Chuck Fong Captures Beauty Of State College Over Forty Years

After graduating from Penn State with a major in photography, Chuck Fong has used his love of photography to showcase the evolution of State College for over four decades.

Originally an architecture major, Fong switched to photography after his freshman year and opened a photography business after graduating. Within the first few years of opening his business, Fong became the go-to man to shoot fraternity and sorority events.

“I remember I did one event for a fraternity, and then my name got passed around, and I started shooting most of the Greek events on campus,” Fong said. “Some of the couples even had me photograph their wedding a few years later when they got married.”

Aside from photographing Greek life, Fong’s true passion lies in photographing Penn State sports.

“You never know what’s going to happen. One moment the team can be winning by 20 points and the next they could lose by one point and everyone just goes crazy,” he said.

However, times have changed since Fong began his photography business. With the emergence of phones, Fong says it’s challenged him to be more creative with his photography and what he shoots.

“I’m open with what I choose to shoot. If someone tells me to check something out, I most likely go, and it can turn out to be a cool opportunity, but phones make my job more interesting,” Fong said. “I have to think more about how I’m going to shoot something more creative than what you can get with a phone.”

In Fong’s catalog of photos, he’s seen State College in every form. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, posed a difficult time for his photography.

“It was a ghost town during COVID, so I had to get creative with what I shot,” he said. “I took some shots of flowers and streets, but there was no one out to photograph.”

As a result, Fong decided to retire his business and travel along the East Coast to work on producing a photography book. Inspired by the American bar and food scene, the book captures the beauty behind dining and the care that goes into the food service industry.

“I try to talk to whoever I can in restaurants and bars, but it’s more than the food,” he said. “It’s about seeing what goes into making the food and capturing the social aspect of dining.”

His book is a reminder of what was lost during the pandemic and the beauty behind connecting with those we love over good food and drinks. It’s also reminiscent of Fong’s early years of his career when he would capture the daily lives of those in New York City.

Courtesy of Chuck Fong

The photograph above, titled “Three Unhappy People”, gives insight into Fong’s mission of candidly capturing his environment and those around him. From then on, Fong carried his camera with him at all times, constantly looking for his next great shot, and led him to some interesting places.

In the late 1970s, Fong captured the go-kart tracks at the East Hall parking lots.

Courtesy of Chuck Fong

He was even able to snap a quick photo of Saquon Barkley as a freshman walking through downtown State College.

Courtesy of Chuck Fong

Aside from working on his own projects, Fong was hired by multiple establishments downtown to photograph their business and promote events.

“I vividly remember shooting a place called Mr. C’s downtown before The Basement took over. It was cool because it was one of the first high-class nightclubs in State College,” Fong said. “It eventually died out because it lost its hype with college kids, but it was really popular for a bit, which not a lot of people know about.”

Over the past few decades, Fong has entered his photos into multiple photography contests, but the Centre County audience has pushed against Fong’s out-of-the-box ideas and style.

“People want cute things, and I don’t give them cute. They want flowers and puppies or animals, but I give them what I see, and what I see in the world,” Fong said. “Sure, I shoot flowers and animals, but I also take pictures of drag queens and less conservative things, but they don’t always like that.”

Courtesy of Chuck Fong

However, the new wave of technology forced Fong to learn how to master the new digital cameras and edit with Photoshop. Even though it proved to be a challenge, Fong was one of the first photographers in State College to make the switch from film to digital cameras.

With the changes in State College and the evolution of Fong’s photography, he’s been able to capture incredible pictures like The Diner’s renovation during sunset.

Courtesy of Chuck Fong

Although Fong has entered retirement, he has no plans to stop his photography anytime soon. He still carries his camera with him every day and does part-time work for the university, taking senior headshots.

“I’m still looking for ways to challenge myself and look outside the box, but now I’m having fun creating my book,” he said.

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About the Author

Maya Thiruselvam

Maya is a senior majoring in English from Deleware County, PA, and an associate editor for Onward State. She is a huge Phillies fan and thinks Citizens Bank Park should bring back Dollar Dog Night. When she's not talking to the Willard preacher you can find her rewatching episodes of Ted Lasso or The Office. To reach her, follow her on Instagram or Twitter: @maya_thiruselvam, or email her at [email protected].

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