10 Ways Street Photography Changed My Life (and made me a better person)

Inspired by Thomas Leuthard’s post on how street photography has changed his life, I want to take this opportunity to talk a little about my street photography journey, and how it has changed my life for the better, beyond my wildest dreams.

1.It has allowed me to meet incredible people

My friends from Beirut, Lebanon

Although I love street photography, I love the people that I have met through it more. It is interesting, because you cannot put a stamp on an ‘atypical’ street photographer. Street photographers come in all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life.

I have met street photographers from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Beirut, Brighton, Switzerland, London, and countless other places. We have shared intimate talks with one another, great stories, and new friendships. They are the people who keep my passion for street photography alive, and I continue to meet some of the most incredible people.

As one of my workshop participants and good friends Jordan Dunn often says, “I have not once met a street photographer who is an asshole.” Street photographers are all interested in life, and capturing it. I think this common sensitivity toward humanity draws us together.

2.I have become much more comfortable around strangers

Tears
Tough-looking, but one of the nicest guys ever

Before I started shooting street photography extensively—I would be very awkward and uncomfortable around strangers. Nowadays I realize that if I can take a photo of a person without their permission, I have no problem striking up a conversation with them.

In an age where people keep to themselves and don’t interact with others- I have found this extremely refreshing. In the most mundane places I have had the best conversations—whether it be bus stops, elevators, or even drug stores. Even opening up and smiling at somebody else you don’t know will make that person’s day.

3.It has helped me find philanthropic outlets

The Students of Phoenix High

Growing up I have never had a privileged life. My single mother raised myself and my sister, often carrying 3-4 part-time jobs to make ends meet. Through her support and the countless amount of leaders I had in my community, I was able to excel in school and my extracurricular activities—then head off to UCLA where I got a ton of financial aid and scholarships to support my studies.

One of my goals in life was always to take all that love and compassion that others have given me—and give it back to others. About a year ago, I put that thought into practice by founding The Sukhee Chung Photography Foundation—named after my mother who has been the number one supporter in my life. I had this vision of being able to take the gift of photography and spread it to those who didn’t have the resources to access it.

For a year, I taught a photography course at Phoenix High, a continuation school that served underprivileged students struggling academically, financially, and socially. When I first started the class, the school didn’t have enough cameras for each of the students. Through the generous support of the community and especially Jonathan Murray, we were able to provide all the students in the class with a camera. Nowadays that I have been mostly out traveling, my good friend and fellow photographer Kenny Wei has been able to teach the course.

As I continue my journey in life, I want to keep finding ways that I can support other photographers achieve their dreams, whether it be scholarships for my workshops, their photographic projects, or anything of the kind. I thank you all so much for your support.

Let me not forget the words of Thomas Leuthard who initially sponsored the majority of my flight to Beirut, Lebanon to teach my first street photography workshop: “Pay it forward.”

4.It has allowed me to spread and share knowledge

Jump Rope

I am a huge believer that knowledge should be open and free. I was particularly fascinated with the “open source” movement in which programmers and other people would create software which was open and free to the public—for the greater of the human good.

I was very inspired with the notion, and thought of this “open source photography” notion in which I would try to keep my knowledge and insights as open as free as I could. Therefore it gave birth to this blog, which I have the vision of sharing as much of my photographic insight with the community. I also readily give away my Lightroom 3 presets, which you can feel free to download here.

I believe that “knowledge is power” and I feel blessed to share this knowledge with everyone from across the world

5.I now do what I love

We All Scream For...
Before I was doing street photography full-time, I was working an online marketing job. Although I had great co-workers and leaders in the company, it wasn’t what I was truly passionate about. I felt that I had all these other things that I wanted to get out of life—being meeting new people, traveling, and having freedom. Being stuck in an office at a 10-6 job was not my notion of freedom.

Although I am working harder than ever (all I do is eat, breathe, and sleep street photography), I am loving every second of it. There are times when I get burnt out from the blogging, social media, emails, scheduling, workshops, meetings, etc but at the end of everyday I lie in bed and know that this is what I was meant to do—and I feel alive.

6.It has allowed me to travel to places I never expected to go

Beautiful sunset in the coast of Lebanon

It was always one of my dreams to travel the world. However before I started street photography, I hadn’t traveled much. The only place out of the US I ever went was to Korea to visit family, and the only other place I lived in the US was New York for a few years as a child.

After one of my blog posts titled: “101 Things I Have Learned About Street Photography” went viral, I was invited to Beirut, Lebanon to teach a street photography workshop by Loryne Atoui, a creative director there. When I heard the news I was ecstatic, but everybody else around me was suspicious of Lebanon. All they told me was that it was a dangerous place and I would get kidnapped. However once I arrived there, I found some of the kindest people on earth, and one of the most inviting places for street photography (people there loved getting photographed!)

In traveling I have really opened up my eyes to the rest of the world—through the people and different cultures I have experienced. It makes me feel much more conscious of who I am, and how small I (and America) is in comparison to the rest of the world.

7.It has allowed me to create a supportive and loving community

My OG Los Angeles Workshop Crew!

Being an anchor of a community is a huge responsibility, but something I appreciate being able to provide. I feel that was always one of my strengths in life—being able to connect people with one another.

To find a loving and supportive community (especially on the internet) is one of the most difficult things to do. As a sociology major in college, I know how important it is for people to have a need to belong. If we cannot find a social group we feel a part of, we will feel estranged and uncomfortable in life.

Therefore through this blog, I have tried to make it as community-oriented as possible, by featuring guest blog posts, interviews, photo-essays, and street photography contests. There is still a lot more I can do, but I feel blessed to have been the “enabler” for all of this community participation.

8.I see the world in a different way

Stars

Street photography has helped me really appreciate the beauty in the mundane—things I have never seen or noticed before. Before street photography I would always feel in a rush to get somewhere—and not notice the small little things in life. Whether it be the shadow on the ground, or the couple holding hands, or the man sipping coffee on a patio. All of these small and ordinary things that make us human are that much more apparent to me. I now cherish life at a bit of a slower pace and strive to see the beauty of everyday things.

9.It changed my view on human nature

Downtown LA

Before I studied street photography I would have called myself a bit of a pessimist in certain regards. For example, I would think that people were inherently greedy, confrontational, and only in life for themselves. I would be suspicious of other people’s intentions and especially those of strangers.

However through street photography, it has really helped me open up. The most eye-opening experiences have been is when I have shot the meanest looking people and they gave me the warmest looks back at me.

It made me realize that it can be the toughest people who can be the kindest. They are always so used to people staring at them suspiciously for how they look—that people don’t appreciate them for who they truly are—or take the time to realize that.

Nowadays I am starting to realize that people are inherently good, and most people react quite positively when you take photos of them on the street. Just make sure to walk around with a smile and say “thank you” and people will open up.

10.I now constantly challenge myself

Just Dance

My mom (and girlfriend) used to always criticize me that I would always settle for less. Although I always considered myself a hard worker, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself the “driven” type. Once I got comfortable doing something, I would be satisfied and not strive for any more.

However street photography has been one of the most difficult crafts I have ever picked up. It is something that not only takes skill through composition and framing—but through the interaction I have to make with the people I capture. Every phase in which I thought I took “good” photographs, I have slowly realized that I still have a long way to go.

I feel it is this challenge that keeps me going and constantly striving to take my photography to the next step. Charlie Kirk recently gave me the challenge of not uploading any of my photos for an entire year, and to have a collection of around 20 or so really memorable images. I wouldn’t have ever thought I was the type to do something like that (as I am so active on social media) but I think that it will be a great opportunity for me to take my photography to the next step.

How has street photography changed your life for the better? Share your experiences and stories in the comments below!

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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher