Bang Bang Geng + Koon Yik

Bang Bang Geng
Community Centre for Film Enthusiasts

source: Bang Bang Geng

“A photo is never finished unless you hang it up,” which is why every corner and shelf of Bang Bang Geng is filled with photographs. This place is more than just a photo lab that provides film-related services; it’s a place for both tired and aspiring photographers to be inspired. After sitting through a brief history lesson with owner Koon Yik regarding the vintage cameras he has lying about the store, the challenge for us then is resisting purchasing the different types of film and disposable cameras he has in stock to become a pseudo-photographer. Besides playing around with cameras that date back to the 1900s and flipping through guidebooks ranging from shooting the nude to B&W, customers are also able to learn how to process B&W film for no cost.

The selfless owner champions this business purely out of passion, so money is the last thing on his mind – which is admirable. Besides maintaining cameras and processing film, there’s also an exhibition space located directly beside the store for any photographer to showcase their work. And once again, it’s free. The shop extends its generosity by arranging the printing as well. Their attention-grabbing name – Bang Bang Geng – was inspired by a biographical film about four photojournalists who went to great lengths to capture South Africa during the Apartheid ruling; they called themselves Bang Bang Club. There’s no better way to make something relatable to Malaysians than by making it rojak, hence replacing ‘club’ with ‘geng’. Cheesy, but it does the trick.

Bang Bang Geng is located at Lot 15-20, Level G1, Publika Shopping Gallery, No. 1 Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Opening hours are from 10.30am to 9pm. 

T: 03 6206 2686
E: [email protected]

Koon Yik
Selfless Leader

source: Bang Bang Geng

It takes a lot from a person to own and sustain a business purely driven by passion. Making fast cash is not something Koon Yik prioritises, so customers will find that he’s a very generous man in terms of sharing information — from hosting classes and giving tips to providing food and drinks for no cost at all! He picked up this hobby-turned-career by accident, proving that the saying “The best things happen when you least expect it” is true in this situation. We spent an afternoon with Koon Yik discussing his mission for the store, his impressive camera collection — he has one dated from the ‘20s — and being a community centre rather than a photo lab.

What were you doing prior to running the store? 
I was a computer salesman. This was not part of my ‘future’ plan and the process of me owning this business is a funny story. I’d scratch my head wondering how it happened and question if I were on drugs when I made the decision to open this shop…

Were you?
(Laughs) No. It just so happened that the photo lab my friends and I would go to frequently was going to close down because its owner decided to go back to employment. My friend then asked me to consider buying it over and I questioned his sanity in return because I was in the corporate world, I couldn’t see myself running a shop of my own.

So how did you manage to convince yourself?
The owner told us he wanted to sell everything — the machines and business — for RM75,000, and it sounded like a good deal, so I thought about it. I shouldn’t have done that (laughs). It was really only after my wife and family supported the idea that I was convinced that it would be a good move, but I didn’t want to own a regular photo lab. I needed a mission.

Is it a possible mission?
I hope so! It’s to bring back the love in film photography.

That’s a pretty big mission. Why are you so passionate about film photography specifically? 
It started out as a hobby — also by accident — I started shooting with a digital camera, which at the time was still at its infancy so it didn’t have a variety of lenses to choose from, but people from other parts of the world that used this brand realised that you could use old film lenses in the body. My friends and I wanted to try it out for fun and ended up buying lots of film camera lenses. Then, a professional photographer suggested using a film camera instead and we thought he was crazy but his reasoning made sense; we had a shit load of lenses, and all we needed was to spend a couple of hundred ringgit for a body and we were set. And once I started using it, I realised it has a different type of ‘fun’ aspect to it.

Like the fact that you don’t know the outcome of your photos?
Yeah, and the entire process really. From loading the film to taking the photo while remembering that you only have 36 shots, so it has to be valuable shots. You have to do everything from focusing to figuring out the lighting manually, then you have to wait for it to be processed. But seeing the end result is worth it. Maybe it’s a personal thing because a lot of people look at these ‘challenges’ as a negative whereas I think the opposite.

How often would you take photos with your group?
It was a weekend thing. At the time I was still working as a salesman so you know lah, we had to meet numbers, so naturally the pressure was incredibly high. Weekends were our means of relaxing and rewarding ourselves with some photos; it was a way to relieve us of our stress.

That’s nice. So how many cameras have you collected so far?
Over 200.

Jesus Christ.
I know and they’re all usable! I’ve gotten into buying vintage cameras just to get the feel of how people took photographs during that era. The older lenses have a lot more character than the models produced today. It has no manufacturing and some of the lenses are even hand-polished and not computer controlled. Modern day lenses have numerous layers to make the image sharper whereas the older ones were just a piece of glass — my spectacle lenses have more coating.

How’ve you managed to sustain the business during a time when most people favour taking photos with their phones rather than cameras?
The group I target is able to sustain a one-man show and because my mission is to promote the hobby, the location played a huge part – hence why I chose Publika because it’s visible. Most of my marketing goes by word of mouth and through coverage publications give the store, which I did not anticipate. I’m terrible at business because I don’t plan or look at this shop as a business.

So what is it to you?
It’s like a community centre to some extent (laughs). I try to do something to give back to the community whenever I can, more so during holidays or festivities. For Halloween, I had a chocolate bar stocked with goods from Germany and people helped themselves to whatever they liked from the pantry, so I’m thinking of doing the same thing for Christmas.

That’s really sweet and incredibly generous. 
I think I’ve failed miserably as a business but as a community centre I’ve succeeded.

Always a silver lining. You conduct classes as well, right? Who taught you these things?
I use to give classes but it started to feel demoralising when I promoted it and people complained that it (film photography) was time consuming. So nowadays, it’s more one-on-one discussions than classes because it’s essentially me giving out tips on black and white photography and I don’t really run classes because I’m not qualified. The guy I bought the photo lab business from taught me the basics of what I need to know and I used to work in his shop over the weekend to pick up some skills. That definitely helped.

You collect cameras, you own a photo lab, but don’t think of yourself as a photographer. Why? 
I’ve never thought about being a photographer. I take whatever I like and I enjoy playing with cameras as much as I do when it comes to providing services and supporting the film community. I want to give people an opportunity to try it out before it becomes unavailable.

Are you convinced that film will be nonexistent in the future?
It’ll finish one day, definitely. Film photography attracts a small market and has a few players supporting it — probably less than 10 manufacturers, largest being Fuji and Kodak — and in today’s term, it’s not the best investment. So, I definitely see a day when people will start avoiding it. Sometimes it may just be a wave because things that we thought were dead end up making a comeback – like vinyl [records] – so we’ll have to see who [will fall] in love with it after the wave ‘cos they’re the ones that’ll bring it forward to the next generation.