Russel Kwan

From the start, art photography was Plan A.  By age 15, I'd earned the money, bought the gear, installed the darkroom (in my parent's basement) and slowly became expert at my craft.  I never worried about the future until this epiphany: "a young photographer, doing only what he chooses, starves".  And I couldn't see myself doing the hardscrabble work of photographing whatever, whenever, wherever for food and shelter.  Oh…crap.

Plan B fell out of the sky one day, when a dial-up minicomputer terminal plowed through the roof of my high school and I discovered software engineering.  After completing my computer science degree at UBC (BSc 1981), I designed and built industrial process controls for a living and continued my photography and darkroom studies for fun.  A few years later, as the digital imaging revolution took hold, I got the chance to combine photography with computer science.  I landed the dream jobs: designing and building prepress and imaging software for Adobe, Microsoft and Apple.  Woohoo!

Wendy and I have known each other since Kindergarten.  Together, we've travelled five continents by bike, played modern jazz in big bands and quintets, found and cooked exotic food, walked dogs and photographed continuously and recklessly.  Despite my cutting-edge career, I always wanted to spend more time with her and less time with computers.  So, we started whittling our dependence upon the workaday, paring down to activities we can do completely independently.  Photography, travel and Emma Brown Sock now dominate our lives.  I left Plan B for good in 2002.

My return to film and the darkroom feels a lot like insurrection.  Silver-based photography is old, very old.  However, silver has unexplored frontiers needing fresh innovation – and few people have the skills.  Innovation inspires new ways of imagining and photographing the world – and I see this as an opportunity to integrate art, science and craft.  Working with vintage photographic hardware, new visual languages, physics, chemistry and computers are 21st century skills.  I get to explore this brave new world with little competition.  This is the real dream job.  Woohoo!

In 2007, Wendy and I were invited by the faculty of art and design at Troy University (Alabama) to exhibit our photographs in their art museum and spend a week guest lecturing in their photography department.  We had a ball.  Our MicroSchool is the result.  Since then, we've reconstructed the black-and-white darkroom program at Langara College – our chance to nurture the next generation of darkroom artists.

Russel Kwan, 2015

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