Ken Murphy: A Coastal Bohemian’s Testament to Fate

KEN MURPHY:

A Coastal Bohemian’s Testament to Fate

By LEE COMMER PHARR

 

Lee Commer Pharr

Lee Commer Pharr

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the launching of the Mississippi: State of the Blues exhibit at the Delta Blues Museum displaying photography from the book of the same title written by Scott Barretta and Ken Murphy.

The authors attended and signed books while on hand. During the course of the evening, I enjoyed getting to know them. Both are great guys, as well as being incredibly talented.
While speaking with Ken Murphy, I learned that he took a very unique and interesting route on his way to becoming such an incredible photographer. In fact, it is somewhat a testament to fate that he became a photographer at all.

Murphy’s business card says much more than his contact information. The card displays a hand, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that the index finger is absent and replaced by the words “Ken Murphy Photographer.” The creative design pays homage to a life-changing accident, which occurred in 1976.

Before Murphy created, he destroyed. In 1976, he was a tank commander in the U.S. Army. Luckily missing the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Army stationed Murphy in Korea and then Germany. Somewhere along the way, before being shipped out, he was asked to give a secondary area of expertise.

Seeing no need for such a thing, he nonchalantly told the deployment processors to “pick him one.” After arriving in Germany, he and his friends had a good laugh when their tank commander received orders informing him that he was an “arts and crafts specialist.” The monumental importance of his processor’s decision remained unknown for quite some time.

Thinking little of his newly acquired specialty, Murphy went on about his business as a tank commander. As he said, “I was on a path… I didn’t choose it, but I was definitely on it.” He continued to do his job, even though the luster vanished and he simply longed for a way out.

Fate provided a way out, but it involved much more sacrifice than any he would have chosen. While participating in a war game, a horrific accident involving an explosion left Murphy minus the index finger on his right hand. After becoming lost in the woods, and suffering for several hours, Murphy eventually arrived at a field hospital.

He was stabilized and airlifted to a full medical hospital for more intensive care. However, his days in the army did not end there, and his secondary area of expertise unexpectedly entered his life.

Once dismissed from the hospital, the army assigned Murphy to work in a hobby shop. Uncle Sam did not send soldiers home for simply losing a finger in those years. Ironically, his superior officers first assigned Murphy to oversee and instruct fellow soldiers in woodcutting workshops.

He felt destined to lose another finger, and wanted another job within the hobby shop ASAP. As if ordained, an opening appeared soon thereafter. With nine of his ten fingers still intact, the Army ordered him to work in the shop’s photography section.

Initially, he knew nothing about photography, and the Army meant for him to fill the position only long enough for them to find a more qualified replacement. Shortly after taking over the position, a “little old lady” walked in to do some business in the shop.

Murphy never got her name, and only vaguely remembers her face, but she helped change his life’s path. She simply showed him how to develop film and make a print, but she sparked the fire of interest, which became a passion for him. Murphy picked up a camera and learned rapidly.

Within three months he discovered himself to be somewhat of a camera-wielding prodigy and firmly established himself as the obvious replacement for the position. He asked to keep the job, and the army granted his request. Murphy finished serving his country while continuing to learn about photography.

Upon returning home, the Army paid for him to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and earn a degree in Documentary and Editorial Photographic Illustration. He went on to release the books My South Coast Home and Mississippi, and now his latest book Mississippi: State of the Blues.

Murphy will be the first to say that someone or some thing guided him. A horrible accident, which most people would complain about the rest of their lives, took Murphy’s finger, but gave him a successful career. He now follows his passion and spends his time creating beautiful works to share with others, all because of one very fateful accident.

 

Photographer Ken Murphy at his photo exhibit opening at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS - the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Photo by The Delta Boheiman

Photographer Ken Murphy at his photo exhibit opening at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS - the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Photo by The Delta Boheiman

Inscription by Ken Murphy in Poor William and Magical Madge's book, MISSISSIPPI: STATE OF THE BLUES. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Inscription by Ken Murphy in Poor William and Magical Madge's book, MISSISSIPPI: STATE OF THE BLUES. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

LEE COMMER PHARR in a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

 

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Comments

  1. love ken murphy photographs. one of my favorite is on the coast where the finding at the end of the rainbow is a portapotty…now that’s a priceless picture.

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