Ask Ken Klose of Staples how he started taking photographs and he might answer, “With a camera.” That’s the obvious answer, of course, but it does say something about his skill as a photographer. He has an inborn sense of composition and knows instinctively what will make a good photo. Having a camera does not guarantee good photos but a good camera in the hands of a true photographer does. When Ken left Vietnam in 1971 he had a treasure trove of slides taken with his Yashica Rangefinder. Just this year, using 21st century technology, Ken completed a restoration project of those images taken nearly 40 years ago. He added written documentation, military communications and orders, mementos, letters and miscellaneous items to comprise two tomes illustrating his war experiences. “I did it for my daughters Megan and Amy,” he says. Friends tell him he should find a publisher. Drafted into the army in 1969, Ken, who had graduated from St. Mary’s College in Winona in 1967 and was in graduate school, headed off to Fort Knox with two friends from Staples where they had grown up. He recalls that the only weekend pass they had during basic training was the weekend of July 20. They went to Louisville and watched the Apollo 11 moon landing. After basic training Ken spent 30 weeks in language school learning Vietnamese followed by a seven week interrogation school at Ft. Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. Once in Vietnam this Military Operational Specialty allowed him a little more freedom than the average ground troop. Assigned to a Camp Eagle, approximately 60 miles from the demilitarized zone and with a jeep at his disposal and a military admonition to be back by dark, he roamed the countryside photographing scenes likely ignored by most soldiers. He saw farmers working in their rice fields with water buffalo, fishermen in streams, villagers going about their daily routines, rubbish pickers and launderers. He visited Hue’s (pronounced Whay) Imperial Citadel and Antiquities Museum which had served as the country’s 19th century administrative center. Shelled by the French and destroyed by fire in 1947, it nonetheless received additional notoriety as the epicenter of the Tet offensive in 1968, the largest military campaign up to that time and designed to topple the Saigon government and end the war. Though exhibiting war induced neglect, the Imperial City was still an impressive sight. Ken visited the tomb of Minh Mang, the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty who reigned during the first half of the 19th century. He was known as a scholar and poet who cared deeply about his country. “I was surprised to see a group of boy scouts there, touring in a war zone,” says Ken. On a five-day R&R (rest and relaxation), Ken ventured into Bangkok where he photographed temples, river life, a potter, a weaver, a martial arts demonstration, cock fighting, snake handling and elephants. “The experiences during that time opened me up to some new people, places and ideas. Without those experiences, I likely would not have gone to teach in Australia or done any of the subsequent travel that I did. They also made me be less concerned with conforming to other peoples’ expectations or worrying about establishing a ‘career” (something that I have, at times, since regretted),” Ken wrote as a summation of his war years. After his release from the active military in 1971, Ken taught in Australia for two years and then traveled extensively on his way back to America. He climbed into now forbidden places including a minaret of the second largest mosque in Pakistan and photographed sites and scenes in Afghanistan that no longer exist. “There was a group of kids in the western city of Heart rolling barrel hoops. They posed for a photo and then were gone,” remembers Ken, wondering if they’ve survived the turmoil in that area since then. Ken’s photos reveal a festival, in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, with a merry-go-round of suspended wooden horses, a crude wooden Ferris wheel, decorated horses and carts, Afgahn kids having fun. “I wouldn’t be able to get in, now,” says Ken who ultimately traded his camera for sapphires in Sri Lanka. They were easier to carry. He had another camera, anyway. With three slide reels of Australia, one of New Zealand and four of Europe and Asia, Ken has much restoration work ahead of him. A working portrait photographer for twelve years, Ken is leaning more into fine art photography now. He’s using his innate sense of what makes a good photograph to record scenes much closer to home. He’s also considering ways to share the scenes from times and places that are no longer accessible for the average traveler. All photos printed with permission from Ken Kloos. Several of Ken’s photos can be seen on the Senior Perspective web page gallery.
Images from a different time, place