I wanted to write you a letter about the beauty in imperfection– that nothing in life will be 100% perfect; and that’s the charm.
I think we in the west always are seeking for perfection. We are seeking gadgets that are faster, stronger, better– and somehow think that it will improve our lives.
We are looking for the best, for the “perfect”. We want the perfect car, perfect smartphone, perfect spouse, perfect kids, and in photography– perfect photos.
But is it possible for anything to be “perfect”? Well no– “perfection” is a subjective concept that cannot be measured. Perfection (and beauty) is always in the eye of the beholder.
The beauty of imperfection
One thing that inspired me deeply was the concept of “beauty in imperfection”. Th Japanese Zen monks got this right– when they would do Japanese tea ceremonies where the cups were intentionally chipped, that the cups were all different sizes, shapes, and colors, and how the charm of the cups were in the imperfection.
I know a lot of photographers who “over-crop” their photos. They are like gardeners– thinking that by pruning the edges, it will make their images stronger. However the problem is that by cropping too much, you lose some of the beauty and “realness” of the image.
I also find photos that are too “perfectly cropped” lack soul– the images feel artificial, too “clinical”, and “too geometrically perfect.”
I think the charm of street photography is that the images are (and should be) “believeable”. We love street photography because the images feel real, authentic– the beauty of everyday life.
We don’t want our image to be like people who have too much plastic surgery– seeking some “ideal” body image. I personally find that people who have too much plastic surgery to look aesthetically repulsive. I know a lot of plastic surgery is because people lack self confidence, and in some extreme cases because of some disfigurement from an accident.
Human faces that are perfectly symmetrical (when done in Photoshop) look freaky. I think the beauty of the human face is in the imperfections — the slightly crooked nose, one eye that is a bit bigger than the other, wrinkles and creases, as well as bags under the eyes.
Imperfection= more beauty
I personally think that Cindy is the most beautiful person I know (both physically, emotionally, and spiritually). Don’t get me wrong– we fight, argue, and sometimes squabble over small things.
But the thing is I love Cindy for all her beauty and imperfections. If our relationship was “perfect” I don’t think it would be as fun or meaningful. Often after huge fights, we become closer as a couple and team.
Love your imperfections
I like to think of street photography and life as complementary– a philosophy on how to see the world and how to live.
Learn to love the imperfections in your photos, and accept them for what they are. Sure you can crop and modify your images to your hearts content, but avoid trying to seek perfection in all your images.
I do believe in trying to improve your photography, improve your life, and to seek inner happiness and contentment. But the program is that when a photographer sets unrealistic goals of “perfection” for him or herself– they are never satisfied, always miserable, and hate their work.
It is a mix; trying to be self-compassionate about ourselves and our art, as well as trying to make work that is meaningful and is “better” than our work in the past.
Know that your work will never be perfect, but seek to make small incremental improvements, day-by-day.
It is impossible to learn a new foreign language in a day. But if you are studious and have a “daily practice” for an hour or two a day, within a month or year you will make huge progress.
The same goes with diet and fitness: everyday try to eat a little less junk food, and do a little more physical exercise.
In photography, seek to make images steadily. If you don’t take photos everyday, or often enough, how can you expect to make progress? If you made a 1% improvement in your photography everyday, by the end of the year your progress will be legendary and epic (think of compounding interest).
How to stay motivated
In my personal life, my only goal is to be a little less crappy as a person, a little less selfish, a little less judgemental, and a little less miserable everyday.
My goal in photography is to (year over year) improve my work, judge myself less, and to have more fun, and less stress.
Staying motivated in photography is hard. Even more difficult– staying motivated in life.
Sometimes to live and go through the daily grind is an act of courage.
Many of us live lives with jobs that we aren’t crazy about; but we do the daily grind to pay the bills and survive. I know it isn’t easy, it is hard. But God has given you all the strength and endurance to overcome difficult times.
In photography, don’t be too hard on yourself– remember to have fun and be curious, just like a child who picks up a camera for the first time.
Use the easiest camera possible. Use a point and shoot, a compact, or even your smartphone. I personally find it easier to make photos on a daily basis with a small camera. Even nowadays I shoot the majority of my photos on the road with a small Ricoh GRII and I shoot personal photos of Cindy at home with my film Leica. Even the film Leica seems too heavy to carry around all the time; I made the wrong assumption that it was a “light” camera.
Even if you don’t take photos everyday, I encourage you to cultivate your eye and to learn how to see. When you’re walking down the streets or in the subway, are your eyes glued to your smartphone? Do you ever occasionally stop, look around, admire the beauty around you?
One “seeing” assignment I have put forth for myself is to look up. I notice my eyes are always at street-level; I never look up and see the tops of buildings and skyscrapers. And when I look up, I am amazed by the ingenuity of human beings to cooperate and create such incredible structures.
Also to see is to appreciate. Anything is interesting if you look at it deeply enough.
What if I never get 100+ likes?
Kind of stupid, I know, but when I started photography on Flickr, my only goal was to get 100+ likes on a photo. When I finally achieved it, I now wanted 200+ likes, and so forth.
Funny enough, Flickr is kind of “dead”– everyone has moved onto Instagram. And one day, Instagram will “die” and everyone will be using another social media platform (Snapchat or some future platform we don’t know of yet).
Are you okay with having 100, 50, or even 10 followers? Are you happy with the amount of “likes” and comments you get on your photos? When you share your photos, are you seeking external affirmation, or are you just sharing for the sake of sharing? And the most important question: Do you like your own photos?
If you like your own photos, can you die happy, knowing that you didn’t become the worlds most famous photographer? Are you satisfied with creating a few images that inspired your close friends and family? Was the process of photography worth it to you?
Do it for yourself
Never forget friend, photography is a personal journey. Photography is self-expression, a way to see beauty in the world, a chance for you to interact with others, and have more gratitude in your (boring) day-to-day life.
You are imperfect, and so am I. But I still think you’re beautiful.
5pm, Tuesday, March 29, 2016.
Articles on Creativity
- Follow Your Intuition
- Have Creative Confidence in Yourself
- How To Find Your Unique Voice in Photography
- Beginner’s Mind
- There is No Wrong Way to Shoot Street Photography
- You Can’t Control the Results, Only Effort
- On Capturing Beauty in the Mundane
- On Searching For the Maximum
- The Beauty of “Creative Constraints”
- How to Stay Curious
- Enjoy the Process