Coffee, photography, girls, and local punk rock


Photo by Aaron Meliza
Caption: Mark Swanson views several rolls of fresh negatives on the light table in Shoreline Community College’s photo lab.

By Duwan Irons

A strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee combined with the faint smell of chemicals leaks from the darkroom of the Photo Lab area in the Visual Arts Center. Stepping to the checkout desk, a tatted, grayish-haired man greets you. He is Mark Swanson, an avid photographer and third-year technician for the Photo Lab.

As a photo lab technician, Swanson oversees chemicals for the darkroom, checks out equipment, and helps out photography students. Swanson may not be working for a publisher that gives him $100,000 a year, but he enjoys his job working as a photo lab technician.

“I actually get up and I’m pretty excited to come to campus and work,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t pay jack shit for starters, but it’s just rewarding to be in this environment, this creative environment.”

Swanson always liked photography because his parents had a subscription to National Geographic. He was 14 when his dad handed him a Panasonic 110 film camera for his Boy Scouts trip to Alaska. He flew into Juneau and took a 24-hour ferry that went into the inlet passage of Skagway.

On the ferry ride he took pictures on the deck of the surrounding nature, but was interrupted midway through the day by a girl. She was “super cute” so he started taking pictures of her. However, he had his “heart broken because the ferry stopped in Anchorage and (she) got off,” Swanson said. Still, she left an impression on him for the rest of the trip.

After the trip he started carrying two cameras to document punk rock bands. His first experience with punk rock was when his friend shared a cassette tape of the band “Bad Brains.” He’d never heard music like that and wanted to go experience it for himself.

The punk rock scene was hard to find anywhere because it was underground. However, his friend found out about Fallout Records a store in Downtown Seattle that sold that kind of music, so they hopped a bus to go check it out.

“We didn’t even know what we were buying,” Swanson said. “We just saw music that looked like it was punk and just bought tapes and records.”

While at the Fallout Records store he saw a flyer for a punk rock concert of the band “The Accused,” who were playing at the Community World Theater in Tacoma. His friend’s mom took them to the concert.

The theater was filled with a lot of chairs, but near the front was a concrete floor where 50 people congregated. Swanson saw a metal-head kind of guy with super long hair get on stage, skank around, bang his head, then dive off, only to have the 25 people he stage-dived into clear the floor. Smack! Swanson said he never witnessed anything so chaotic: “This shit’s fucking crazy, man.”

He started photographing punk rock concerts because no one else was and because he wanted to show his friends how crazy punk rock concerts were.

He said he prefers to shoot in black and white, specifically with Ilford Hp5 film or Hp4 film because it is subtle, soft, and has endless depth.

“There is something about black and white photography, the rawness of it, the gray tones, the depth. It’s raw, you can’t escape,“ Swanson said.

Nowadays, Swanson’s subject matter is more “solitary scenes in nature.” He wants his pictures to communicate easiness and to inspire a long meditation. He wants viewers to feel calm and relaxed.

“I’m always trying to find the perfect picture,” he said. “It is like my white whale.”