Photographer, cinematographer, and filmmaker James E. Hinton (1937-2006) was a darkroom technician during his undergraduate years at Howard University in Washington. He started taking photographs while an active participant in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, and as a witness to the violent reactions that the movement provoked in the American South, he captured moments that were often overlooked by the mainstream media. In 1957 he was one of several correspondents that documented the shooting of Lester James in Seneca, South Carolina. In 1961, he documented the reprisals against Harry Briggs and the efforts by the NAACP to relocate Briggs and his family from South Carolina to New York City. While living in Chicago Hinton exhibited his photographic work as early as 1963. After relocating to New York City he trained at the highly regarded Kamonge photography workshop for African Americans in 1965, and photographed for black-issue news and television programs.
In the late sixties, Hinton turned to commercial film production, working mainly on industrial, educational, and promotional films for two black-owned and operated production companies in New York: Harlem Audiovisuals, founded in 1969 by Larry Neal, Edward Spriggs, James Hinton, Rufus Hinton, and Douglas Harris, and James E. Hinton Productions, Hinton's own company, founded in 1971.
In 1973 Hinton was hired as the cinematographer on the feature film Ganja and Hess, where he used his experience as a documentary filmmaker and photographer to bring the techniques of cinema verité to the shooting style of the film. A groundbreaking film for the period, Ganja and Hess, became renowned for its all black cast and its scenes of elegant, multi-lingual Afro Americans imbibing blood instead of martinis. With Ganja and Hess, Hinton changed the look of Afro American filmmaking by insisting that the skin tones of the black actors and actresses in the film not be lightened photographically, a technique which was standard at the time.
About the Collection
The films of James E. Hinton were donated to the HFA in 2008 by his daughter, Dr. Mercedes S. Hinton. Genres in the collection range from feature films to documentary, educational, and industrial shorts and commercials on a range of topics, from African American history, arts in education and in the community, to films about music, including footage from an unfinished documentary on Dizzy Gillespie. Hinton's role in the production of titles in the collection ranges from director to cinematographer to producer, and many elements and titles represent the work of Harlem Audiovisuals and Hinton Productions.
More detail on the collection and a complete inventory is available on the James E. Hinton Collection, 1968-1992 : Finding Aid.
Streaming Digital Resources
Many of the films in the James E. Hinton Collection have been digitized and are available for remote research screenings. For access to streaming research copies, please contact the HFA's Collections Archivist.
James E. Hinton photographs and papers, 1954-2006 at Emory University contains a significant collection of paper materials related directly to James E. Hinton's filmmaking career.
Collections of his photographs exist in the Library of Congress and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Chuck Jackson. “The Touch of the ‘First’ Black Cinematographer in North America: James E. Hinton, Ganja & Hess, and the NEA Films at the Harvard Film Archive.” Black Camera, vol. 10, no. 1, 2018, pp. 67–95.