Kim Jew is a Woman, The Studio is a National Chain and Other Myths To Dispel
“Kim Jew is a woman” and “Kim Jew Photography is a national chain” are just two of many statements that we have heard that are not true. Because of some fairly widespread myths that have been circulating, we decided to set the record straight concerning Kim’s personal and business history.
Wing and Lin Ong immigrated to Albuquerque from China in 1929. They settled in the Barelas neighborhood and raised nine kids during the heart of the Great Depression. They operated a small grocery store and the U & I Café on Gold Avenue. Wing’s and Lin’s second oldest child, Jeane, grew up working in the Café, which is where she met her future husband, Harry Jew. Harry immigrated to America from China when he was 15 years old and eventually served in World War II with the Flying Tigers. While he was stationed in Albuquerque he met and eventually married Jeane Ong. After getting married, Harry went into business with his father-in-law, Wing Ong and opened up a restaurant on Central Avenue called New Chinatown. Harry and Jeane had three sons—Kim, Stanley and Paul. All three sons attended Emerson Elementary, Van Buren Junior High and Highland High School and all three worked at New Chinatown as busboys, dishwashers and servers.
As a child, Kim developed an interest in photography. In high school, this interest became an obsession when Kim converted the family garage into a mini portrait studio and darkroom. Kim spent hours upon hours taking and developing his own pictures. Because he felt self conscious about being Chinese and having a round face, Kim experimented with different lighting and posing techniques and learned how to play down or play up certain facial features. After graduating from high school, Kim enrolled at the University of New Mexico. In an attempt to make his parents proud, he became a Pre-Dental major. After an encounter with a Quantitative Analysis class made Kim realize that he was not cut out to be a Dentist. To pursue his true passion, he told his parents that he had a desire to go to Photography school. His father angrily told Kim that Kim was free to follow that dream, but Kim would have to pay for it on his own. Kim applied to several photography schools and was accepted to the Institute of Fashion and Fine Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. To pay for his schooling, Kim worked as a janitor at an Atlanta S.S. Kresge and had the largest paper route in Atlanta.
Upon graduating from photography school, Kim moved back to Albuquerque and applied for jobs at every Photography studio and Photo Lab in town. Nobody would hire him. Realizing that the only way to become a photographer was to open his own business, Kim obtained a $5,000 SBA loan and opened up his first studio on Central Avenue in 1976. To save money, Kim lived in the loft of his studio and went to his parents’ home to shower. The first few years of Kim Jew Photography Studio was a struggle. Kim would photograph weddings and any other job that he could land. With any extra money that Kim made, he would re- invest it back into his education. He attended workshops conducted by some of the best fashion photographers in the world such as Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon and Francesco Scavullo. As Kim developed as a photographer, his reputation began to grow as being the photographer who made older people look younger and heavy people look thinner. A loyal following began to develop and soon he was being asked to photograph children, families, executives, politicians and high school seniors. In 1983, Kim asked his younger brother Paul to join the business. Paul was newly married that year and had just received his Masters in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine. He was working for a market research firm in California when he decided to join his brother’s company in 1983. The 1980’s was a period of rapid growth for the studio. Because Kim’s passion was in fashion photography, his style of photography resonated especially well with high school seniors. Kim remembers his own high school senior portrait as being impersonal and boring so he created a senior portrait experience that was much more Fashion Shoot than High School Mug Shot.
Soon, the small studio on Central Avenue was not enough to meet the demand, so the studio expanded to Girard near Indian School and Juan Tabo and Montgomery. Another market that the studio expanded into by accident was school photography. In 1984, Sandia Preparatory called and asked the studio to do their school pictures. Never having done a school before, the studio brought out the same lighting set up that was done at the studio. When parents got their pictures, they were startled at the quality of expressions and lighting. Soon word of mouth spurred the growth in school photography. Currently, the studio’s school photography division, One of A Kind, photographs over 30,000 school children per year and serves over 70 schools. Even in a high volume, hectic environment, the studio has always strived to get a great expression and provide a studio quality portrait at a school photography price.
Some other milestones in the company’s history include the opening of the Coors and Paseo Del Norte location in 1995, the development of the Kim Jew Sports Photography Division in 2000 and the opportunities afforded to Kim to photograph internationally renowned celebrities. Kim has photographed Presidents Obama, George H. and George W. Bush as well as many other national and local political leaders and luminaries from the entertainment industry. Kim Jew was one of the first portrait studios in the United States to go Digital. In terms of recent history, the studio has moved its three locations into sites that are better able to serve the needs of their customers. The current locations are at 1716 Eubank NE (just south of Indian School), 4804 Corrales Rd. in the Village of Corrales, and 6901 Gruber Ave. NE, near I-25 and San Antonio. The Jew brothers are still passionate about photography and digital imaging. They have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in photographic, lighting and computer equipment in addition to hiring and training some of the best talent to provide magic memories for their clients.
A new initiative that they are especially excited about is the UNIQUELY YOU campaign, whose goal is to portray the authentic and unique personality of your family.
Hopefully this brief history sets the record straight on a number of myths that you may have heard.