The Late Photographer Don Hunstein Captured a Golden Age of Music
It’s arguably one of the most iconic album covers of all time, certainly in the folk and pop world: a young Bob Dylan, on the cusp of stardom, walks down a muddy street in Greenwich Village in New York, hands in pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold, as his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, clings to his left arm.
This image, from the 1963 record “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” came from a session that longtime Columbia Records cinematographer Don Hunstein had arranged with Dylan at the singer’s apartment next door, capturing the rising folk star as he played his acoustic guitar, slumped in a battered chair, and at one point tried to smoke and sing at the same time – another memorable hit.
These are just two of hundreds of impressive images that are now curated on a website dedicated to Hunstein’s work, a site set up by Hunstein’s daughter, Tina Cornell, who lives in Florence with her family, and cdeVision, a Holyoke web studio specializing in advertising. , web design and more.
In addition to taking many photos of Dylan early in his career, Hunstein, who died in 2017, photographed a wide range of Columbia roster stars from the late 1950s through the 1980s: Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Barbara Streisand. , Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Billy Joel.
The photographer has also photographed hundreds of album covers, including Loretta Lynn’s memorable “Coal Miner’s Daughter” from 1970, as well as the records of classical musicians including pianist Glenn Gould.
Hunstein, born in 1928 in Missouri, grew up in St. Louis but moved to New York in the 1950s. He made his mark as a documentary photographer – his adopted home was a favorite subject – whose understated style, Cornell says, helped put his subjects at ease.
As one of his obituaries noted, “Don had the ability to listen with his camera. Instinctively, he understood that capturing the best moments of artists required patience, confidence and humility.
Now Cornell and her mother, DeeAnne Hunstein, who also helped develop the website, hope to draw more attention to Hunstein’s work, in turn highlighting a time when photography became an important tool for documenting the cultural history of music.
“My dad was humble to a fault, just very self-effacing,” Cornell said in a recent phone call. “He didn’t act like a fan [of musicians] or presenting himself as if he were some kind of big shot… He saw it as a job and he always said he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
“And yet he created all these great images,” she noted. “People loved him – they felt comfortable with him, he was good at cracking a joke, and that’s why he was able to do what he did.”
Case in point: Cornell says Johnny Cash could sometimes be testy with reporters and photographers, but his father and the country singer hit it off, with Cash inviting Hunstein to visit him at his Texas ranch in the late 1950s.
Although Hunstein mostly shot black-and-white photos, his website features some particularly atmospheric images of Cash in color. In one, dressed in a plaid shirt and straw hat, he leans against a worn wooden fence rail and gazes sullenly into the distance. In another, the singer, this time dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, sits with his guitar on a huge pile of wood, his guitar case open nearby revealing a bright purple interior.
“I love this mix of colors!” said Cornell.
And then there is the quasi-silhouette of the great jazzman Thelonious Monk, leaning over a piano, a cigarette in his mouth (there was a lot of smoking in the Columbia studios at that time). And Cornell says one of her father’s favorite photos was an image he took of Duke Ellington, her “all-time hero”, as she puts it.
“My dad used to say he was really lucky to have this job, because he was a huge music fan himself,” she said.
Bill Alatalo, cdeVision’s co-partner with Antonio Costa, says the company actually first designed a website for Hunstein’s work perhaps a dozen years ago after Cornell approached them about the first time. It was a simpler affair, with far fewer images, Alatalo notes, in part because Cornell and his mother were busy at the time trying to help Hunstein, who battled Alzheimer’s disease for about a decade before his death.
Then Cornell got back in touch about a year ago, Alatalo said, and asked if cdeVision could develop a new site. “The old one kind of got lost in the shuffle, and by this point Tina had a lot more photos to work with,” he said. “Antonio and I were amazed – we were like, ‘Don Hunstein did all this?!’ ”
As a music lover and record collector himself, Alatalo says the Hunstein website “has just been a cool project to work on, to really play around and give people a better sense of what he’s been up to. The website also fits in with other music-related work cdeVision has done in recent years, Alatalo said, such as designing a new site for the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield.
For Cornell, who was born in 1968, her father’s website is a deeply personal project. She was inspired by her work as she got older, she says, and herself studied photography as well as drawing and painting. She arrived in the Valley about twenty years ago with a former partner, and the couple then planned to create a pottery workshop. Today she works as a jeweler and goldsmith and is also involved with a local chapter of an environmental group, Mothers Out Front.
She remembers going as a child to her father’s studio at Columbia Records, then located in a building on 52nd Street near 5th Avenue in Manhattan, and “playing with props” while her father arranged shots of various artists.
“It wasn’t until I got older that I really realized the full extent of his work,” she said.
Cornell and his mother also created the new website to protect the provenance of Hunstein’s work. Some of her photos now appear online, such as on people’s Instagram sites, and go uncredited, she noted, and she had to ask people to delete the photos.
Additionally, Sony Corp. bought Columbia Records (and Columbia Pictures) in the late 1980s, acquiring all of Hunstein’s work for the label, and Cornell and his mother have since worked with Sony to gain access to many of these images.
Ultimately, Cornell says, the website is designed to familiarize people with his father’s work and his time as a photographer. He never used computers or digital photography, she notes, instead working with contact sheets in his darkroom, giving his photos a distinctive style and pedigree that she thinks deserves to be. commemorated.
More are added to the website regularly, she says, and the site also contains many images her father took of Puerto Rican communities in New York in the early 1960s as part of a book project for a English editor.
“My dad was just a big part of my life,” she said. “It’s my way of honoring that.”
More of Don Hunstein’s work can be seen at donhunstein.com.
Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.