Carl Bull – we interview the Derby street photographer

Born and raised in Chaddesden photographer Carl Bull describes his style as street portraiture – no longer taking candid images but starting conversation with the people he finds in Britain’s forgotten towns. Currently exhibiting at Gallery 5 in the Market Hall he told Storge editor Sarah Lay more about his art and approach.

Zac by Carl BullWhen did you start in photography and how would you describe your style?

I can’t remember a specific year but I’ve always had a camera and enjoyed taking photos. But I think I can pinpoint the start of photographing people back to a trip to San Francisco in 2003 where the range of interesting things happening and people to photograph blew my mind.

I’d say my style used to be called ‘Street Photography’ but I’ve moved more into Street Portraits. I became uncomfortable with taking someone’s portrait candidly without knowing anything about them and them not knowing why I’d taken their photo.

Your Dubrek and current exhibition at Gallery 5 are portraiture – how do
you find your subjects? 

Generally I just decide on an area, my favourite being provincial towns where there has been a death of an industry and nothing has moved in to replace it. The towns slowly being ignored. There are so many places that are not invested in by business or our government.

So after deciding on a place I just hit the streets, walk around and see who I see that interests me and I just get talking.

Is there a story you are trying to tell through your images?

The only thing I’m trying to show is that everybody has a good side, no matter what walk of life, rich or poor we are all just struggling through life to make the best we can out of the cards we have. People are generally good and decent folk if you just give them the chance to be.

Do you have a favourite photograph that you’ve taken? 

That’s difficult. I can like a photo because it’s technically a good photo but what makes them stand out is the interaction I had with the person. I have a photo of a homeless father and son and two weeks after the son died on the streets. They told me at the time that I took the only existing photo of the two of them, so that one is special.

But as for favourites I’ll give you two. One of Zac who was the first proper street portrait I took (he’d been attacked recently by someone with a mallet), and another one was the first conceptual photo I took of someone who was starting to get into drag, who would go on to become a good friend.

Photograph by Carl Bull

Are there other photographers you are influenced by? 

Yes, so many. I have an interest in War photography. They capture the absolute worst and the best of humanity all at once….whilst being shot at. It inspires me. I’m quite shy actually so I think if they can compose brilliant photos whilst being shot at then I can strike up a conversation with a stranger and ask for their photo.

Is there a supportive network locally for photographic art?

Mostly I network with people on Instagram, there are so many brilliant photographers who inspire me on there who ive become friends with.

As for a local network, I’ve been quite reclusive so I dont actually know. But I’m keen to get out there this year and find out about our local scene.

What are your next plans following the Gallery 5 exhibition?

After the exhibition ive got a portrait being included in an upcoming book called Invisible Britain. Then I’m going to start a project documenting women I know who are doing brilliant things. I know so many talented women who come from Derby and are badasses in their chosen fields. So yeah, generally more project and story work.

I’ve also spoken to Gallery 5 about working with them again as its such a brilliant and positive space run by good people.


Carl Bull‘s current exhibition is on display at Gallery 5, Guildhall, Derby until 1 March 2018.

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