I want to share why I personally photograph.
1. I photograph to make a social critique
To start, I photograph because I want to make a (positive) social impact. I have worked on projects like my SUITS book, to make a social critique on the sucker mistake many of us (myself included) make, which is:
Having more money will make us happier.
To tell you a bit about my personal history — I grew up pretty poor (my mom filed for bankruptcy, and my dad was addicted to gambling, and my dad also didn’t work). Every month, I knew that it was a real possibility that we might go homeless. Why? My mom was barely making ends meet while working full-time as a waitress, and my dad demanded that we live in an expensive house. And it didn’t help that my dad would force my mom to give him the rent money (so apparently, “he could pay it”), whereas he would go to Reno for the weekend and would gamble it away (his rationale was he was trying to “earn money” for the family).
Regardless, growing up– I always had a complicated relationship with money. I wanted money, because I wanted money to buy cool clothes, money to fix up my car (Fast and the Furious style), and I thought that having more money would make me “happier”. Ever since I was 16 I knew that money wasn’t the key to being happy– but I always thought to myself:
“Would my life be a lot better if I had more money?”
Fast-forward; when I became around 28 years old, I broke the $200,000 a year income bracket (combined income with Cindy), and this is the lesson I learned:
Having more money didn’t make me “happier”, but NOT having to always stress about paying the bills and monthly expenses is a pre-requisite to happiness.
Which meant, as long as I kept my expenses low, and wouldn’t stress about money, I would have the ability to be happy. And I would be “happy” through creation. I’m only happy when I’m making stuff; whether I’m writing, making photos, films, videos, beats, etc.
2. I photograph to make art
I also photograph to create art.
- Photo: Light
- Graph: Draw
Thus, to photograph means to draw (or sketch) with light.
A painter is an artist. A dancer is an artist. A poet is an artist. A rapper is an artist, a cook is an artist, and anyone who makes something or does something intentionally is an artist.
To me, once we human beings have enough to survive (clean water to drink, enough money to pay our rent, and enough food to eat) we don’t really “need” anything else in life. And to me, considering that our lives are short, the best use of our human metabolism is to make art!
Making art is what makes humans, human.
Animals cannot make art. Only human beings can.
3. Why make art?
I think it is simple:
Making art makes us happy.
And then the next step:
When you make art, and share you artwork– you have the ability to empower other humans!
When you look at great artwork (from others), you feel lighter, gayer, and more powerful-optimistic in life! For example, I love the work of Claude Monet— because his colors make me smile, and it also gives me inspiration for my own color photography!
4. I photograph to be more engaged in life!
To live a real life means to leave your house, take risks, talk to other humans, and act and do stuff! You cannot live a real life just plugged into a computer at home, and not do anything in “real life”.
Photography gives me the opportunity to engage more with “real life”.
For example, I don’t like being at home. I like to go out and do stuff. And when I go out and do stuff, I always bring my camera with me! Then as I am doing stuff and experiencing reality– I have my camera and I make photos. When I am making photos, I am essentially proclaiming my joy of being alive! Whenever I see something and I photograph it, I tell it:
“I think you are beautiful; I am grateful I experienced your beauty. Thank you for sharing your beauty with others.” [Click]
I like to photograph my loved ones, strangers, and myself! I photograph nature, and try to embed my emotions and soul into my pictures. I know that eventually one day I die, but perhaps– my photos can live on.
5. Why do we want to be immortal?
I think secretly we all want to be immortal (or at least not die). But rather than seeking our own personal immortality, we should seek for our pictures to become immortal, or at least live on for a long time.
Horace once said,
“I shall make [poems] that are more lasting than bronze [statues]!”
Thus we can do the same– try to make photos that will live on after we die!
6. How to make photos that last a long time
To make your photos live on– some simple ideas:
- Don’t upload your photos to Instagram or Facebook: they won’t be as “archive-able”. Instead, start your own website or blog, and upload your photos there, and get your website indexed by Google with SEO (search engine optimization) techniques.
- Make PDF e-books of your work, and share them freely with friends, family, and anyone on the internet.
- Upload your full-resolution photos and media to archive.org (and one day, people in the future will be able to access your stuff).
- Print hard-cover books; they will last longer than digital media. For example this is why I printed SUITS as a hardcover book, so the photos will live on.
- Share your work: Don’t let your photos die on your phone or hard drive.
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To make better photos, strive to achieve this aesthetic: simple and elegant.
Simple is difficult
Simple is hard. To cut the superfluous (without cutting away the essential) takes great skill and finesse.
Steve Jobs toiled endlessly with Jony Ive to make Apple devices as simple as possible, but not simpler (in the words of Albert Einstein).
Elegance is having a spirit of lightlessness, of levity, and unassuming confidence. To be elegant is to not be pretentious; it’s simply to be you, without any superfluous ornaments.
For example a woman can look plain, but be elegant in her beauty. It’s more how she carries herself, and how she acts, and assumes power and confidence.
Simplicity and elegance in photography
In photography, generally black and white is more simple. But monochrome is tricky; to make a good simple photograph in black and White is easy, but to add elegance is difficult.
To me, adding elegance in a photo means to add soul, emotion, gesture, and mood. It means embedding your soul into the photos you choose, and being able to select the photos which best represent your artistic vision. Generally, our image as a photographer-artist is seen through the photos we decide to share and publish.
Simplicity is also good in cameras. I think more and more about the RICOH GR II, how they have been able to keep the form factor and functions simple, without adding (too much) additional features.
In photography, simple can also mean shooting with simpler settings, like shooting in P (program) more, or what I enjoy with the Lumix camera— the intelligent auto (iA) mode. The more we simplify the shooting process, the more focus and energy we can have on capturing personally decisive moments for ourselves.
I’ve also realized that I’m a fan of shooting color in JPEG, because generally the colors look better! For monochrome, I shoot RAW and when importing my photos into Lightroom, I apply ERIC KIM MONOCHROME preset.
Using presets, filters, or shooting JPEG will simplify your life as a photographer in a good way!
Don’t seek the “best”
Often we get suckered into thinking we want “better” things; whereas in reality, I think what we’re searching for is more simple!
For example, shooting with your phone isn’t the “best” camera in terms of image quality, but it is certainly one of the most simple. And we shoot more pictures when we use a phone, which is good! The more photos we shoot, the better.
I generally believe that as photographers and human beings, we should try to seek more simplicity in our life, but not to make it boring — let’s seek to make it fun, spontaneous, a bit chaotic, and to live with an air of grace, elegance, and “sprezzatura“ (studied carelessness, something which the Italians do very well).
In all domains in life, seek the combination of simple and elegant.
My favorite monochrome pictures:
A philosophical question I was pondering while lying in bed this morning–
“What kind of photos will last, and what kind of photos will not?”
In studying a lot of philosophers, artists, and poets of the past, it seems that the ultimate test of how good an artist-philosopher-thinker is depends on whether their work lasts or not.
Think about it– in design, art, and life, it is difficult to know what is “good” or “bad”. But generally, whatever has existed for a long time has existed for a good reason (maybe for reasons unknown to us). Nassim Taleb calls this the “Lindy Effect”, generally what is older is better.
In photography, art, and design– consider the “old school” stuff is usually the best.
For example, with camera design, there is a reason why the Leica M-Rangefinder design has been so “timeless” and has lasted from the 1920s until now (around 100 years!).
Another good example is the RICOH-GR series cameras. The original film Ricoh GR 1 camera came out in 1996, and now we have the digital RICOH GR-series cameras that are thriving! The ergonomics of the camera are perfect for a point and shoot camera. At least for the next few thousands of years, our hands won’t change and evolve much. Thus generally things which are designed which fit well into our hands (pens, books) will continue to exist in their present form.
In today’s world, we are drowning in a digital black sea of images. And to be honest, there are lots of really really good images out there now! But the practical question we must address is this:
In a world with trillions of images, which few images do we decide to consume?
It would be silly to try to consume all the images in the world. That’s like trying to eat every single food item in all the fast-food restaurants around the world (Instagram). I would rather say let us take the “old school” route of studying photography books. Why? It cost photographers real money to print their photos into a book, so there is a greater likelihood that the photographs in (printed) photo books will be better images!
And also generally photographers who are dead (who are still famous now) have existed for a long time for good reasons– either because they innovated in photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson and black and white photography, or William Eggleston and color photography), or because their work has merit and is good!
So far, the best (two) human artwork which has existed until now is probably Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. Generally in literature, authors are remembered for books written. For myself personally, my favorite literature books include 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and the Iliad.
For painters, generally painters are remembered for their best (single, stand-alone) paintings. For example Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa, Picasso and Guernica, or Andy Warhol and the soup cans.
For photographers, they are either remembered for single images, or books. For example when it comes to photo books: “The Americans” by Robert Frank. Or “The Last Resort” or “Common Sense” by Martin Parr, “The Decisive Moment” by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Exiles” or “Gypsies” by Josef Koudelka, “The Suffering of Light” or “Istanbul” by Alex Webb.
Also for photographers, we can be remembered for great single images, such as any iconic single image by Steve McCurry (Afghan Girl), The Bicycle Photo or Jumping Man photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Garry Winogrand’s famous “Bi-racial couple” picture with the black man and white woman and the two chimpanzees.
What are my best photos?
Okay honestly we can theorize about art, other artists, etc– but more importantly, we need to judge our own photos. So the practical idea I will give you is this:
You know what your best pictures are based on which of your photos (from very long ago) you still like!
For example, a picture that you shot 5 years ago (that you still like) is probably more likely to be a good photo than a photo you shot 1 year ago (and still like).
So as (another) practical tip, spend some time looking back at your older pictures and re-sharing or re-uploading/experiencing them!
Also as a practical note, spend some more time re-looking at some of your favorite photo books, instead of always buying new books. Re-read some of your favorite literature from the past, and spend more time re-watching some of your favorite old-school films.
Keep it classic.
One of my passions is composition — why? It’s a fun visual exercise and game!
Why is composition so fun?
Well this is my thought.
First of all, composition and framing a scene is a challenge, especially if you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, and if you cannot zoom in and out (instead, if you’re forced to use “foot zoom”). Thus, framing is a fun exercise to stress your visual muscles in a good way. Any fun challenge of composition to try to arrange visual elements in a frame in the most interesting and visually appealing way is a fun challenge!
Now, are there “rules” to composition? I think not. Why? Composition simply means “what something is made up of, or ‘comprised’ of”. There’s no such thing as good or bad composition. However I think there is such a thing as dynamic and vigorous composition, and dull and boring composition.
Why is composition important?
I believe composition is important because it’s the root of art. Without composition, you cannot have photos and you cannot have art.
If you study a lot of artists in the past like Picasso, cubists, Futurists, Bauhaus folks; they were obsessed with composition. They were always trying to change perspective, and how they showed and expressed visual reality.
As a photographer you’re an artist. Even Horace said,
“A picture is a poem without words.”
I’ve actually had greater insights about the poetry of images and photos through studying (written) poetry, instead of studying photography. Why? The art form of photography is still so new; only 100-200 years or so. Poetry goes back at least 2,500+ years, which must mean there’s more wisdom in the philosophy of art-poetry, than photography.
Anyways, if you want to make better photos, study composition! Not just the great master photographers from the past, but study painters! Study Piet Mondrian, Picasso, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and the other greats.
When you see compositions you like, ask yourself:
Why is this composition so good or interesting, and how can I emulate it or make an even more dynamic composition?
Never stop composing!
ERIC KIM COMPOSITION
Some of my favorite photos:
LISBON STREET PHOTOGRAPHY: RICOH GR II:
RICOH GR II in Marseille:
I love Prague, for the food, the people, and the street shooting!
Photos shot in Kyoto, with Lumix LX100:
ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
All my favorite street photography:
Some more photo philosophizing: what we are trying to do as photographers is to communicate our life experiences, our perspective, and to transmit the emotion and mood we feel to the viewer!
So how do we convey mood in photos? Often, the aesthetic — how do the photos look? How does color affect my emotions?
For the mood, I wanted to convey:
- A feeling of anxiety and stress, and grittiness through color.
- A combination of street scenes with people, and some urban landscapes, as well as textures, details, or colors for the sake of it.
- Using a flash to accentuate the dynamism of the city:
Boston Street Photography 2018
RICOH GR II in JPEG positive film preset, with Lightroom iPad additional contrast processing:
Osaka x Uji Street Photography 2018
Osaka is super cool for street photography (and very fresh sushi) and Offal BBQ, and go to Uji-Kyoto and stay at a local Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) for the onsen!
RICOH GR II Chroma
RICOH GR II Monochrome
New PDF BOOK: SUITS PDF Book Direct Download link >
ONLY IN AMERICA
New PDF BOOK: Only in America PDF Book Direct Download link >
COLOR STREET PORTRAITS
ONLY IN AMERICA
MONOCHROME Street Portraits
MONOCHROME Street Photography