As a photographer, Cliff Hall had few equals. His artistic talents graced the pages of the Los Angeles Sentinel as he chronicled the news, social and entertainment life of the African American community in the 1950s and 1960s. Many Whites celebrities in Hollywood and Bel Air utilized his services as well.
In addition to capturing current events and high society, Cliff also dreamed of empowering the Blacks with economic opportunities and his vision led him to create the Corwin Gateway in1969, a small, sporty car that he said “would be built with Black hands in the Black community.”
He raised funds to complete the prototype, but was unable to obtain mass production of the vehicle. Yet, Cliff still made a lasting contribution by mentoring other well-known Black photographers and even witnessing L.A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum’s acquisition of the Corwin prototype.
Cliff passed away in Loma Linda on Jan. 5, at the age of 94, however his work as photographer, inventor and artist will continue to inspire others.
A native of Los Angeles, Cliff was reared by his grandmother from the age of five until he reached adulthood. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1946 and was trained in electronics. After the military, he studied photography and was soon shooting graduations and parties for all ethnicities.
He worked as the Sentinel’s chief photographer for 27 years where his dramatic photos recorded the challenges and successes of African Americans. According to his website, he collaborated with the late Jessie Mae Beavers, Sentinel executive editor, to produce the “Los Angeles Best Dressed” section and the photos proved so popular that the paper had to print several extra runs.
Photographers Howard Bingham and Lamont McLemore were among his protégés who went on to achieve international status. Bingham was known as “Muhammad Ali’s photographer” and McLemore, who also sang with the Fifth Dimension, was the first Black photographer hired by Harper’s Bazaar and also shot photos for People, Ebony, Jet and Playboy magazines.
Cliff’s innovative spirit was revealed in his inventions. According to an Aug. 1994 L.A. Times article, his creations included a mobile film processing lab, and an on-board system to alert hearing-impaired drivers of approaching emergency vehicles.