In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Tucson, Arizona. 2013

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.

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

A photo from Jason Eskenazi’s “Wonderland” (which took him 10 years to complete). You can read Charlie Kirk’s interview with him here.

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.

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Life is a journey, not a race. A photo from my “Suits” project in Amsterdam, 2012.

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

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Nashville, Tennessee. 2013

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.

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Michigan, 2013

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.

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Indianapolis, Indiana. 2013

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.

Takeaway point

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

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

At some gas station in America, 2013.

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.

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

East Lansing, Michigan. 2013

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).

Takeaway point

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

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Detroit, Michigan. 2013

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.

Takeaway point

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.

Conclusion

1x1.trans In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography

Garden Grove, California. 2013

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.

If you are addicted to speed and also want to live slower– I highly recommend reading “In Praise of Slowness.” I also highly recommend the “Zen Habits” blog.

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  • QWE

    “To me, he is the father of “zen street photography.” ”

    To me, he is the father of “crap street photography”

    Your new photos in this post are nice BTW.

    • Pete

      A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to meet Rinzi. He is a thoughtful person with heart and perspective. He is humble and has a unique vision. His family story is heartfelt as he is too! He is a good man and saying anything less than that is of no value. He may not be the “father” of “zen…”He indeed takes his time. Overtime he has created a signature look. The look captures moments that are interesting and intriguing. I do not have to defend him, I am just offering the little that I know and what I saw. He is a good man. Say what you want after all, we live in a free country. But in doing so, try offering something constructive and put your name to it.

      Eric your blog is interesting. I know you put your heart into it. Haters will be haters. Keep up the good work.

      Pete Ansara

      • QWE

        My comment has nothing to do with what type of person Rinzi Ruiz is.

        If you believe Rinzi Ruiz has created a signature look then i believe you have very little exposure to photography.

        Please go through the seminal works of photography ( i mean both writings and photographs). Start from Walter Benjamins “A short history of photography”, then go to Susan Sontag’s “On photography”, then to “Camera Lucida” of Roland Barthez, next is “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, then “Thinking Photography” edited by Victor Burgin, finally a very recent book “What Photography is” by James Elkins. Of course, go through the writings of John Szarkowski. “Photography at the crossroads” by Berenice Abbott is also a must read.

        You will understand why i have said what i have said.

        • Pete

          Ok, I guess I have to read a bunch of books to suggest that Rinzi’s images have a signature look and is a good man. Let me get back to you on that.

        • http://stephenbray.me/ Stephen_BRAY

          Sontang’s work is a polemic. In her later writing she refutes what she asserted in parts of ‘On Photography’. What she did, however, was to raise the issues of photography with non-photographers, which was a milestone back then.

        • Pedro

          Why should these tomes define what makes photography good? Why can’t you see and think for yourself? Why do you need someone to tell you what is right? I happen to think Rinzi Ruiz’s photography is great, I like his shadow play and how he captures people. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, so try not to be beholden to others.

          • QWE

            You play the game according to the rules of the game, you don’t make your own set of rules. These ‘tomes’ have defined the rules.Of course, you are free to like his great ‘shadow play’…pitch black shadows in bright sunlight but that doesn’t displace photography from it’s place – that of realism.

  • Phil

    While I understand that putting together a book takes time, why must there be a certain time it should take? I think if you are able to put something together that YOU are proud of, or something that moves you, then go for it. If you trust your ability and believe your shots are quality shots, then put a book together and see what happens.

  • ChrisGriffiths

    Time and consistency are the the street photographers two best friends. If we shoot with unswerving consistency and a definite intention the work will one day stand up and become significant just with the passage of time. Everyman and his dog may own camera right now but very few will use it with the consistent intention that is required to document. A set of snapshots of your town centre taken in 1973 is infinitely more interesting that a set taken yesterday. If you took the same set of shots every year for 30 years you’d very slowly have something significant on your hands. You just can’t short cut this game. So as you say – why the rush..?

  • natex

    I really appreciate you sharing what you’ve learned. The honesty in your writing is why I keep coming back.

  • Ramana

    Man, your pictures are so ordinary, why do you publish so many mediocre pictures on your blog??

    • HJK

      Will you please post a few examples to help me understand what you mean by “extraordinary”. I also welcome response from those who have liked this comment.

    • Diarmuid McDonald

      I quite like these photos, I think they have a certain Parr-esque mundanity which seen together I think works nicely

    • Eric

      Ya I was about to comment on how I actually really liked the photos in this post and then I read your comment, To each his own.

    • Ben c

      Examples of your own non ‘ordinary’ photographs please. Before I read your totally unproductive comment I was thinking how good some of Eric’s images were.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Because I am an ordinary person

    • Max

      I disagree: the shopping cart photo in particular is great. Definitely can see Eggleston’s influence, though. Once you really get hooked on Eggleston’s work, it’s hard to shake the influence (I’m including myself in this).

  • http://stephenbray.me/ Stephen_BRAY

    Slowing down doesn’t necessarily make for better photography, but for some it might. In the book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, Malcolm Gladwell writes about successful people in various fields having to put in the time. ‘ 10,000 hours of practice is what Gladwell thinks makes the difference, and he cites such examples as ‘The Beatles’, who played 10,000 hours in the cellars of Hamburg, to ‘Bill Gates’ who did his 10,000 hours as student programming on a ASR teletype terminal linked to a mainframe, when still an eight grader in 1968.

    If Gladwell is right then having lots of practice early in one’s photographic career may be advantageous. The question in my mind is – might there also be a tipping point, where one is satisfied with one’s technical skills, and has even perhaps achieved a few ‘lucky’ images, but when a period of introspection becomes valuable?

    I am thinking of the Buddhist nun Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo, who was born Diane Perry, and brought up above a fish and chip shop in East London. At 18 she traveled to India, where first she did her time learning the practice of meditation under various teachers. Later she spent several years living alone in a cave, before emerging into the world to talk, write, found nunneries and doing so become known in Buddhist circles. Closer to photography we may consider of how Edward Steichen took over two thousand images of a white cup and saucer, or even Ansel Adams repeatedly working on the same negatives in order to bring out more details, or his following the same trails in the Yosemite National Park. These are introspective activities. The product isn’t really the images, but rather the character of the artists.

    Ultimately, I think, the pace of photographing, writing, blogging, sharing will depend both on what you have to express about yourself in relation to the world, why you want to express it, your level of skill, and the opportunities presented to you.

  • David Sierra

    like the method of slowness a lot, and your photos of places in time really sets the tone for this article.

  • Dannon

    I recently got into photography a few years ago after finding my dad’s old nikon f2 in the garage and I must say that I’m real glad to have stumbled upon your blog! It’s been a very helpful resource.
    I studied some film theory in college and your article reminded me of a quote by a theorist named Andre Bazin where he stated “the truth is in the long take,” i.e., where in we the audience gazes, there is honesty in a long take as it deviates from edits or cuts and emphasizes a “continuation of reality.”

    Although our lives aren’t cinematic the concept of time and it’s consumption is most honest at a slower pace. Since we are behind the lens in photography perhaps it is beneficial to approach it at a slower pace in order to increase one’s ability see and hopefully inspire thought beyond clarity.

    Thanks again duder! look forward to reading more. cheers!

  • Chris Leskovsek

    I read your blog on feeder usually, hardly ever comment, yet i like your work and posts. But this one was great . Thumbs up Eric. I been practicing this as of late and im finding your same results. keep up the great work.

  • Andrew

    I enjoy your musings Eric and photos. Keep it coming.

  • whitey_hendrix

    weird…I’ve been thinking alot about much of the points mentioned here lately. Been one of my “photographic new years resolutions” in fact…slow the fuck down. In class when I do my projects (read: not street) I noticed I can get frustrated or impaient because of course other types of photography take longer to set up and shoot where as with street I have trained myself without realizing it in a sort of high speed ADHD hit and run sort of thing. Time to change that I feel.

  • Student of Life

    The concept of slowing down is perfect in so many ways. But does it lead the better photography? I find that taking photographs is a state of mind. If you set out with a need to find pictures, you are less likely to succeed. If you set out with the desire to find pictures then I think you will be more successful. Photography is not about speed or slowness, it is about seeing. Yes, if we can all have the luxury of a road trip from Michigan to California we will see more variety, but will we see better photo opportunities.

    I have “studied” the images in this blog and wrestled with a conclusion. In so many ways more than half of the images are the type of ‘snaps’ a child may take with a new camera. Pictures of the mundane. Do not misunderstand me, I like pictures of the mundane and overlooked; but do they make a good pictures for anyone other than the photographer?

    To many your ambition, “to create images that impact and influence people and society.”, may seem laudable, but for me I think you are doomed to failure. Personally, the best I think we can hope for, as photographers, is to reflect people and society. By creating a record of the passage of time we freeze history, for others in the future to study.

    Eric, I find it slightly weird that you use images from a road trip, where you needed to travel from A to B in a limited time-frame, to support your opinions on slowing down. How many thousand of photo opportunities did you pass in a blink of an eye?

    • YUI

      “In so many ways more than half of the images are the type of ‘snaps’ a child may take with a new camera.”

      Sorry for being rude, but i don’t think composition is your strong point.

      “but do they make a good pictures for anyone other than the photographer?”

      Please!!! don’t fall into that trap. The moment you start thinking if others will like it or not, you are no longer making art. You are making a commercial product (example -advertising photography)

      Any artistic pusuit is like writing a diary. It’s for the self. If others like it, that’s reward.

      • Student of Life

        I do not think you are being “rude”, just honestly expressing an opinion, as I did. Whether composition is my strong point, or not, is a question of personal preference and I respect your opinion.

        I think you misunderstood my “do they make good pictures…” comment. I have no interest in the commercial nature of images. My point is that I also take pictures of the mundane, which if I am lucky will please me, and if I am really lucky will please others. I do not publish these images because I see no need to attract Likes, +1′s etc. Such opinions have little value unless they are supported by words expressing what the viewer sees in an image that works, but more importantly what does not work and why. But they are all opinions.

        Eric has stated his desire to create a “legacy” and if he is to achieve that then he is seeking approval in some manner, and from not just a few people like you and me. Indeed Eric said “I still want to create images that impact and influence people and society”.

        From your last comment it is clear that we are in agreement on the most important issue; who needs to satisfied with our output. However, Eric has broadened the scope of who he wants to impress; he is no longer only trying to satisfy himself, he is trying to influence society.

  • Ilkka

    Eric, you are too young to worry about your legacy. It does not work that way. Just follow your, or Bruce Gilden’s, earlier advice and shoot who you are. The legacy will come, if it comes. And there is nothing more you can do about it.
    It is good to be patient and collect a good body or work. But once you have enough, then you need to get on with it and not boil the ocean. Otherwise you never get anything done. Waiting forever for perfection is just as big sin as rushing halfway.

    • Derrick

      Nice comment, totally agree.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Very wise advice- thanks for this IIkka :)

  • garcía

    Eric, I think that there is one
    condition to get good, interesting pictures, and it is to be sincere
    with yourself. You can choose between shooting with your brain, or
    with your guts, and I have the impression that you tend to be
    excessively analytical. That is to say you try to shoot “à la
    façon de…” (whoever), and not intuitevely. Your pictures are
    technically correct, well composed, and all that, but I don’t see any
    consistency in your style or in your subjects. You should try to
    photograph more like an amateur, feeling the joy of shooting only
    what is really interesting for you, and what is more important, only
    when you feel like it. Think of Jacques-Henry Lartigue. The pictures
    he took as a boy, are absolutely fresh, careless about rules but
    authentic, because he took them for himself (no flickr in those
    days).

    It’s just fine to take your time
    looking at a picture, but a boring picture keeps being a boring
    picture, no matter the amount of analysis.

    Since you mention Joel Meyerowitz,
    I’ll tell you that I don’t like his pictures, but I don’t take any
    pains in trying to understand them. They just don’t convey any thrill
    to me, notwithstanding he is considered a master photographer, and I
    just accept that as a fact.

    Since you have asked repeteadly for
    feedback, I hope that you won’t resent if I tell you that I find your
    pictures more cerebral than emotional. I don’t feel in them the joy
    of shooting. Did you feel the urge to take the pictures in this post,
    or were you trying to please other people?

  • Keithbg

    Just do what is close to your heart. One can’t expect to be a good or a
    great photographer overnight. Like life, photography should a part of
    that journey. The more you live, the more experiences you gather, the
    more it will show in your images.

  • Ro Bert

    Picture number 8: “East Lansing, Michigan. 2013″ is definitely stolen! :D

    Compare to number 3 of mine: http://www.robphil.com/horizontal

    But a nice article, like it a lot!

    • Pseudo Breccia

      You are “definitely” ridiculous!

  • http://www.ivanmakarov.com/ Ivan Makarov

    I’ve been thinking about this concept for a few days before replying and I have a couple of thoughts.

    I think this is a sound advice but not for a novice. Where would you be today Eric if you only shared rarely in the beginning? I’m not just referring to the followers, but also to the feedback and learning that comes through photo sharing.

    Second, instead of limiting photo sharing by time, why not do it by project? It could be kind of like what writers do – don’t share anything until you have a story to tell. Can you imagine Tolstoy sharing chapters of War and Peace as he writes them? Instead he only shared after the book was finished and the story complete, with the crappy storyline and sections tossed out to make a master piece.

    It’s two different things, but both approaches could make us much better photographers.