When I took those pictures of Dizzy, we were both in Cab's band
Acclaim for Milt Hinton's musicianship as a bass player has been sounding for half a century, including his 15 years in Cab Calloway's band, with extra tributes this summer during the celebration of his 75th birthday. Less known are his more than 25,000 photographs, on which a book is being prepared with David G. Berger (Temple University Press). Selections can be seen in a one-man show at New York's Parsons School of Design in December, which follows a number of solo exhibitions else where. Mr. Hinton also participated in the traveling exhibition ``A Century of Black Photographers: 1840-1960,'' organized by the Rhode Island School of Design. We asked him for a few words to accompany a few of his rare pictures. Iremember seeing photographs around the house even when we lived in Vicksburg, Miss. They were pictures of people in our family and some of them were tintypes.
Sometime after we moved to Chicago my mother started a scrapbook. She put whatever photographs we had in it and added new things whenever she could. We had one of those Kodaks with the big bellows, but I'm really not sure who took the pictures. I know it wasn't my uncles, so I guess it must've been Aunt Pearl and Aunt Sissy.
I think my mother was really the one who wanted to keep a record of the family's activities with the church choir. Places where they'd sing, the program, that sort of thing.
Naturally, after I started playing music professionally, my mother got very regular about collecting all kinds of photographic materials and putting them in her album. I'd bring her publicity shots of the different bands I worked with around Chicago and she'd go through the newspapers and save anything that mentioned me.
I got my first camera in 1935 when I was 25. It was an Argus C-3, 35 mm, and as I recall it was a birthday present. Just as soon as I had it unwrapped, I put film in and started taking pictures of everyone and everything.
I had the Argus with me when I started on the road with Cab Calloway, but I was never much for taking formal posed pictures. Everybody was shooting the band on stage in uniform, and if you went to a professional photographer for your own publicity shot, he'd ask you to smile and put your horn up in the air. I've never wanted to get those kinds of shots, because I've never seen musicians that way.
Over the years people asked me why I took pictures of certain people or why I took a particular photograph. To be very honest, I could never give really good answers. When I took those early pictures of Dizzy Gillespie, we were both in Cab's band. I never suspected he would turn out to be one of the giants. The same for Chu Berry, Tyree Glenn, and Cozy Cole. These guys were my friends and I wanted pictures of them so we could all look back one day and remember the times we'd shared when we were younger . In fact, over the years there were very few people I wanted pictures of because of their fame. I was in awe of Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson, and I remember feeling very satisfied when I finally got to meet both of them and take their pictures.
When I shot a ``Colored Entrance'' sign at the train station in Atlanta or a ``Colored Motel'' or the ``For Colored Only'' restaurant signs, it was really meant to be a joke. I wasn't trying to prove anything. We all lived in the North, and I guess the only way we could deal with this kind of stupidity was to clown about it.
By the time I started doing free-lance studio work on a regular basis, I had a couple of cameras with me all the time. The record companies would have professional photographers come in and shoot at a session, but they usually kept a close watch on the kinds of things they'd allow them to do. They'd let them in at the beginning or the end of the date or on one or two of the five-minute breaks. Sometimes they'd send in a makeup guy to fix up the artist, and a lot of the time they'd spend an hour or so se tting up a shot to make it look candid.
Of course, as a musician hired to play the date I could get pictures just about whenever and wherever I wanted. In all those years, I don't think anyone ever stopped me.
In later years, whenever I got enough time I'd develop the rolls of film I'd just finished and then make contact prints. I'd usually blow up a few shots of some of the studio guys and give them copies the next time we worked together. After a while my snapshots got to be known around the studios, but there was a lot of joking about my printing. It seemed that whenever I made pictures of my white friends I always seemed to print them looking very dark. Eventually guys would ask me about it and I'd always
answer the same way: ``I can't help it, that's just the way I see everybody.''
Whenever I want a picture of a special thing or a particular person, I'll try to shoot it in some kind of context that has a special meaning for me. For example, when I was in Springfield, Ill., with Cab, I had to have a shot of the Lincoln monument. But instead of taking a bare picture of the statue, I got five or six from different angles, with Danny Barker standing out in front of it. I tried to do the same thing when I traveled to the Middle East. I wanted pictures of the fabulous places we visited,
but I thought they'd be more interesting if Pearl Bailey or Louis Bellson were standing in the foreground.