Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Express Gay News in 2004. It’s updated for this week’s special gay history month section.

In the world of photography, George Hester, 88, is nothing short of a pioneer. His books, The Classic Nude (1973), Man (1975) and Woman (1975), were the first published books of nude photography. The nude has also been the subject of his other love, painting. The artist spoke to Express about his life and career.


Hester’s life is as colorful as his paintings. He began painting at a young age, and continued to do so while stationed in Iwo Jima during World War II, where Hester was a gunner aboard aircrafts. The young soldier painted watercolors of the planes in his squadron, P-51s and B-29s. In fact, the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, was part of Hester’s squadron.

After the war, Hester began a career as an art director, starting at the New York department store Bonwit Teller. From there, he became a freelance art director, working on catalog assignments for well-known department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Wanamaker’s. It was while doing this work that he began his life as a photographer.

“I had a friend that was a photographer,” Hester said. “As an art director, I sent him so much work he couldn’t do it all, so I told him I would help him out and picked up the camera myself. But after a while, he became jealous of the fashion end of it, so I decided I would try and do a book of nudes.”

At first, it was very tough for him to find willing models in those days. But he was an established photographer with reputable New York modeling agencies such a Ford and Wilhelmina, so he eventually earned the models’ trust. By word of mouth he was able to find subjects, sometimes doing fashion shoots and headshots in return.

“With a lot of these people I photographed, I painted as well,” Hester said. “And my books sold so well that I was able to leave the city with the money I earned and bought an apple orchard upstate with 10,000 trees.” The orchard was in a town called Kinderhook, which is just below Albany.

Hester sometimes incorporated the negatives from his photography into his paintings. He works with oils, and has had his paintings in storage for a long time.

“You don’t show paintings like that everywhere,” Hester said.

Many of Hester’s nudes have stories behind them. He pointed out a painting of a muscular man whose wife asked Hester to paint him. Hester agreed to paint the husband but only if he could do two paintings and keep one for himself.

“One time I was at the Metropolitan Opera for an affair, and Mayor Lindsay was there,” Hester recalled. “He was sitting at my table and asked everyone what they did. When I told him I was a photographer, they asked what subject matter I shot, and I said nudes. An English lady approached me afterward and asked if I would like to photograph her children. I said I would love to, and she came to my studio with her children and a nanny. Of course when I photographed children, the mother or father was always there; I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

Hester has painted all sizes and shapes of men, women and children, including an obese man who he describes as a “very charming fellow.” Now that he has lost sight in one eye, it is difficult for him to get the dot in his subject’s eyes where he wants it, so he is now switching to a broad technique and painting landscapes.

George Hester lives in Wilton Manors with his partner of 38 years, Alfredo.