Don Hunstein was born and raised in St. Louis and went to his home town school, Washington University, where he received his degree in June 1950, but his life really began when he joined the US Air Force to avoid being drafted into the army and sent to Korea. Shortly afterwards he was posted to a WW II RAF base at Fairford, near Oxford, one of four RAF airfields in SE England being re-built by GI’s for the “Cold War.” Britain and Europe were in recovery from a war lasting more than 5 years. London and other major cities in Europe were bombsites and rationing was still a way of life. Don was not a pilot, but because of his typing skills was given a desk job in the squadron office, keeping records and writing up daily events. He says it was a cushy job with lots of perks. The Yankee dollar was all-powerful in those days and the colonel in charge was easy going. Don went on weekend trips to places like Athens, Copenhagen and Madrid with DC3 pilots keeping up their flying skills. 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. After a year or so Don was transferred to South Ruislip on the outskirts of London. A friend had digs in Notting Hill Gate. With easy access to Central London, Don had an opportunity to improve his hobby of photography and learn about art and the culture of Europe. He joined a camera club near Oxford Street where he learned b & w printing techniques. He took an evening course at London’s Central School of Art and Design in typography with Edward Wright. Moving now in a wider circle of influence than the army, Don’s artistic vision was forming. 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. 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.
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