Photos in this article are from my road trip from Michigan to California.
One thing I hate about the modern world is our addiction to speed. We want everything to be done faster, more efficiently, and better optimized. We are frustrated when we are loading up a website on our smartphones and it takes longer than a few seconds. We hardly have the patience to cook anymore, so we just pop something in the microwave. We then inhale our food in a few seconds so we can get back to work and be more “productive.”
I think this addiction to speed is quite unhealthy– and stands in our way of living a noble life. One book I read recently is called “In Praise of Slowness”
in which the author promotes the art of “Slow living” to our daily lives. So for example, he promotes that we take our time when it comes to cooking, spending more time over meals with friends and family, to drive slower, and not feel the need to rush everything to be “productive” and “efficient.” After all, we aren’t machines.
One of the things I still struggle with personally is thinking about my legacy as a photographer– and what kind of imprint I want to leave in terms of my work. I like to think that I don’t really care what other people think about me and my work– but on the other hand, I still want to create images that impact and influence people and society.
One of the things that I love about shooting film nowadays is I don’t feel so rushed to always share my work. But still with the nature of social media, I have to admit– I am feeling more and more pressure to constantly produce. This of course isn’t just my photography, but when it comes to being active on Facebook, Twitter, writing articles for the blog, making YouTube videos, etc. I feel that I need to be more and more productive, which hardly gives me a time to take a break and rest.
One of my large aspirations in photography is to publish my own photography book. Deep down I know that great projects take a long time. For example, “Gypsies” (one of my favorite books by Josef Koudelka) took around 10 years of him traveling, living, and sleeping with the Roma people. Jason Eskanazi‘s impressive “Wonderland” book also took him 10 years of traveling and wandering around the former U.S.S.R. Granted there have been solid projects that have been done in a shorter period of time, but I still think that a great photography book or a project takes at least 5-10 years.
I have been working on my “Suits” project the last 2 or so years, and at times I feel like I just want to rush it, pump out the photos, and quickly publish it. Yet on the other hand, I know that I need to take my time with it– in order to make a great project that I will be proud of.
I therefore wanted to write this article partly as a self-reminder to myself: to remember to take my time in street photography (and life in general)– as well as to promote the idea of “slowness” in street photography. I do admit I love speed in many ways (whenever I don’t have 4G it frustrates me, I love my 50megabit internet connection at home, and I get a thrill out of fast sports cars) but I think ultimately we could all slow down a bit to enjoy our street photography more and once again– just life in general.
1. Slow down publishing
I think social media is great in many ways– it has helped us connect with people from all around the globe, and has given us a platform to also share our work.
However one of the biggest downsides to social media is the incessant need to constantly be publishing, tweeting, writing updates on Facebook, and posting images.
I could be quite like this. Sometimes I feel the fear of being “left out” or “forgotten.” Therefore I feel that part of me posts on a regular basis to simply get attention.
However at the same time– I don’t think it is very healthy. I remember for a long time, social media was hurting my personal (“real life”) relationships. For example, I would be checking Twitter and Instagram, when I was supposed to be talking and fully-engaged with my girlfriend Cindy over lunch.
Not only that, but it was quite stressful to always feel the need to be active online. With so many social media platforms now (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, etc)
it is almost impossible to keep up.
I always used to feel the need to constantly publish photos online as well. For a while I made it a goal to publish at least one photograph everyday– to rack up as many “Likes”, “Favorites”, and comments as possible– while staying in the spotlight.
However one of the negative things I found about publishing too much was the overall quality of my work started to go down. I rarely get good photos (maybe one good shot a month)– so a lot of the work I was publishing wasn’t very good.
Publishing photos constantly and pumping out images was starting to get quite stressful as well. If I missed a day of posting, I would get anxiety
and feel like I had to rush home to post something on Flickr.
This all changed when about two years ago Charlie Kirk challenged me to go a year without posting any images to social media. I thought it was a crazy idea, but I took up his challenge and (almost successfully) made the entire year (I gave in about after 8 months). But what I learned in that period was how refreshing, liberating, and fruitful it was to not share work online on a regular basis.
It is also a habit I have kept up. I try my best not to share too much work on social media now, as I find it distracts me. Whenever I upload a photo to Facebook or Flickr, I have a certain expectation of how many “Likes” and “Favorites” I “should” get. For example, whenever I get fewer than 100 Likes/Favorites on a photo– it makes me quite sad. Then this makes me feel less motivated to go out and shoot. I also get into a bad habit of constantly reloading my photos every few hours to see if I got any more likes or favorites.
Of course, this is a totally irrational thing to do. 100 likes/favorites per photo is a huge sum, but since I am “anchored” to getting an average of those many likes/favorites– this is what I expect. And when my expectations aren’t met, they make me second-question myself as a photographer– rather than just going out and focusing on my photography.
Therefore I find the fewer photos I publish and the less often I publish them– the better I feel, and the less distracted I become. By spending less time sharing images on social media, I could rather focus on my projects and instead spend more time with fellow street photographers in-person to get their feedback/critique.
I think nowadays with the proliferation of social media– less is more. Don’t feel obliged to share a photograph everyday. Or even every week.
Take your time with sharing your work, and I also recommend only sharing your best work. I think that you are only as good as your worst photo that you share online.
If you want to feel less pressured constantly being active on social media I can recommend the following experiment: go 6 months to a year of not sharing your phones online. You will be amazed how much more focus it will give you in producing your work, and less pressure and stress with always sharing your images online.
2. Slow down looking at photographs
I have to admit, one of my problems when I’m looking at photos is that I flip through them far too quickly. On average, I probably spend less than a second to look at an image, before moving on.
However I think this is a huge problem– as I feel that many great street photographs out there need time for you to appreciate them. There are often small details in a photograph that make it great– which are easily overlooked if you don’t spend each time with a photograph.
Therefore nowadays I try to spend a lot more time per photograph, to not just look at them– but to read and analyze them. I far prefer looking at photos in books rather than on the internet (I think that books promote a slower approach, whereas the internet gives me a short attention span). I think that by having a more analytical approach of reading photographs, we can better learn from them.
Not only that, but by spending more time to enjoy each image is like slowing down when eating our food. If you order an expensive steak dinner with a vintage wine, wouldn’t you better enjoy it by chewing slowly– by enjoying every bite and flavor? If you simply gulp the whole thing down quickly– you won’t appreciate it nearly as much.
Here is a mental checklist of questions I think when looking at images:
- Why did the photographer decide to take this photograph? What does he/she see that I don’t see?
- I don’t think this photograph is very interesting or good– what does the photographer like about this photograph?
- Why did this photographer sequence this photo book the way he/she did? What is the meaning of the sequence, and how do the pieces connect to one another?
- Why did the photographer decide to pair these two images next to each other on opposite sides of the page? Is there a relationship of the colors, forms, content, or a huge contrast?
- How did the photographer compose the image? Do I see any geometric shapes (circles, triangles, squares) that hold the image together? Is it a traditional or non-traditional composition, and does it work for me?
- What emotion does the photograph bring to me? How does it make me feel?
- What is a little fictitious story I might make up from the photograph? How does that compare to perhaps what happened in real life?
- What relationship does the subject have to the background, and vice-versa?
As you can see, these are a lot of thoughts and questions to process– which takes time and deep thinking.
You guys also well know that I advocate investing in photography books. However I still recommend spending ample amount of time and effort with each photography book (before going out and buying another one).
Another problem I have is that I only will look through a photography book one or twice, before I get bored and simply order another one to appease my appetite for images. I have therefore tried my best to refrain myself from buying more photo books, and spending more time with the books I already have– re-reading them and re-analyzing them. Seeing if I feel differently about the photos and the images when I first bought the book (compared to now).
I think it is far harder to appreciate photos when we look at them online. A tip is when you are looking at images online, try to look at them in full-screen and take more time looking at each image.
As an experiment, try to spend at least 30 seconds per photograph, and gaze all around the frame. Look for the small details, and mentally note what you like (or dislike) about the images. Analyze the photos, rather than just looking at them.
At the end of the day, I personally prefer looking at photographs in books or exhibitions– because I don’t get distracted by the computer (something interesting is always happening on Facebook).
3. Slow down in the streets
One street photographer whose philosophy of shooting on the streets is Rinzi Ruiz. To me, he is the father of “zen street photography.” He refers to his shooting on the streets as “walking meditation”– and it is a beautiful way to explore the world.
One of the problems I have when I am shooting on the streets is that I run around too much like a chicken without its head. I can’t stand still– and feel like I need to always run around, hunting for the next photograph.
However whenever I see Rinzi walking on the streets, he is at peace– taking his time, enjoying to smell the roses– and ends up seeing a lot of photos I don’t (because I am moving around so much).
Lately I have been trying to slow down a lot more when shooting on the streets– and it has been giving me huge benefits. I feel that simply by walking slower, you can see more things– and appreciate them more. Rather than feeling that I need to always be going to the people, I simply let them come to me.
By walking slower, not only do I see more photo opportunities– but I conserve my energy better. This means that I can walk longer distances and for a longer period of time before I get tired. When I run around too quickly, I get burnt out too fast.
If you are like me and tend to move around too much (and too quickly) when on the streets– slow down. Walk at half the pace you normally do, and spend more time to breathe in and experience the streets. Notice the small details, and let others walk quicker– around you.
Not only that, but try being patient and working a certain spot or corner. If it is around golden hour (sunset or sunrise)
find a nice area with good light, and wait for your subjects to enter the scene.
Joel Meyerowitz also shared a similar idea of how he loves to just wait at street corners, and let people to come to him. What this has allowed him to do is to create fuller and more complex frames– bursting at the seams with energy and life.
These are just 3 simple ideas of how you can better enjoy street photography– by slowing down. Don’t feel that everything needs to be forced and rushed. Rather, take on the philosophy of Taoism and Zen
simply let things take their course.
Take more time before uploading images online, take more time when looking at images, and take more time when shooting on the streets. Slowness is considered a “lazy” and negative trait in the modern world, but there are so many benefits: less stress, more enjoyment, and higher quality of life.
And remember, enjoying slowness isn’t just for street photography, but life. Slow down when having meals with friends– don’t feel like you need to gulp down your food quickly before you get to your next meeting. Spend more time with your spouse and kids– give them extra hugs and time to talk about their day. Slow down when driving on the streets (driving too fast can kill you). Eat your food slowly, and savor every bite, morsel, and enjoy the flavors.