Don Hunstein, Who Photographed Great Musicians, Dies at 88
By RICHARD SANDOMIRMARCH 24, 2017
Don Hunstein in an undated photograph.
On a freezing February afternoon in 1963, the photographer Don Hunstein asked Bob Dylan and his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, to walk along a slush-covered Jones Street in Greenwich Village, near Mr. Dylan’s small apartment. Mr. Dylan, in a thin jacket, and Ms. Rotolo, bundled in a coat over bulky sweaters, strolled arm in arm past cars and trucks and into music history.
One of the pictures that Mr. Hunstein took that day became the cover of Mr. Dylan’s second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” It is the most recognizable image in the archive of musical giants that Mr. Hunstein shot as a staff photographer for Columbia Records from the late 1950s to 1986, when the label shut down its in-house photo studio.
Mr. Hunstein had already photographed Mr. Dylan and Ms. Rotolo inside the apartment, but was not yet satisfied. “I said I wanted to get some outside stuff, and I looked out the window and saw it was getting darker and darker,” he told Rockarchive, a collective of rock music photographers, in 2007. Once downstairs, he told them to walk up and down the street.
“There wasn’t very much thought to it,” he said in 1997 about his instructions to Mr. Dylan and Ms. Rotolo.
With the sunlight fading, he ended the session after shooting only one roll of color film and a few black-and-white pictures. It was enough.
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Mr. Hunstein, whose work with Columbia’s stars was far better known than he was, died on March 18 in Manhattan at 88. His wife, Dee Anne Hunstein, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.
The Photographs of Don Hunstein
Understatement was typical of Mr. Hunstein (pronounced hun-STYNE). He did not brag about days spent working with Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Leonard Bernstein, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin, in the studio or at their performances.
“There was nothing metaphysical about what I did,” he said in “Keeping Time: The Photographs of Don Hunstein” (2013), a career retrospective written by Jon Pareles, the chief pop music critic of The New York Times. “I’d just like to think that I had a good eye for detail, that I captured the moment at hand. But mostly, I just did my job.”
That job meant being unobtrusive as he sat in on Davis’s sessions for “Kind of Blue” or Holiday’s for “Lady in Satin” at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in Manhattan. He was there when the gang members from the Broadway musical “West Side Story” crammed around a single microphone to record the cast album; when Ellington took a break to chat with Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Strayhorn; when Mr. Bennett consulted with Mitch Miller, the powerful head of artists and repertoire for Columbia’s pop division; and when Mr. Dylan rehearsed before a house full of empty seats in Carnegie Hall.
“Glenn Gould wouldn’t let anyone else take his picture,” Ms. Hunstein said in an interview.
Mr. Hunstein’s photograph of Gould, in profile and silhouette, was on the cover of his album “Bach.” For Davis’s album “Nefertiti,” Mr. Hunstein’s cover showed him in an intense close-up. And for the cover of “The Bernstein Songbook,” he photographed Bernstein at the piano in a state of near rapture.
Jill Furmanovsky, the rock photographer who founded Rockarchive, wrote in an email that Mr. Hunstein had made the most of the abundant talent roster that walked through the studio’s doors. He shot equally well in color and black-and-white, she said, and handled other tasks — like dealing with difficult characters and having a feel for musicians — adeptly.
“He was a great music photographer,” she wrote.
Donald Robert Hunstein was born in St. Louis on Nov. 19, 1928. His father, Elmer, was a railroad worker. His mother, the former Florence Schaefer, was a homemaker.
He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree in English and started his path toward photography only after he had bought a Leica while he was stationed in England with the Air Force. Inspired by the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he joined a camera club and attended classes at the Central School of Art and Design in London.
The cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” shot by Don Hunstein. Columbia
Back in the United States, he found work as an apprentice to the photographer Eugene Cook before he was hired in 1956 to help organize the photo library at Columbia Records and deal with media requests for prints. Given opportunities to show his photographic skills, he was made a staff photographer and eventually became the label’s director of photography.
While at Columbia he also worked on other projects, including a book of photographs about New York City, published in 1962, that included a shot of Times Square that Mr. Dylan used on the original cover of his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One” (2005).
He also spent two years helping to make a 26-minute film about the mostly black and Puerto Rican workers of Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Employees Union; it was finished in 1967 and shown to other unions and schools. Ossie Davis, the actor and civil rights activist, called the film “one of the most important things I have seen on the screen in a long time.”
Mr. Hunstein’s presence at Columbia gave him entree to young artists at the brink of stardom. In 1959, a teenage Ms. Franklin projected youthful innocence as she looked into Mr. Hunstein’s camera at the Columbia studio, but her posture suggested enormous confidence.
In addition to his wife, the former Dee Anne Schroeder, Mr. Hunstein is survived by a son, Peter; a daughter, Tina Cornell; and three grandchildren.
His work at Columbia was included in an exhibition, “Who Shot Rock & Roll,” which opened at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009 and went on tour.
“Don was unique because he shot every kind of music,” Gail Buckland, who curated the show, said in an interview. “Most photographers specialize in jazz or rock or classical, but he was across the board. If it was music, he was the go-to guy.”