves, on the driver’s demand. As they abandon the convoy, they form a chain of thick smoke which leaves a fantastic as well as startling beat in the air. When you travel with Potter you learn that there are some trains that should not be let go. »

I’ve contacted Belén Carmona, the writer of the texts in « Stelae of jazz » so she can tell us a little bit about her impressions.
How do you get your hands on a book project about music and musicians?

I would say by chance if I believed such thing exists. Juan Carlos had the project in mind and all of a sudden as if by magic our paths crossed. Without even knowing each other, one day he explained his idea to me and of course, I was captivated by it. We started by experimenting with a portrait, a first image where I got carried away by what inspired me and for which I wrote a text. And it worked out.

Initially we had planned a lower number of pages than what we did in the end, but everything emerged with such spontaneity that it would have been a shame not to get right to the end.

Are you a jazz and scenic photography fan? 

Undoubtedly, the work of Juan Carlos is equipped with a force and a light that not everyone is capable of expressing. The beauty that comes from his photos which are even able to trespass the margins in which they are contained is clearly visible.

In regards to jazz, music has been a constant in my life since I was in a cradle. My grandfather was a musician himself and he did so professionally. He was a trumpeter and he played in an orchestra. He made my childhood pleasant with marvelous notes which stuck in my memory forever and which I still hum. That’s why carrying out a project like this one for me was irremediably connected to a titanic both personal and emotional implication, I’d say. Perhaps the plus of having grown wrapped in a soundtrack splashed with jazz positively influenced this book.

Who came up with the name « Stelae of jazz » (Estelas de Jazz) ? Does it have a special meaning?

The title « Stelae of Jazz » came up one night when I was watching a picture while also listening to the music of the musician portrayed therein. When the notes stopped I turned my computer off and concentrated in the echo that both the portrait and the music had left in me. Then I thought of a « Stele », that trail which musicians leave in their albums, the printed trace left by book authors forever, by painters in their canvas, by sculptors, photographers, and even actors in everything they do. There’s definitely a trace left in any form of artistic expression over time.

How did you and Juan Carlos Hernández get to know each other and to collaborate in such fabulous way? 

We met as a result of new technologies. We both had a page in MySpace and I really liked his portraits, I think they´re extraordinary. I write a blog and he read it. In the light of events I think he must have liked my writing so he came up with the idea of doing something together. We started by exchanging material and that’s how what is now «
Stelae of jazz » was born.

A great rapport was fundamental, he confided his portraits to me and in exchange I confided my writing back. We started working and we spent whole nights stealing hours from our sleep time and making time out of nowhere.  And, there is the outcome. 

Does the inspiration to describe each artist in such a poetical way come from your musical knowledge? 

You don’t know when Muses come, and countless numbers of times you don’t even know where they go. Inspiration is essentially a rapture emerging as a reaction to a given situation, whether it is a day-to-day one or an extraordinary one. It may be triggered by an image, a phrase, or even a gesture. In my case it was obviously triggered by his portraits; sitting, looking at them for a while and letting my fingers fly across the keyboard almost vehemently.

As Picasso once said:

 “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” 

Do you have any other literary work that has been published? 

I’ve performed mainly in press. I’ve worked for different publications in Spain, specifically in Málaga. I’ve written for the magazine “Imagen de Marbella”, for the newspapers “Sol” and “La Tribuna”, for local television as well, and I’ve made translations for some tourism magazines, too. 

To end this interview, I would deeply like to thank Juan Carlos Hernández for this interview, so warm and so human, which portrays the magical world where he moves: the world of scenic photography, as well as his high artistic and human qualities.

And I would also like to thank Belén Carmona, writer of the texts in « Stelae of jazz » for her participation in this interview, sharing some information on the book they’re both marketing nowadays.

I’ve intensely enjoyed talking with you both in this chit chat. I would love to thank you for your willingness to do so and tell you how much I appreciate the precious time we have shared here in Literary Locus.
Make yourselves at home so our readers can ask you some more questions and please feel free to answer them right here!

May « Estelas de Jazz » be a complete success!"

Promotional video for "Estelas de Jazz" with the 123 photographs of the book. On the photos you will find the following jazz musicians (all wonderful .. known or unknown .. doesn't matter)  : 

Ornette Coleman,

Sheila Jordan,

Eduardo Kohan,

Raphael Anker,

Alex Blake,

Andy Milne,

Elisabeth Kontomanou,

Rudresh Mahanthappa,

Michel Bastet,

Evan Parker,

François Moutin,

Scott DuBois,

Martial Solal,

Médéric Collignon,

Stefano Di Battista,

Nasheet Waits,

Nicolas Masson,

Pete La Roca Sims,

Henri Texier,

Skoota Warner,

Sonny Rollins,

Stéphane Fisch,

Susana Raya,

Tom Harrell ,

Stefano Saccon,

Marc Copland,

Thomas Morgan,

Hank Roberts,

Robin McKelle,

Seamus Blake,

Alice Perret,

William Parker,

Giovanni Falzone,

Hilaria Kramer,

Mario Pavone,

Charles Lloyd,

Jean-Paul Bourelly,

Banz Oester,

Béatrice Graf,

Chris Potter,

Dado Moroni,

Co Streiff,

Kenny Wheeler,

Dee Dee Bridgewater ,

Denis Beuret,

Steve Coleman,

Jean-Yves Poupin,

Bud Shank,

Jason Moran,

Eric McPherson,

Kenny Barron,

Flavio Boltro,

Florence Melnotte,

Guillaume Perret,

Insa Rudolph,

James Moody,

Joe Locke,

John Aram,

Pascal Alba,

Ken Vandermark,

Lionel Loueke,

Marc Ducret,

Urs Leimgruber,

Otomo Yoshihide,

Paolo Fresu,

Perry Robinson,

Roy Hargrove,

Peter Brotzmann,

Ramon Lopez,

Roberta Gambarini,

Slide Hampton,

Sunny Murray,

Sylvie Courvoisier,

Tom Rainey,

Tony Malaby ,

Sophie Tassignon,

Julie Campiche,

Yael Miller,

Yuri Honing,

Henry Grimes,

Charlie Mariano,

Marc Perrenoud ,

Gerald Cleaver,

Olivier Gatto,

Camélia Ben Naceur,

Lydia Filipovic,

Enrico Rava,

Tim Berne,

Drew Gress,

Matthieu Michel,

Alexis Cuadrado,

Ralph Alessi,

Michel Portal,

Rosario Bonaccorso,

Jim Black,

Samuel Blaser,

Jacky Terrasson,

Mark Helias,

Mulgrew Miller,

Ohad Talmor,

Tania Maria,

Al Foster,

Moncef Genoud,

Joshua Redman,

Joey Baron,

Richard Bona,

Wayne Escoffery,

Marcos Jimenez,

Peter Van Huffel,

Alain Della Maestra,

Evaristo Perez,

Abraham Burton,

Herbie Hancock,

Bill Frisell,

Bob Stewart,

Michel Wintsch,

Dave Douglas,

Ernie Odoom,

Cyril Moulas,

Martin Wisard,

Patricia Tondreau,

Gabriel Zufferey 

Post a Comment
Don't forget to visit my other blog "Juan Carlos Hernandez - Life Photographer"

Popular Posts