The black-and-white photographs sit subtly in the background, undulating grey shapes like abstract emotions adorning every red wall.
Yet in a moment as visitors stare off into nothing while waiting for drinks or sitting in the lobby of Quan’s Kitchen in Hanover, the art catches the eye, draws the viewer closer, bringing in the complex simplicity of an Ansel Adams portrait, the sensuality of an Edward Weston photo, the uniqueness in the art of the owner himself.
Eric Quan opened his Hanover restaurant - which joins locations in Mansfield, North Attleborough, and Weymouth - only partially as a means to expand his restaurant chain. He also did it to create a museum.
“If I enjoy it, I want people to see it,’’ Quan said of his vast collection of photographs.
Quan started acquiring photographs in the 1980s, shortly after moving to America from Hong Kong. Since then, his collection has expanded, and includes original prints of images by Brett Weston, the son of noted photographer Edward Weston, and by renowned portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh.
There are more than 30 photos adorning the walls of the 12,000-square-foot restaurant at 871 Washington St. (Route 53) in Hanover, with small signatures the only obvious testament to their value.
It’s a collection Quan has compiled over decades, purchasing groups of pictures for thousands of dollars at auction, he said; the list includes 24 Edward Weston prints for $16,000, and seven Ansel Adams shots for $100,000. The Weston and Adams items, acquired in 1987, have doubled in value since then, Quan said.
At the beginning, he was simply an employee at a Chinese restaurant. But Quan said he worked long hours to afford his new avocation, and would visit auction houses looking for inspirational work.
The result is a massive collection of iconic photographs, most of it now in storage, and about one-third of his images housed in Hanover, Quan said.
Quan recalls the day he discovered black-and-white art photography. It all started with a visit to a bookstore not long after he arrived in the United States.
While looking through a photography book, he recalled, “I talk to myself, ‘Is it a painting?’ It’s a photo. I start paying attention.’’
Yet Quan has done more than just take note.
With a crisp attention to detail, Quan has enveloped himself with the art. He can stroll through his restaurant pointing out photos by name and date. A slender man in his late 40s, Quan moves from frame to frame as if a tour guide, an art professor in the guise of restaurateur.
A photographer in his own right, Quan can also talk endlessly about the technique behind his own images. He can explain the complex procedures behind every shot, go into development methods, his history and progression, his challenges and successes.
His photos exhibit that understanding. Sand dunes show shadows that seem to have their own life, forest photos act like windows to a black-and-white outdoors.
“A photographer has to see at that time all those details,’’ Quan said. “Photography is detail. Technique you can learn, but vision you can’t learn from other people.’’
The way of seeing art soon turns into a discussion of how Quan sees his restaurant’s food. There’s a visualization that takes place, an expectation of outcome, an attention to detail paid in the art of cooking.
Quan explained how the chicken and lettuce wraps are made with diced meat partially frozen in marinade to let the juices sink in.
The sushi, too - spicy tuna maki, ebi tempura maki, vegetable maki - plays with colors as it does with flavors, each one a new take on a traditional favorite of Asian cuisine.
For Quan, that originality and detail is what will keep customers coming back.
“I want people to come in here. It’s not, ‘I want your money.’ We want you to believe in what we do,’’ Quan said.
Having opened in Hanover in late October, Quan said he’s glad business has started slowly. The cooks needed time to learn, the customers need time to discover, and with such sharp attention to detail and such fervor for perfection, Quan himself needs time to settle into the new atmosphere, surrounded by the art he loves, a building he designed, and the food he has prided himself on since the beginning.
“All of this is the vision of the artist,’’ Quan said with a smile.
“And I have high expectations.’’