Meet Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston

In the run up to our first-ever U.S. Armed Services Photo Contest (which is currently happening through May 31, 2017), I scoured the internet trying to find a few great, qualified people who could act as judges for us. While my hunt resulted in many, many accomplished individuals, all roads kept on leading back to one name: Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston. So I reached out and was immediately glad I did. Kenny is accomplished, experienced and was more than willing to help out. The fact that he was the 2015 Military Photographer of the Year certainly didn’t hurt either. Read on to learn more about photojournalist Kenny Holston. You can also see more of his work on his website, Flickr page, and Vimeo page.

Kenny, as I have mentioned several times so far, we are very excited to have you involved with our contest. For the sake of the readers that don’t know who you are, can you introduce yourself?

I am Kenny Holston and I’m a Staff Sgt. in the United States Air Force. My job in the Air Force is photojournalism and I’ve been serving in the AF for 11 years. Currently I work for Airman Magazine which is the flagship publication for the Air Force. I’m a South Texas boy (San Antonio) born and raised.

How long have you been into photography?

I’ve been doing photography / photojournalism for 11 years.

Where / When / How did the photo seed first get planted?

Prior to joining the military, I had never used a camera with the intent of capturing amazing images. The photography seed was planted when the Air Force decided I would be a good fit for the photojournalism career field. It was simply luck of the draw that I landed in this career field being as that I did not have any prior experience and I did not ask to be placed in this job. However, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have such a passion for storytelling through visual and written means.

What led you to a career in the Air Force? Why the Air Force instead of a different branch?

The reason I chose to join the Air Force is simply because I did not want to go to college after graduating high school but I knew I needed to do something with my life and the AF seemed like a good move. The reason I chose it instead of any other branch of service is because I grew up near San Antonio, TX where there are several Air Force bases. My Dad, Ken Holston, a retired Army vet, would take me and my sister on base all the time to see the jets take off. I fell in love with it, so when it came time to choose a branch of service it had to be the Air Force, without question!

When you joined the Air Force did you already have an interest in photography?

Upon joining the Air Force, I did not have an interest in photography. I didn’t view myself as visually talented or creative. I was, and am, an active guy who likes to be outdoors so I wanted a job that would have me out and about. Little did I know photography would take me more places than I could ever imagine.

Was photojournalism always your “thing” or did you enter into photography through other interests?

From the moment I graduated technical training school for photography / photojournalism my job has been strictly based around that with the exception of my time serving as the autopsy photographer at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) at Dover Air Force Base DE.

Where did you receive your photo education and training?

My photography training began at the Defense Information School at Ft. Meade, MD. This is where all military photojournalists got to learn how to be a photojournalist. After that I took more advanced classes at the same school (DINFOS) and then eventually I was excepted into the advanced military photojournalism course at Syracuse University.

You were named the Military Photographer of the Year in 2015. That is an absolutely huge honor. (Congratulations!) Can you tell our readers a bit about how that came about? What steps did you have to take to achieve this? Did you have your eye on the prize for a long time or did it emerge more organically as something you could achieve?

Achieving military photographer of the year was one of the best days of my life. The competition was extremely tough that year. There where so many super talented military photographers who entered the competition. However, the road to winning that award was very long. When me and my close friend Jensen Stidham, who is also an AF photographer, began covering our assignments that year we did not shoot with the intent on winning awards but we did tell ourselves that we wanted to continue to elevate our work to the highest level, do more in-depth storytelling through imagery, and tackle tough issues. By focusing on those things every single time we went on assignment we were able to make pictures that began having impact. We just put our heads down and worked extremely hard. We didn’t back down from anything. When we reached the end of the year and it was time to submit for MILPHOG we had solid portfolios with images that moved. Somehow my portfolio rose to the top and I earned the coveted title of Military Photographer of the Year.

You’ve had assignments and experiences all over the globe. Can you tell our readers about one that stands out in your mind? Good, bad, funny, everything clicked or went wrong … tell us why it stands out to you?

After doing this job for just over 11 years I’ve had the opportunity to cover assignments all over the world. One assignment that sticks out in my mind is when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. The reason this assignment sticks out to me is because it was such a complex mission that forced me to push my skills to entirely new horizons. Operating in such hostile and war-torn combat zone as a photojournalist causes you to see life, and different multifaceted situations in a different way. There were a lot of tough times during that deployment but there were also several good times and the bonds that I built with my military brothers and sisters in my unit remains unbreakable.

Having a career with a camera is an incredible opportunity. Where do you see your career going – both in and out of the AF – from here?

As for the rest of my career in the AF, I plan on continuing to work as hard as I can to tell real and in depth stories wherever the Air Force decides they need me. Once I retire from the Air Force I plan to continue photojournalism and hopefully land a job with a publication that will allow me the latitude to tell raw stories through any visual means.

Any advice to people entering our contest?

My advice to anyone entering this contest would be to have someone you trust review your work before you submit it and get opinions about what you’re submitting. Be sure your IPTC info is solid and accurate and try to submit images that tell a deeper story. And finally, do not wait until the last minute to submit. Get those entries in!

Click HERE to learn more about our
2017 U.S. Armed Services Photo Contest.


 

Here is a gallery of images taken by Kenny Holston.
Click the thumbnails to see larger images and to read captions on select images.

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