ERIC KIM

7 Lessons Josh White Has Taught Me About Street Photography (and Life)

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Hey Josh,

I just wanted to write you this letter wishing you a happy (belated) birthday, and the lessons in life you’ve taught me, and how much I appreciate your love and friendship.

Shit, I still kind of forget how we first met “virtually.” Was it on your wordpress, Flickr, or somewhere else? Regardless, I remember when I first saw your “bokeh-licious” photos, I was drawn less to the bokeh, and more to the emotions in your photo.

As a Korean-American, I have always had this romantic view of Korea, especially Seoul. I have always felt like kind of an outsider– that I was never fully accepted as being “Korean”, because my accent sucked (I sounded like an American), and culturally I was a lot more American. I remember whenever I visited Korea, I would always feel massive amounts of shame not feeling “Korean enough”, and the sense of alienation I felt as a 2nd-generation Korean-American “gyopo”.

Somehow your photos really spoke to me. I think you felt a similar way, as a Canadian outsider, living in Korea. You were probably enjoying a pretty comfortable living teaching English, getting a sweet free place to stay, but still– you know, Korea is one of the most xenophobic and nationalistic countries in the world. Even though you made good friends, you were never fully “accepted”, nor integrated into Korean society. That must have given you a lot of pain, stress, anxiety, and frustration.

I also forget how we first met “IRL” (in real life). Was it in Seoul or Toronto? Think it was Seoul, when we did the Leica workshop together. Anyways, when we first met, you were really like a “brother from another mother.” Your views on life correlated with mine spot-on, and the sense of “realness” and down-to-earthness made my soul sing. We’ve also had so much fun that other time we did the workshop together in Toronto, and we hung out with Neil and would just talk about random shit. Good time man.

But I wanted to let you know how many lessons you’ve personally taught me about photography, life, friendship, and more.

First of all, you’ve taught me the most important thing in life is friendship, relationships, and connections– not photography.

I remember how difficult it was when your father passed away, and how tragic it was. Regardless, it gave you a huge revelation, which also gave me a huge revelation. You said something like:

“Why is it that we use these $10,000 cameras to take photos of strangers, when we take photos of our loved ones with smartphones? It should be the other way around.”

As shitty as it was that your father passed away before he should have, know that this realization you have had truly changed my life (as well as thousands all around the world). It taught me to truly not take any of my friends or family for granted, and it made a huge shift in my photography. I no longer took shitty snapshots of Cindy or my mom, friends or family anymore– but rather tried to take the best photos of them on my Leica. I learned to cherish every moment with them, knowing that sooner or later, death is going to take them all away from me.

Secondly, you’ve also taught me that at the end of our lives, we’re not going to give a shit about the photos we’ve made, but the friendships we’ve made.

I remember us talking how we can both image one another being 80 years old, sitting at some cafe on the patio, drinking coffee, complaining and moaning about the world of photography and all the “new guns”, and throwing rocks at little kids outside, and reflecting on our life’s journey together. We will reflect on all the difficulties we endured in life, the heartbreaks, the deaths of loved ones, but also the fun times we taught together, had beer and fried chicken together, and the great conversations we’ve had about life while loitering for hours with just one coffee in Seoul.

You’ve really taught me that the friends I’ve made through photography far outweighs any photos I will take in my life. After all, who gives a shit about photos? They are perishable, and after we die, nobody is going to care about them. But there is nothing more immortal than friendship. Love your post you wrote on it with shooting with Neil in Busan.

Thirdly, you taught me that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you shoot film or digital, as long as you shoot with heart, passion, soul, and that you enjoy the process.

I know we both are massively afflicted with GAS, and we always switch from film to digital, and back and forth. We have this strange love-hate relationship with our cameras, and the other physical possessions we own. We are both suckers to advertising and fancy shit, like our strange obsession with leather backpacks and other “artisanal” goods.

We know that material stuff doesn’t make us happy, yet we are both afflicted. Yet, talking to you has always helped ease some of the mental suffering I have inside. We both jump from Ricoh, to Leica, from black and white to color, from digital to film, and even fucking around with medium-format. But at the end of the day, nobody even can tell whether our shots are film or digital, and neither should we care. Regardless if your photos were shot on film or digital, they still have a signature “Josh White” look; they exude emotion, soul, and empathy for your subjects.

Honestly, we’ve never going to find the “perfect” camera, lens, or setup for our gear. But we’re both going to continue to enjoy the process, and try to temper one another’s “GASSINESS” as we grow older together.

Fourth, you taught me to photograph my “muse” (aka Cindy) with more intensity, love, and care. Seeing the photos you take of Areum really inspire me so much. You’ve taught me that I don’t need to only shoot “street photography”, but that the best subject to photograph is my own life– and those closest to me. “Personal documentary” as Anders Petersen calls it (someone who we both love). After all, at the end of our lives, the photos we shoot of Areum and Cindy are much more close and personal than any photos we’ve taken of strangers. I think ultimately the photos we take of Areum and Cindy will be the best “project” or “body of work” at the end of our lives.

Fifth, you’ve taught me and inspired me to bleed more onto the page when writing, and to make my writing (and photography) more personal.

Whenever I read your blog (the only photography blog, or blog in general I read), you really pour your emotion, heart, and soul into whatever you write. I feel like I’m having a conversation for you. It feels so real, so genuine– so you. You really wear your heart on your sleeve, and your viewers feel like they are a part of your life. Through your blog, I have followed you through your ups-and-downs in your life; death, love, heartbreak, depression, joy, and self-seeking fulfillment.

Whenever I write an article for the blog, I try to think of you– and treat it almost like a letter that will also help and benefit you. And recently I’ve been thinking of making the blog more personal, and it seems that others have really responded well to this. So I will continue to follow in your footsteps, and to continue to bare my soul on this blog, and through my photography.

Sixth, you’ve taught me that I need to first enjoy my life, and then secondly be a photographer.

I remember that whenever I would go out with a camera, it would be like a hunt, and I had to go “take” photos. But you taught me that it is much better to just enjoy myself; to hang out at cafes, at bars, meet up with friends, eat Korean BBQ, and just take snapshots of my life. You’ve taught me the secret to making better photos is to just enjoy my life more, and to just document what I experience.

I remember you said something like, “I don’t ‘do’ taking photos anymore” — and that really struck a bell with me.

Ironically enough, ever since I’ve followed your advice, I have been getting better shots. I no longer force myself to go out for hours at a time, and endlessly wander trying to capture “the decisive moment.” I am much more relaxed now, and let the shots come to me, wherever I am. I just am diligent about carrying my camera on my neck, so I can take that shot if the moment arises.

Seventh, you’ve taught me how to “kill my babies.” I love how we randomly chat with one another on Kakaotalk and message each other shots, and we can just be brutally honest with one another, without any concern of hurting one another’s feelings. I respect your opinions so much, and you have really helped shape my style and vision in my photography. I love it when you told me how you liked my color work, and how you think I should proceed shooting more color “street portraits”, as well as more portraits of Cindy. I respect you as a human being and a photographer, so getting advice from you in terms of what direction to take my photography gives me a lot of confidence, solace, and happiness.

I was going to write 10 things you have taught me about street photography and life, but I ran out of ideas, haha. But honestly, 7 is more than enough, in-fact, I  heard that it is easier to remember 7 digits than 10 (that is why in America phone numbers are only 7 digits long).

But anyways, this is a personal letter to you (that thousands of random people on the internet are also going to read haha). No but seriously, thank you for all the love, support, guidance, and friendship you’ve given to me the past few years.

Whenever I get a message from you, you always brighten up my day. It is so funny, I’ll be with Cindy and checking my phone and she will say, “Eric, why are you suddenly smiling so much?” I then feel embarrassed for a second, and will tell her that I got a message from you. She then goes, “Oh, you and Josh are so cute together!” She also was so happy to see how much fun we had together in Korea together. And also a nice memory (to boost your ego), remember whenuj I told you that she looked at your Flickr randomly and said, “Hmmm, Josh is actually really good!” And trust me, she doesn’t give false compliments at all, and she has a great eye.

So never doubt yourself and your photography. Remember to enjoy the process. Fuck whether you shoot film or digital. Just enjoy yourself and have fun. Who cares what others think of your photography, know that I’m always your biggest fan. And in terms of having an “audience” for our work, I honestly feel that as long as we are friends, we will be enough of an “audience” for one another. If I can make photos that please myself and please you, that is enough for me.

Farewell my friend, have a kickass day, hope you get more hits on your blog (haha) and more followers on your Flickr and Instagram (don’t know if you have notifications on your iPhone turned on, but hope it buzzes nonstop! haha).

This sounds totally douchey, but maybe you can do a similar post on your blog about what I’ve taught you about street photography and life? Might be an interesting comparison.

Anyways, excited to collaborate more brother. Take care of Areum, your mom, and know that whenever you are feeling sad, lonely, or lost– I’m always here to support you and share my heart with you.

Here are some fun snapshots and memories, haha– good times:

Love always,

Eric

Written @ my friend Liz’s house in Leeds, Friday, Aug 21, 10:33am, 2015, with an espresso (I’ve found as long as I limit my coffee to just one a day, I don’t get that weird throat swelling acid reflux shit). Let’s chat soon bro, peace out.

Make sure to check out Josh’s work: