Don Hunstein has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He shot hundreds of record covers and documented the recording sessions of many of the 20th Century’s most important musicians. He is a great photographer, equally skilled in large or small format, in black & white or colour. Rockarchive is honored to have him as a member of our collective.
Born and raised in St. Louis, MO and 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, and assigned a desk job. His parents had given him a modest camera so he could send pictures of London and the Cotswold village’s 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.
Having the M3 in his hands inspired him to get serious about taking pictures and while on a 3-day pass to Paris, he saw in a shop a book of black and white candid “street” photographs by Cartier-Bresson, which added to that inspiration.
In May of 1954 Don returned to the States, first to St. Louis and then to NYC to join a friend who had a job in advertising there. Don’s portfolio of pictures taken in London failed to impress the local photographers. However, he was offered an apprenticeship in a commercial studio, where Don learned to master large format cameras and the use of lighting. A known photographer, who had a studio within the Carnegie Hall building, hired Don as an assistant. Don helped him run his studio and went on location with him. One shoot in particular sticks in Don’s mind: shooting the dress rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It was to be in music photography that Don was to find his niche.
Within a few years Don was ready, at least technically, to have his own career as a photographer. A woman called Deborah Ishlon, who ran the publicity department for Columbia Records, became his mentor. The record business was expanding rapidly at the time and with only two assistants, Ishlon needed someone to help her run the picture library and supply prints to the press. She offered the job to Don. Little by little Don also became the main photographer for the company. As he became comfortable facing the famous names in the music world, putting both them and the new comers at ease in his presence, he developed the ability to see into the character of his subjects and reflect what he saw in the photos he took. In a distinguished career that spans more than thirty years, Don took pictures of musicians – classical, Jazz, folk and then rock - in concert, at recording sessions, on the road, and in the studio, where he produced portraits for the PR department.