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Hank O’Neal, Author/Producer
His mother, Sarah Christian O’Neal was a musically and intellectually inclined housewife from Tyler, Texas. His father was a professional soldier and educator in the US Army in Texas and the Pacific (1929-1947) and, following World War II, an educator and public school superintendent in upstate New York (1953-72). O’Neal was raised throughout Texas, primarily, and Syracuse, NY. After first attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he graduated from Syracuse University in 1962.
In 1960 O’Neal was introduced to a representative of the CIA and ultimately accepted employment with that organization. He reported for duty in January 1963 and remained with the CIA in Washington D.C. and New York City until 1976. He served in the US Army during the same period (1962-1967), rising to the rank of Captain. The nature of his employment allowed him the flexibility of pursuing other interests during these years.
During a forty year career in music, he formed two record companies, Chiaroscuro Records and Hammond Music Enterprises, built two recordings studios (WARP and Downtown Sound), produced over 200 jazz LPs/CDs and - in conjunction with his business partner, Shelley M. Shier and their production company, HOSS, Inc. - over 100 music festivals (The Floating Jazz Festival, The Blues Cruise, Mardi Gras At Sea, Big Bands At Sea and others from 1983-2002), published a number of books and articles on jazz, photographed most of the giants of jazz from the second half of the 20th Century, exhibited these photographs regularly and served on the boards of various non-profit organizations that serve the jazz community, including the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program of The New School (1985 to present), the Jazz Foundation of America (1993 to present) and more recently The Jazz Gallery (1995 to present).
As a photographer, O’Neal didn’t begin to pursue photography seriously until 1969 when he acquired a professional camera and began documenting recording sessions and jazz concerts he was producing. Long before Berenice Abbott admonished him to always have a project, he undertook his first, in rural East Texas during the years 1970-1973. These photographs led to his first exhibition in September 1973, at The Open Mind Gallery in New York City.
In the 1970s he became friendly and associated with a diverse group of photographers, notably Walker Evans, André Kertész and, most importantly, Berenice Abbott, with whom he worked for the last 19 years of her life.
Between the years 1970 and 1999, in addition to undertaking many photographic projects, O’Neal also published numerous books related to photography. In 1999, at the urging of Evelyn Daitz, the gallery director, he had a major retrospective of his work to that point at The Witkin Gallery. The focus of his activities have been more directed towards photography since then. He has had many exhibitions since that time. In 2003 his photographic career was summarized in a major profile in the New York Times.
Listen to Audio from this event here: