It was this featured image, Musician’s Hands, a photograph that conveyed a journey, and a soul in detail, that intrigued me. I had to know the man who created it, the man who knew to cast and shoot such a mesmerizing photo. I solicited Ken Hester to allow us to meet him and his journey in photography. -Victorine
“Grandma’s house,” in Temple, Texas, was the backdrop for Ken Hester in 1947. He and his sister were born in that house. Their dad was in the army, and in 1950 their family moved to Illinois in the Chicago area, Englewood. “My mother was a college graduate, but when we moved to Chicago, she had to go back to school,” remembers Hester. Hester attended Englewood High School, where he worked for the school newspaper. After high school, he was drafted and joined the Navy. “I joined the Navy to miss Viet Nam,” Hester indicated. “I was stationed in Meridian, Mississippi, and it was the first time I experienced racism.”
Hester was limited to where he could go in the southern town in MS. “I could not go to town with my white friend, Tim,” recalls Hester. “I experienced racial and Yankee prejudice. Tim could be my friend on base, but not off (base).” Although Hester planned to “miss Viet Nam,” his tour of duty there was a part of his military experience. He was in Viet Nam from 1967-68. His memories are vivid and ominous.
Hester was stationed with a river patrol on a small boat. “I was on a swamp boat with 3 people. We patrolled the waters against Russians sneaking in arms,” recalls Hester. “We came under heavy fire frequently. I had the mindset I wasn’t going to make it out.” Hester stood 10 feet from a friend who was shot. “We could not minister first aid…and he died.” Time stood still for Hester. “It took 4-5 years before I could talk about it,” Hester remembers. “We saw useless things this country did…napalm gas bombing villages with women and children.” Hester also remembers the vitriol he had to face upon coming home.“It took this country 10 years to declare (Viet Nam) a war,” recalls Hester. “We were disrespected (as veterans).” When I asked about PTSD, Hester noted that back then, there was no such diagnosis. “Many veterans turned to drugs and alcohol,” recalled Hester. “I had friends, friends for life, for over 68 years.” Hester also had his art, as a refuge.
Before photography was a profession, Hester worked at the Midwest Stock Exchange as a Programmer. After a 3-year stint, “the pressure got to me,” admitted Hester. He was always “into art,” so Hester tried painting, but something was missing, “I couldn’t get going.” Hester visited the 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago’s Hyde Park. He stopped at a booth that had pictures from Colorado; it was the booth of the photographer, Allen Zee. “I stood there for an hour,” Hester recalls. “I asked him, “How did you do this?” and the next day, I bought a camera.” In his early days, Hester was self-taught, “never took a class.” He was meticulous with his work. “I was my own worst critic,” says Hester. “If I didn’t like (the work), you didn’t (get) to see it.” His picture-taking took Hester into commercial photography.
Hester did advertising photography, shooting products worldwide. The shoots commanded daily fees, plus expenses. “Back then, the quality was important,” Hester indicated. “Today, people take (photos) with phones.” Hester developed a passion for shooting musicians. When he moved to Arizona in 1998, he got a job with the Arizona Jazz magazine. “I had a press pass that could get me into any venue,” remembers Hester. When asked about his most memorable jazz shoot, Hester said that his shoot with Wynton Marsalis was “unforgettable…he was so congenial.” Several years after meeting Wynton Marsalis, Wynton’s father, Elis Marsalis, was playing in Richmond, where Hester met him and talked for hours.
Hester is inspired by his friendships and how he tends to them. “I stay in touch,” says Hester. He has a daughter, Triniti, and loves spending time with his grandson, “Nico, who is turning 8, and a pistol.” Hester has vision and hope for Nico that “he doesn’t have to go through this crap we’re (experiencing).” Hester laments, “This man in the White House is an idiot… His vengeance against Obama is about to kill me.”
Hester teaches photography part-time at the photo gallery in Art Intersection. About the featured photo, Musician’s Hands, Hester says, “Obsessed with light, I take a picture when the light looks a certain way. In the club, I told the musician to make the sign of a heart.” Hester has the heart for teaching photography and the generosity of sharing his work and the work of others he respects.
Ken Hester has been a professional photographer for 45 years. He has worked in several professional camera stores over the years, as well as taught photography in private and group settings, and in both film and digital modalities.
Ken has also done Fine Art Photography and has had 5 one-man exhibits over the past 30 years. In 1986 he was sent to the Leica Factory in Wetzler Germany to be trained specifically on their equipment, after which he received a certificate qualifying him as a Leica master.
He is knowledgeable in 35 mm, medium format, and large format – as well as digital DSLRs. He has given technical seminars through various camera clubs. Ken was the head photographer for the Arizona Jazz Magazine for 5 years. Ken is a member of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers).
Ken is available for consulting, private and group lessons, specific event photography.
GARDEN SPICES MAGAZINE