Beyond the Deep
Growing up, Kevin Lee Quaid '80 describes how his heritage played a large part in his zeal for adventure. “Being
from Korea certainly made me more open to the world in general,” he said. “In school,
I constantly tried to ‘prove’ to myself and to peers
that I was as ‘American’ as they were.”
As soon as Kevin acquired his driver’s license, he was keen to achieve independence. “I moved out on my own, became independent and worked myself through high school, then through McKendree College,” he said. Just after graduating from Wesclin High School in Trenton, Ill. his life was struck by tragedy. His girlfriend at the time was killed in an auto-train collision, adding to his “growing melancholia and desire to finish college as early as possible to get out and ‘begin life’.”
And that is exactly what he did. After only three years, Kevin graduated with a degree in business administration. “Originally, my desire was to study philosophy but my friends warned that philosophers don’t dine well,” he said. “Thinking they might be correct, I majored in business administration for ‘practical’ reasons. However, I have studied far more philosophical tomes than business books and enjoyed it immensely more.”
While at McKendree, Kevin was an honors student who was involved on the crew for the student theatre production of “Every Man” and a photographer for the men’s soccer team. “With hindsight, I regret rushing through school in three years, instead of enjoying my time at McKendree more,” said Kevin.
After graduation Kevin, equipped with his business degree and an FCC amateur radio license (WB9WUI) was able to secure a management internship with Butternut Electronics in San Marcos, Texas. He soon realized that it might not have been the path for him, saying, “I got accustomed to the work routine and I felt there must be more to life than just earning money, albeit that is important.”
As he grew increasingly restless, he had an encounter with a Korean War veteran. “He uttered some sounds that were foreign to me and explained that it was Korean,” he noted. “I was a bit embarrassed, as I had no knowledge of the language. Thereafter, I was determined to go to Korea and learn the language and learn about my Korean heritage. In preparation I also learned how to use chopsticks by purchasing a pair and practicing in restaurants, much to the amusement of other customers!”
During his time in Korea, Kevin held a number of jobs, including working as a consultant for the country’s largest cosmetic firm, Amore Pacific, and establishing a branch in Seoul for his current employer Kint & Associates, an international consulting and trading firm based in southern California. More importantly however, the fire for adventure that burns within Kevin was kindled during his time in Korea. His travels have since taken him all over the world.
“A wanderlust” has always infected me. Something about adventure feeds the soul. The sense of striking out on the trail with no guarantees heightens a sense of freedom but is tinged with insecurity. That feeling was very intense when I first trekked in the wilds of the magnificent Himalayas - alone. Several times I got lost in the mountains but armed with intelligence, knowledge and reason, survived. With no one but myself to depend on, I quickly learned about life and about myself. This contributed to self-confidence, which I lacked as an Asian growing up in the Midwest.”
Embracing his wanderlust has yielded opportunities that not only led Kevin to meeting Mother Teresa (“she gave me a hug and we chatted briefly, it was a special moment, she was a special person”) but also the Dalai Lama. “One of my adventures took me to Lhasa, Tibet, where I visited Potola Palace, the astounding medieval edifice and former residence of the Dalai Lama,” recalled Kevin. “As I trekked in the surrounding mountains and met local Tibetans, I became interested in the story of the present Dalai Lama and his inspiring story of escape from Tibet and exile in northwest India, where he resides in the Himalayan foothill town of Dharamsala. During my 14 months of backpacking in India, I purposely went to Dharamsala to trek in the nearby mountains. Once there, I learned that one could apply to meet the Dalai Lama, who happened to be there. I submitted an application and was approved for a meeting. On the day of the encounter, I was required to present my passport and allow security staff to frisk me head to toe (for the Dalai Lama’s protection). As he does with nearly everyone, he greeted me with an infectious smile and warm handshake and we chatted for a few minutes. He blessed a T-shirt that I had stitched with the words ‘Bo Ranzen’, Free Tibet.”
Ten years ago, Kevin set out on a new adventure: the ocean depths. “After I learned the rudiments of scuba diving, then dived solo, the emotion was of elation and freedom, very difficult to describe in words,” he said. “Taking that first step into the unknown is the most difficult but most important.”
He soon realized that the ocean deep was a world restricted to the few who take up the challenge of diving. “Indeed the ocean is the birthplace of life and still sustains us,” he said. “In order to share underwater life with non-diving friends, I took up photography and discovered an aptitude for it.
“Scuba diving is not everyone’s cup of tea. But as someone quipped, not experiencing the underwater world is akin to standing outside a circus tent and never venturing in. The sea is a wondrous place, inhabited by strange animals and unusual plants. Opisthobranchs, or sea slugs, are my main photographic focus because of their extreme variation in color, morphology, size, evolution and geographic distribution. There is no greater artist than Mother Nature and her work on sea slugs is amazing. I have photographed them in the waters of all seven continents, even in the frigid waters of Antarctica where the water temperature is below freezing (due to the high salinity of the water).”
Kevin’s work has proved most useful to communities outside the underwater photography world. “Scientists began taking notice and, now, hardly a week passes without some organization, student, academician or scientist requesting permission to use my images for their studies, research or publication,” he said. “Combining an aesthetic sense with an eye for anatomy is the balance I seek in my photography.”
He has become ingenious and prolific in successfully locating and photographing his subjects. “Being an opisthobranch enthusiast, my favorite images are of rare nudibranchs (a subset of opisthobranchs) which are difficult to find and challenging to
photograph,” he said. “I rarely do wide-angle photography since I engage in macro-photography. I developed a special lighting technique to achieve a black background which highlights my subject and makes it ‘pop’ out at the viewer.”
In 2012, he was named the Los Angeles Underwater Photography Society “Photographer of the Year.” Kevin ranks among the world’s foremost underwater macro photographers. His photography has been featured in magazines, newspapers, academic literature and numerous dive related publications and his images are on permanent display at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and have been exhibited at various venues such as the Branford house, University of Connecticut and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
He has logged over 1,500 dives, yet maintains the same level of enthusiasm, saying, “I still look forward to every dive, not because of the diving itself, but for the new marine encounters that are possible and the chance to photograph them. There is no end to the quality of photographs one can take. Diving is invigorating because it always presents new challenges and adventure.”
After visiting and diving off of all seven continents, Kevin said “it’s very difficult to choose a ‘favorite’ destination, as all of them have a different emotional-psychological impact. Trekking solo to Everest Base Camp, climbing to the top of Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro, treading the marble floors of the Taj Mahal, witnessing the funeral pyres at the burning ghats of Varanasi along the Ganges River, experiencing the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone diving under ice in the Antarctic have all been highlights.”
Kevin views travel as an important aspect in the development of the mind and soul. “Inner growth is accelerated by travel abroad,” he said. “Were journey to another country a requirement of college graduation, I would support it. “Everything is related and intertwined. When one realizes this, the world becomes a more wondrous place. And, though one may garner much knowledge, it matters little without compassion for others.”