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Don Hunstein Remembered

Bob Dylan, New York 1962 © Don Hunstein

All of us at Rockarchive have been deeply saddened to hear of the death of great photographer and beloved friend, Don Hunstein, after a long illness. Despite his great humility and gentle approach, Don recorded some of the greatest moments in rock and jazz history and his iconic photographs have become symbols of an era.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Don attended Washington University, graduating in 1950 with a degree in English. After college he enlisted in the US Air Force and was stationed in Fairford, England. His parents had given him a modest camera so he could send pictures of London and his Cotswold home to the family. But when that camera was stolen from the barracks he bought a Leica M3 in the PX, from a shop for GI’s on the base, which inspired him to get serious about taking pictures.

In 1954 Don returned to the States, first to St. Louis and then to New York to join a friend who had a job in advertising there. He was offered an apprenticeship in a commercial studio, where Don learned to master large format cameras and the use of lighting. 

Within a few years Don began to develop his own career as a photographer. Deborah Ishlon, who ran the publicity department for Columbia Records, became his mentor. The record business was expanding rapidly at the time and she needed someone to help her run the picture library and supply prints to the press. She offered the job to Don. Thus began a distinguished career at Columbia than lasted more than 30 years and is unsurpassed in its scope and breadth.

In 2007 Jill Furmanovsky spent an afternoon with Don Hunstein at his apartment on Upper West Side New York to ask him about his illustrious career. He recounted stories of working with Miles Davis and Johnny Cash and talked about the day he photographed a young and up-and-coming Bob Dylan on the snowy streets of New York in ’63. “One roll of colour and a few quick black and whites”…resulted in one of Dylan’s most iconic album covers, 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan’. 

This discussion was filmed and we are delighted to be able to share it below.

It was Don's wallflower nature that helped him capture such fantastic images. As Jill Furmanovsky says in their conversation "Talent is authentic and Don was just brilliant at seeing it and catching it in such a modest way".

Jill Furmanovksy with Don Hunstein © Virgilio Ponce 2007

DeeAnne Hunstein, Don's wife agrees. She said of him in an interview with It's Nice That a few years ago “He knew when not to be obtrusive. A lot of people see photographers as being invasive of their space and they don’t want them around, but Don knew how to be very discreet and would never make them feel that they were being pushed in any way. He was always so funny and full of jokes and humour so people just loved having him there. He put them at ease.”

Rockarchive is extremely fortunate to be able to publish some of the best of Don's captivating images. We've chosen a few of our favourites to share

Bob Dylan & Suze Rotolo, New York 1963 © Don Hunstein

This classic image is an alternate take from 'The 'Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' album cover shoot, featuring Bob with Suze Rotolo photographed on Jones Street in New York City in February 1963.

"It was the first time I'd shot him," explains Hunstein. "I asked him to walk away about 50 feet from me, turn around and walk to me. Because it was cold we didn’t take terribly much time, but we were lucky to get what got we got."

Bob Dylan said of Suze "Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen.”

The Freewheelin' was the second studio album by Bob Dylan, released on May 27, 1963 by Columbia Records. Whereas his self-titled debut album Bob Dylan had contained only two original songs, Freewheelin' represented the beginning of Dylan's writing contemporary words to traditional melodies. Eleven of the thirteen songs on the album are Dylan's original compositions. The album opens with "Blowin' in the Wind", which became an anthem of the 1960s.

This limited edition print is available to buy here

Bob Dylan & Suze Rotolo, New York 1963 © Don Hunstein

Another image we love is Johnny Cash at home on his ranch in San Antonio, Texas in 1960. Apparently Johnny always wore black, because he identified with the poor and the down trodden

Don Hunstein recalled, "He always had a fondness for San Antonio. The San Antonio part was the beginning. That was the hope and the optimism and the dreams and stuff." 

This limited edition print is available to buy here

John Coltrane & Miles Davis, New York 1959 © Don Hunstein

Our final choice is John Coltrane with Miles Davis at a recording session for 'Kind of Blue' in the spring of 1959 at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York. 

'Kind of Blue' is regarded by many critics as jazz's greatest record, Davis's masterpiece, and one of the best albums of all time. Its influence on music, including jazz, rock, and classical genres, has led writers to also deem it one of the most influential albums ever recorded.

This limited edition print is available to buy here

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