Community Mourns Passing of Henry Hooks
By Eliz Coleman Dowdy, Staff Writer
After the weekend celebration of thanksgiving, the Inland Empire awakened to the news that our famed photographer, Henry Hooks, had transitioned Friday, November 26. For over five decades, Henry Hooks showcased the African American community’s social events, weddings, proms, cotillions, and the first building of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church that was built in 1918 (the photo was taken in 1946).
He was also ready to greet and shoot celebrities that came to town, including Leslie Uggams, who got her big break on the Lawrence Welk program, when she visited in 1994, Nancy Wilson, General Colin Powell’s book signing at the Phenix Information Center, and Reverend Jesse Jackson during his presidential run. The collection was truly awe-inspiring.
Henry Hooks told this reporter in a personal interview in 2016, when he had an exhibition at the San Bernardino County museum in Redlands during Black History Month, that a tube of toothpaste had a coupon for a free camera on it, when he worked at a drug store in Shreveport, Louisiana. He filled out the coupon and won the camera, which was the beginnings of what would become a lifetime passion. There was a photography shop nearby, and the owner started printing and publishing some of the photographs he took.
He joined the Army Air Force and came to San Bernardino in 1943, where he worked as a projectionist; when his military time ended in 1946, he worked as a missile system inspector on warheads, and he had a top security clearance. However when his friend, the late Art Townsend, started the Precinct Reporter, Hooks started supplying photographs for him. He officially joined the newspaper staff in 1979, and continued opening the mantle of Black life for those not only within, but on the outside of the Black community.
In 2010, then Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter honored Black Photographers of the Inland Empire, and Mr. Hooks was one of the honorees. In fact, all of the honorees had either worked under his tutelage or with him during their careers.
Hooks was honored by the San Bernardino County Museum in 2016 for Black History Month. They showcased a sampling of his photographic genius throughout the years (again). It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the museum was filled to capacity, and you heard mothers exclaiming to their children, “That’s Me,” when they viewed a photograph taken when they were young. Hooks was surprised that he had been interviewed by five reporters that day, so I waited until Monday, and called him at home.
When I joined the staff of the Precinct Reporter, Mr. Hooks took me under his photographic wings, and I was probably one of the worst photographers on the planet. He mentored, corrected, and encouraged me to keep striving. When he retired he gave me his lighting equipment.
In his own words: “I have a way of showing up at events or places of interest.”
“If I ever had a question, Mr. Hooks was more than willing to give his time and all the information I needed. I stopped by to visit him and Mother Hooks, and we talked photography. I told him I was shooting mostly portraits and he gave me three back drops with the mounting brackets. That’s the type of person Mr. Hooks was,” said Richard Gardenhire. “I met Mr. Hooks in 1995 when Brian Townsend gave me the opportunity to shoot for the Precinct Reporter. I had been following Mr. Hooks’ work for years and was truly a fan. When we met, I told him I wanted his job. He smiled, gave me a handshake and said you can have it. We have been friends ever since,” added Gardenhire. “I can hear him now saying focus on eyes, frame it and shoot. You only need to take the picture once. I will truly miss my friend,” said Gardenhire.
“The first time I saw Mr. Hooks, he was taking pictures at the San Bernardino Black History Parade. He had the best camera equipment. His work inspired me to become a photographer. Mr. Hooks is an icon, and the Godfather of photography in the Inland Empire. Nobody did it better than him,” said Van Howard, a protege of Mr. Hooks. “About a year ago he gave me his camera equipment and complimented my work. Getting a compliment on your photography work from Mr. Hooks is like getting a compliment on your jump shot from Michael Jordan. Mr. Hooks was more than just a mentor. He was a friend and a father figure. I called him on Father’s Day to honor him. He will be missed terribly,” said Howard.
Henry Hooks was truly a renaissance man, his contributions to Black society were just as important as lunch counter openings, and other areas of restriction. To say that his influence and expertise will continue to bear fruit is an acknowledgement that the baton has been passed.
We have no official word on arrangements for his service at press time.