He opened windows into souls. He took us onto the porches of the poor and into the fields of farmers. Through his camera lens, we felt the tears that stained a child’s face. He showed us the real and the raw. His photo essays were Pulitizer-worthy efforts dripping in humanity and emotion.
His camera taught us the beautiful value of minute details: the cow in the pasture, a kid playing on the railroad track, the stubble on a grandpa’s weathered face, the dirty feet of a rural child. How could he get so close to his subjects without being intrusive like a Hollywood paparazzi?
Only Ken knew.
Elkins’ magical photography graced the pages of The Star for three decades, earning him the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alabama Press Association in 2010. His death Thursday at age 76 brought heavy hearts to The Star’s newsroom, especially to those journalists who had the honor of working alongside him for so many years.
Yet, all it takes is one glimpse of some of Elkins’ memorable photographs to lift our spirits as we remember how The Star’s readers — and us, too — loved seeing his work grace these pages.
Elkins was ever the gentleman, a quiet professional. His journalistic legacy will live on through the thousands of images he gave us. As Basil Penny, a retired former associate editor of The Star, once wrote, “With a reverence for older folks and their good profiles and serenity, Elkins’ objective, as always, was to catch people being themselves.
“It’s not easy to tell which type picture he liked best: folks with great faces etched by the toils of hard living, or children brimming with their innocence, their simplicity, their wonder, their happiness or curiosity.”
Though true, it’s too pedestrian to merely say that Ken Elkins owned a God-given talent. His gentle nature, and his polite demeanor, allowed him to connect with Alabamians of all shapes, colors and sizes. Alabamians welcomed him in, unafraid of his presence, and allowed his camera to capture their stories.
Blessed we are that his photographs live on, forever.