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consecutive frames of my father and I when I was two.
old 135mm consecutive frames of my father and I when I was two.

Ron Chan

Lived in Hong Kong, Toronto, Shanghai and San Francisco had led me to see the world with different lenses.  Photography had been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I believe photo taking is a powerful experience.  Within that frame, you have full control and the freedom to put whatever you want inside.  You also have the ability to stop time and capture that moment to something tangible.  Sharing photos, you have the ability to let others see what you experienced regardless of time, places or things.

Photography is my passion.  Over the years, I have shot many different subjects in all sorts of different condition and location.  With each of the shoots, I always manage to learn something new or refresh on something that I have forgotten.  Each person posses a different story and hence why each of their portrait will look different.  This is extremely interesting to me and is the main drive for me to go out there and shoot more.

Because I am professionally trained as an engineer, naturally I am a very technical shooter.  I am always thinking of the mechanics in taking a great photograph.  This is actually a weakness.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself not to be too hung up on the technicalities but just shoot.  Ansel Adams couldn’t find his light meter when he was shooting his famous Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.  He just winged it and took the shot.  When he wanted to shoot another one with different exposure settings, the moment was gone!  He worked his magic later on in the darkroom to produce the legendary final print.

In the recent years, I have became fond of large format photography.   Little did I know that my first photo book on historic Hong Kong had such a profound influence on my shooting style and eye for details.  These historic photographs were all shot with 8×10 large format cameras and the details are just incredible.  Growing up in Toronto, the works of Yousef Karsh are also not foreign to me.  He, too was using a 8×10 workhorse for his incredible portrait work.  I think one must be extremely meticulous with large format photography.  One erroneous step will ruin a shot, but if you can get it right, the result is incredible.

Beside studio work, from time to time, I will shoot some street photography.  These are great practices for the “decisive moments” that happen everyday.  You learn to be observant and also patient at times.  Once in a while, I will be stuck and don’t know what to shoot.  When I am in that state, I will go to my bookshelf and go through the works of the masters.  One particular inspiring example are the works of Fan Ho.  His capture of people and the use of light and shadow on the streets are just so incredible that I just want to pick up my camera and hit the streets.

This site is dedicated to my late father, who not only introduced me to photography but also the joy of sharing.

my father in my eyes. left: take when i was nine, right: seventeen
my father in my eyes. left: taken when i was nine, right: seventeen


What is lotophotos?

Definition: Loto (老土[lou5 tou2]) is a Cantonese word that means old-fashioned; traditional; outdated; unsophisticated; rustic; not hip; uncool; lame; ancient; behind the times; bygone; corny; dated; grown old; not current; not modern;  obsolete; odd; old school; out; out of style; unfashionable; unstylish.  You get the picture.

First Experience:

When I was very young, my father bought my older brother an old photo book of Hong Kong entitled “Hong Kong 100 Years Ago: A Picture-story of Hong Kong in 1870”, John Warmer, Hong Kong Museum Urban Council: 1970. “百年前之香港”,約翰.溫訥, 香港政府印務局,1970. I was mesmerized by the photos inside and was reading it constantly.  There were a lot of street scene photos and I was looking at all the details, as if I was there.  That was my first experience with photographs.

Hong Kong 100 Years Ago 百年前之香港
Hong Kong 100 Years Ago 百年前之香港

People are more important than scenery:

My father was an avid photographer and he had boxes of old photos at home, dating all the way from the 1940s.  I will go through them from time to time.  Photography was relatively an expensive thing prior to the 1960s, meaning people will actually think about the shots before they take them.  99.99% of all the photos that my father took involved people as the main subject.   I see a few trends from these.

  1. Everyone will face the camera.
  2. Everyone’s face is squared to the camera like a passport photo (no side shots)
  3. People who are standing, their back is so straight as if they are in a military parade
  4. No crossing of the legs while sitting and two hands always on their laps.
  5. Men in shirt and suit, Women in dress.
  6. Photo is taken in someone’s wedding or birthday banquet.
  7. Parents are sitting down and the kids standing at the back.
  8. Standing shots: two poses only, crossed arms and two arms by the side.
  9. Outdoor shots: background is always some kind of landmark
  10. Men’s hair all greased up and women’s hair all done up.

This is my definition of a lotophoto!

my family and my precious lotophoto
my family and my precious lotophoto

Precious Photos:

Taking photos were expensive back in the day and often done in a proper studio.  In most of the living rooms, there will be one framed “lotophoto” of the whole family.  The rusty frame with molded glass, the yellowed black and white photo is often the only tangible evidence that the family was all together at one point in time.  This was a precious photo.  With today’s wonderful modern technology in photography, we became abusive, taking photos like a machine gun of every possible thing at every possible moment.  We became careless and unobservant.  I, myself, too was a victim of the digital world until I found myself in analog film again.  I only have 12 shots.  What should be in the frame?  Let’s check the lighting first.   Okay, aperture and shutter speed fixed.  Wind the film. Focus. Click.  Then, all you can do is hope for the best that you didn’t do anything wrong and it will turn out the way you want.  Hard to imagine this was the way photos were taken not too long ago.  Even with the technology available today, inside my parents’ wallets, you can still find the small 2R photo of their wedding day, as well as the many precious “lotophotos” that meant the world to them.


Do you have a “lotophoto” of your family and friends? If not, take one and hang it up in your living room.

where avant-garde is the passé