Hugh C. Bell
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1927 - 2012
Hugh Bell, Hot Jazz Photographer, Dies at 85

Hugh Cecil Bell, career photographer and a New York native of St. Lucian decent, passed away in the wake of storm Sandy in New York on Oct 31.

An 8-year battle with kidney failure and a 2012 diagnosis of leukemia left Mr. Bell frail and unable to overcome the complications of a recent stroke. His survivors, including 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren, announced the death.

Bell studied Cinematic Art at NYU and frequented and photographed the dancehalls of the 50’s, capturing most of the legendary artists of the era’s most radical music form. Artists like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Louis Armstrong. In 1955, Edward Steichen selected Bell’s “Hot Jazz” for ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition. Over 2 million photos were submitted and only 503 were selected. The exhibit showcased work from 273 photographers including Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston and Irving Penn. ‘The Family of Man’ was first shown in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and then toured 38 countries over several years. It is considered to be the most successful photography exhibit ever.

A child of Harlem during the great depression, Bell moved to the Village to pursue his vision and establish the multiple studios carrying his name. A chance encounter with the late documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock sent Bell to Spain, where he was able to capture everyday life in Ibiza of a time and place of serenity and innocence that cannot be regained. During these trips he was also able to capture Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall and matador Luis Miguel Dominguin. Despite objections from clients to work with an African American, Leacock always insisted on the inclusion of the young Hugh Bell. And as an act of loyalty and appreciation, Bell extensively documented the Leacock family over a span of 4 decades.

In later years Hugh Bell enjoyed a successful career as a commercial photographer, working for brands like Coca Cola. His photographs have been exhibited extensively in New York. They have been immortalized on album covers like “after hours with Sarah Vaughan” and in the pages of Avant Garde, Esquire, Essence and others, along with K.Abe’s “Jazz Giants” and “In Between The Raindrops”, a limited edition retrospective.

His work resides in the permanent collection of the MoMA and in several private collections.

“I never held a regular job,” he said, when asked what his proudest achievement was.

And he kept finding inspiration and shooting until his formidable physique betrayed him, well into his illness. He was loved by his family and friends and will be missed by many in the creative community.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in New York Times from Nov. 26 to Nov. 27, 2012.
Memories & Condolences
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18 entries
November 20, 2020
Another memory of Hugh: I was a teacher /coordinator of the High School Internships Program& I sent candidates to him for Interviews. (He accepted anyone who was interested! ) As many have recounted, Hugh was interested in educating the 'whole person!' He used to say that when a candidate arrived, he would ask how he/she got here. If the answer was," By subway!" , Hugh would ask, " Where's your book?" If the student looked puzzled, Hugh would say, " How can you ride the subway w/out a book?" And he would give them a book to read on the way home, & continue to do so & to discuss their readings! Blessed memory, Gila Lipton
Gila Lipton
July 3, 2013
July 3, 2013
I love you Mr. Bell, you've always been on my mind to come and visit, with deepest regrets. I will always remember when we went on different assignments, esp. Upstate NY. I learned lots on those shoots. I will always miss and think about you... Love Pamela, New York, NY
May 17, 2013
Hugh Bell and me
Thanks for being my mentor and friend. In loving memory of a wonderful person. We will love you and miss you always.
May 17, 2013
In loving memory of a wonderful person. We will love you and miss you always.
Pauline Johnson
March 5, 2013
It was such a privileged to know you
You were bright shinning light of a person and photographer

"May You Rest In Peace"

Joe Nye
January 13, 2013
I worked for Hugh as a young 17-year old intern bound for college in 1994. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. He was a phenomenal man who taught me about photography, life, women and myself. It had been years since I had been back to see him. Hugh you were a good friend. You are missed.
Gregory Davson
January 1, 2013
Rest in peace, Hugh. You left a great legacy. God bless your family and friends.
Deloris Cook
December 29, 2012
Thank you for being my friend, mentor...
Please Rest In Peace.
~Randy Duke
December 17, 2012
From 1983-1995, as a teacher/coordinator with the NYC Bd. of Ed. HS Internships Program , I had the pleasure of working with Hugh, who was 1 of our Sponsors, which meant that he would mentor a high school student interested in pursuing a career in Photography. Hugh was the quintessential Sponsor! He accepted any student who was interested! Not only did he expose the intern to the art/craft& business of photography, he nurtured the " whole person". An intern emerging from Hugh Bell's studio after 1 semester was a young intellectual! He insisted that the intern READ on the subway, traveling back & forth- & suggested appropriate books! He introduced various subjects of interest & importance including knowledge of Jewish Holidays- because most of the equipment-suppliers were Orthodox & a photographer needed to know when their stores would be closed for the Holidays- so why not learn about the reason for those Holidays, too??... Hugh touched so many lives in this manner; & I recall with fondness his low, musical voice a he answered the phone, "Hugh Bell...."A gifted, caring person; may he rest in peace & may his family & friends be comforted.Gila Lipton
Gila Lipton
November 29, 2012
Hugh the last time I saw you in 2010 you were doing a great fashion shoot at the Studio. Will always remember this image.
A great loss to the international photographic community, a great inspiration to the generation of photographers now and to come. Loving thoughts to April and family. Angela Lynkushka
November 29, 2012

your passing is immeasurable. I don't think there will ever be anyone else who will ever be able to fill your shoes.
robert wagman
November 29, 2012
you were always so full of life. I thought you would go on forever.
Robert Wagman
November 28, 2012
robert wagman
November 28, 2012
You were the hardest working person I ever knew. You always had your finger on the pulse of humankind which was reflected in your images.

Rest in peace, friend.
Rest in peace.
November 28, 2012
Dearest Hugh,

I hope your spirit is doin' the heavenly jazz jive with all those great jazz musos you photographed in your lifetime. You will never be forgotten, and your work is inspirational.
Pam Kleemann
November 27, 2012
Goodbye old friend. I will always remember you. May your life in the the everafter be peaceful.
Connie Pender
November 26, 2012
I am so sorry for your loss. I know losing a loved one is hard to deal with. I will keep you in my prayers.
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