Kevin Von Qualen is the brand new photography teacher at Valor. So new in fact, that when I walked into his classroom to interview him, he introduced himself to me as Kevin, then quickly apologized because he is still trying to get used to being called Mr. Von Qualen by students. Originally from the Chicago area, Von Qualen studied at Northern Michigan University majoring in Art and Design with a focus in photography.
Von Qualen sees himself as an artist and storyteller who loves to capture people in their natural space. He digs for raw emotion and truth, and has the ability to easily capture both in his cinematography and photography.
“My first recollections of picking up a camera was my dad’s camera. We used to go on these two week long road trip vacations mostly out west and my first recollections are shooting color slide film in Colorado at the Garden of the Gods with my dad’s old Minolta XG 7. I was probably 13 or 14.”
Ever since then, Von Qualen has continued to grow greatly as an artist; Especially after 8 years into his career. He began to get very stale in pursuing photography, and quickly learned that running your own business is intimidating and lacks direction. So he decided to go on a 3,500 mile long road trip over the course of two weeks where he drove from Denver to St. Louis to Chicago, and then up around Lake Michigan and back. With only one camera body and one camera lense, he photographed people along the way, and recorded their stories. All the way from people in the city to those in the country. He set up a website calling the project Intimate America, and within a week or so he had already racked up over a thousand views. It was a big turning point for him because he got into taking environmental photos: photographing people in their homes or spaces or workplaces or anything that is related to their personality.
“When you look at those pictures in 5 or 10 years later, you remember back to your old apartment or your old house or that old sofa you were sitting on. Your environment adds so much to the pictures. It turned my work from just taking pictures of people, to taking environmental portraits. My big lesson was ‘constraint breeds creativity.’ Now, whenever I’m stuck, I confine whatever I’m doing and make obstacles and make it difficult to work because then you become creative in your solutions,” he explained.
Apart from environmental photography, Von Qualen films weddings and engagements on 8mm film. A year after he graduated from college, the world began using digital cameras; photoshop quickly became popular and photographs became more manipulated. Von Qualen saw how much photos began straying from their real images and gave himself two options: quit photography or find something within it that inspires. He ended up doing the opposite of digital photography which was super 8 film. That’s when he started his 8mm films.
“Everyone that loves [the super 8 films] are drawn to it for two reasons: one, it’s super authentic – it’s just moments based- and simple. Second, if it’s at a wedding, it’s just me and my backpack and a camera. It’s not like an HD video production team. I’m not running mics and I don’t have lights. I’m not intrusive. It’s usually couples that just prefer that intimate, authentic experience.”
Von Qualen has obviously proved to be very successful in his art, so why is he teaching high school students? “First off, because I firmly believe that God put me here. Every experience in my life has been very unique. And I never thought it culminate into a position. I always thought that I would be running my own business.
His background is in youth ministry, art and design, photography, and he has always woven education in it. His big attraction to Valor is how the entire school is pursuing excellence.
“That was one reason I got into education” explained Von Qualen, “because I saw all of the areas that my education was lacking and knew that there were better ways. I had this passion and hunger for learning and growth, and it translated into this big educational aspect throughout my career. I taught workshops and loved mentoring photographers and have always loved students.”
So when this teaching position opened, “it was just a crazy, last-minute God thing, but it kinda pulled from every unique area in my background,” he said.
Von Qualen has a lot to offer Valor students — not only through art, but through his story and personality. He will without a doubt kindle a curiosity in every student of his to learn more about photography. His passion for honesty and people goes a long way in inspiring others to pursue truth. “I try to see everyone how God sees them, and then I want to reflect that back. My faith helps my art. If I didn’t have my faith, I don’t know what I would photograph,” he concluded.
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