I have never been the type of person to reflect on life. I generally tend to always live in the present moment– and don’t spend too much time thinking about the past or the future. But the quote that always comes to me from Socrates is: “The life unexamined is not a life worth living.”
Ever since I got laid off my job (June 13, 2011)
life has been zooming past before my eyes ridiculously quickly. It has been around 2 years and 6 months since I have been doing street photography “full time.” and wanted to use this opportunity to just share some of my thoughts and what I am grateful for.
10 Lessons/Reflections in Street Photography (and Life) from 2013
Below are 10 lessons/reflections in street photography and life from 2013– and they include my 10 personal favorite photos from 2013 as well:
1. The support
I believe that no man is his/her own island– and we should never take credit for any of our accomplishments. If it isn’t for the help we get from society and from others– we couldn’t be where we are today.
To be quite honest, I attribute most of my “success” to those who helped me along the way. Starting from Todd Hatakeyama reaching out to me when I got laid off my job, to the folks at Leica helping me host and sponsor my first workshops, to all of the amazing people who have supported me through the blog and attending my workshops. And of course there is my family that I am grateful for– especially my mom who always believed in me and supported me throughout my life, and my girlfriend Cindy for encouraging me to pursue my street photography “full-time.” One of the most supportive and helpful people in my life has also been Neil Ta, my manager– an amazingly talented photographer who is a great teammate and has helped me take me to new heights.
I honestly wouldn’t be able to manage all this travel and workshops if it weren’t for all of the people who reached out to me and let me crash on their beds and couches, who showed me around local places, and helped connect me to other local photographers, galleries, and people.
People I would like to especially thank in 2013 include Cindy Nguyen (my girlfriend), Sukhee Chung (my mom), Neil Ta (my manager), Jeff Mercader, Kevin McKenzie, AG DeMesa, Natz Estenzo, Choy Rosales, Luis Liwanag, Joel Mataro, Ted Claudio, Jhuly, Yaron Silberberg, Jayvee Sotto Mataro, Kaushal Parikh, Gary Tyson, Satoki Nagata, Rinzi Ruiz, Dana Barsuhn, Todd Hatakeyama, Jason Yee, Charlie Kirk, Brian Day, Josh White, Joe Agguire, Carson Lancaster, Brian Sparks, Mattias Leppäniemi, Ola Billmont, Steve Richmond, Trevor Marczylo, Adam Marelli, Julian Reid, Justin Lee, Grace Kang, Jano Laskor, Matt Obrey, Matt Stuart, Vishal Soniji, Jimmy Dovholt, John Goldsmith, Bellamy Hunt, Caspar Claasen, Michael Meinhardt, Ivan Marakov, Steven Ichikawa, Mike Avina, Christophe Wu, Oguz Ozgkan, Ben Molina, Junku Nishimura, Hiroaki Takeshima, Michael Nguyen, and many more (sorry if I forgot your name).
Man, just looking at part of that list (once again, sorry if I forgot to include your name– you know I love you)
shows me how much help and support is necessary for just one short year.
2. My purpose in life
Over the last year I have been heavily reading philosophy and the meaning of life. The books that have influenced my life the most in 2013 include Steve Job’s Biography by Walter Isaacson, a great deal of books by Nassim Taleb (“Antifragile“, “The Black Swan“, “The Bed of Procrustes“), “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, “The Emperor’s Handbook” by Marcus Aurelius, and “The Moral Sayings” by Publilius Syrus.
Pretty much what all these books have taught me is how less is more– and how I should dedicate my life for others.
There is a great saying by Publilius Syrus that goes: “He who lives for himself is truly dead to others.”
Considering how much help that I have been given in my life (growing up with a single-mom working 3-part time labor jobs)
going through High School without getting any major convictions, getting to UCLA, and now doing this blog full-time wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t the help of others.
Now I am in the position in life that I need to start giving back to others and the community. One of the things I am most proud of this 2013 was doing a “pay what you can” charity workshop in Detroit with Brian Day. All of the proceeds of the workshop went to the Detroit firefighters– one of the most poorly appreciated and under-funded programs.
I also made a pledge again this year of dedicating myself to “Open source photography”
how I vowed never to charge for information I create. Whether that be articles, videos, books, etc. My belief in life is that information should be open and free– to enrich the life of all those around the globe, especially to those who don’t have the financial or economic means.
There are times that I do get stressed out about finances, getting my workshops to fill up, pay bills, etc– but regardless of all of that, I try to always remind myself to serve the street photography community first– and everything will work itself out okay in the end.
I have been asked a lot by others what I want out of my photography, blog, life, etc. I thought about it long and hard and honestly– I could care less to become a famous or historical photographer. Of course I want to create books, exhibitions, and great work while I am still alive. But at the end of the day, my dedication is to this blog– to share articles about the masters, share work by talented contemporary street photographers, and to share inspiration & education about photography, life, and art.
3. On criticism
I recently wrote an article about criticism— and I feel that with anything you decide to pursue in life, you will get criticism and critics trying to derail you.
It is impossible to pursue your passion in life without having other people say negative things about you– trying to bring you down, trying to discourage you, and trying to prevent you to achieve your life’s mission.
Street photography is truly my passion in life– and I don’t really care if I get bullied, beaten up, or insulted on the internet. As long as I even help one person out there learn about a new photographer, feel inspired, or learn tips that would help him/her– I have done my job.
4. Quality over quantity
One thing I have focused in 2013 is to focus on quality over quantity. In today’s age, we are so overwhelmed with “content” (I really hate that word– it commodifies art and information). But anyways, I feel there is a great lack of effort put into articles (on the internet)
and having less at the end of the day is more.
I have made a great effort in putting the most high-quality, informative, in-depth, and helpful articles regarding “Learning from the masters” or the more recent “Composition” series. I know I am not the best writer, editor, nor photographer– but I simply want to share to the best of my personal ability what I have learned about street photography.
I still feel the pressure to blog daily– as that is what all other bloggers do. I still do get anxious if I am not able to blog or write for a few days, but I try to remind myself that I don’t need to constantly “churn” out articles.
At the end of the day– I still do get caught up in the urgencies of everyday life, and I want to dedicate more time in the mornings to write, reflect, and share anything related to street photography. Getting seduced by social media and emails are some of the biggest distractions– and I want to make a greater effort to not get distracted.
One internal struggle I have personally is when it comes to advertising/marketing/sponsorships/etc. On one hand, I hate how advertising and marketing can make us feel inadequate and create artificial “needs”
stuff we don’t really need but we want. But on the other hand, I think that advertising/marketing can share important information and knowledge about certain products which can help us in life.
This year I have been sponsored by Custom SLR
a strap company which has supported me over the last 2 years. I truly believe that they make great straps especially for DSLR users, and street photographers can benefit from their products.
I have also been sponsored by FORD, who gave me a free Ford Fiesta for 8 months (gas and insurance included)– which helped me travel across America and take photos, and also helping me make videos like my Gallo Boxing series and Mini-Documentary on Jack Simon. Also I wrote an article on How to Plan Your Own American Road Trip based on my experiences
I know that I have had some backlash against me being used as a marketing vessel. On one hand it is nice to have monetary support from these brands which help me pay my rent and expenses. However I want to stress that I don’t partner with any brands that I don’t truly believe in– and my sincerest apologies if you ever felt that I was “whoring out” to these advertisements too much.
In 2014, I want to put an even more critical eye to marketing/sponsorships: to be even more selective in participating in partnerships that will ultimately help you and the street photography community– rather than myself. That is the promise I make to you.
6. Shooting film
In April 2012, I wrote “Why Digital is Dead for Me in Street Photography” which created quite the ruckus. I didn’t mean to be so controversial about things– I just wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts about shooting digital vs film.
It has been around 2 years now that I have more or less shot film exclusively for my personal work– and I am still loving it. Of course at times it does stress me out (film and processing is expensive)– but I can’t stress how much more joy I get from shooting film (over digital).
First of all, I love the delayed gratification of film. I love the peace of mind of shooting something, and not seeing it until 3 months after I have shot it. It is exciting– like opening up presents for Christmas. But with digital, I love the convenience of shooting it
but post-processing and editing all those thousands of photos in Lightroom can become a drag after a while.
I tried to experiment more with shooting digital this year (with the Ricoh GRD V— which was given to me for free from Ricoh)
and enjoyed the results. But still, I prefer the aesthetics of film, and the slower process of shooting film.
Secondly, I love the consistency of images from shooting film. The only two cameras I have been really using is my Leica MP with my 35mm lens, and my Contax T3 (also with a 35mm lens). I love how I have been looking at my photos over the last 2 years, and the images all look consistent. I have been shooting only Kodak Portra 400— and I love the saturation, grain, textures, and warm colors of the film. I just ordered another 60 rolls of it recently, and plan on continuing to shoot the film until either I go broke, or Kodak stops producing it.
I don’t think that film is necessarily better than digital– it just suits my personal style. But personally I can say that shooting film has made me a better photographer– in terms of being more selective when I shoot, being more conscious of editing my best photos, and how it has helped me focus on projects.
I am still lured by digital
I might do some project solely on digital sometime in 2014.
7. Videos vs text
Another thing I am contemplating for 2014 is whether I should invest more energy is in YouTube or text. I have been doing both
but I think at the end of the day I need to focus on one or the other.
I personally enjoy talking more than I enjoy writing at the end of the day (I think my writing sounds more like talking anyways), but writing helps me crystallize ideas more concretely than talking does.
However I still feel that at the end of the day, nothing is more powerful than the spoken word.
Therefore one of my efforts for 2014 will be to make more videos. I hope to do more video interviews with talented up-and-coming street photographers as well as “video blogs” about street photography as well.
8. On traveling
In 2013 I was fortunate enough to travel to Manila, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Dubai, Chicago, Detroit, NYC, Toronto, San Diego, Istanbul, Los Angeles, SF, Stockholm, and London.
One of the difficulties in 2012 that I was traveling 3 weeks out of every month. This year I was on the road for about 1 week out of every month, and found traveling less was a lot better on my health, my relationships, and my family.
For my 2014 workshops I am planning to do something in-between 2012 and 2013: which is traveling 2 weeks abroad (teaching workshops) then 2 weeks back home. I think this will be the ideal situation, as it gives me an equal balance of doing my passion (teaching) while also spending quality time at home.
9. On my shooting style
One thing that has been quite exciting for me in 2013 is how I have been mixing up my shooting style. Generally I am more interested in “street portraits” — close-up portraits of people I meet in the streets (with or without permission). However after studying Steven Shore, Lee Friedlander, and William Eggleston— I have been more interested in in urban landscapes and “still life” street photography.
I hope on planning to experiment more in terms of my subject matter in 2014– and will see which direction it will bring me :)
10. On the blog
If you asked me 3 years ago if I could have imagined doing this blog for a living, I would say hell no. I never intended to make street photography a career or living– I kind of fell into it after getting laid off my job.
This blog has started as a labor of love and this want/need to share the information/knowledge I (and others) have learned about street photography. Still today it is my passion– and I don’t see any end in blogging in sight.
I will keep blogging until I go bankrupt (hopefully I won’t– but I probably will still blog when bankrupt). I think it is one of my life’s purposes to truly devote myself to the blog and the rest of the community.
Also in the spirit of my blog, I will provide some of my “Top 10’s” of the year:
Top 10 Favorite Articles
Below are some of my personal favorite articles of 2013:
- What is street photography?
- 5 Psychological Biases You Must Avoid in Street Photography
- 5 Lessons for Living in Street Photography (and Life)
- The Importance of Letting Your Photos Marinate
- Shoot Every Day As If It Were Your Last
- In Praise of Slowness in Street Photography
- 103 Things I’ve Learned About Street Photography
- 5 Things I Don’t Do in Street Photography
- How Many “Favorites” Or “Likes” Are Enough?
- Zen in the Art of Street Photography
Top 10 Favorite “Masters” Articles
Below are my top 10 favorite articles related to the masters of street photography:
- Robert Frank’s “The Americans”: Timeless Lessons Street Photographers Can Learn
- 10 Lessons Anders Petersen Can Teach You About Street Photography
- 10 Lessons Andre Kertesz Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 10 Lessons Josef Koudelka Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 7 Lessons Saul Leiter Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 10 Lessons William Klein Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 10 Lessons Alex Webb Can Teach You About Street Photography
- 5 Lessons Bruce Gilden Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 5 Lessons Daido Moriyama Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- 10 Lessons William Eggleston Has Taught Me About Street Photography
Top 10 Favorite Videos
Below are my favorite YouTube videos from 2013:
1. Jack Simon Shooting Street Photography in San Francisco
2. Istanbul Street Photography GoPro POV Volume #1
3. American Street Portrait Interview 1: Eric Rivera, in Philadelphia
4. Environmental Portrait GoPro POV at Kane’s Diner in New York
5. Being Grateful For What You Have
6. Gallo Boxing GoPro POV: Volume #1 (Little Boxer) with the Ricoh GRD 5
7. Interview with Todd Gross (Quarlo) in New York
8. Interview with Dimitris Makrygiannakis in Stockholm
9. Chicago Street Portraits POV Volume #5
10. Interview with Josh White, Seoul-based Street Photographer
Top Favorite Street Photographers of 2013
Below are the top street photographers whose work I have been enjoying/following (in no particular order). I cheated, and added more than 10 ;)
Interview with Julian TBA. You can follow him on Flickr.
Follow Simon on Flickr.
13. Charalampos Kydonakis (dirty harrry)
Follow Charalampos on Flickr.
Follow Lukas on Flickr.
15. Ola Billmont
Follow Ola on Flickr.
See more of Charlie’s work on his website.
17. Hector Isaac
Follow Trevor on Flickr.
Top 10 People to Follow on Twitter
Below are who are my personal favorite people to follow on Twitter (related to street photography or just photography):
Top 10 Favorite Street Photography Books
Below are my favorite street photography books from 2013– not necessarily published in 2013, but my personal favorites:
- Magnum Contact Sheets (it is incredible to look into the mind of these master photographers).
- Jason Eskanazi: “Wonderland” (I love his storytelling and sequencing abilities, as well as the strength of the overall images).
- Martin Parr: “The Last Resort” (One of Parr’s finest works, with great energy, emotion, and colors).
- Josef Koudelka: “Gypsies” (Incredible project by Koudelka, over 10 years of living and traveling with the Roma people. His compositions are some of the finest I have seen as well.)
- William Eggleston: “Chromes” (3-Box set of William Eggleston’s finest Kodachrome and other color slide film photos. Some of the most beautiful prints I have seen in a book, and the colors warm me up whenever I need inspiration.
- Robert Frank: “The Americans” (A photo-book that every street photographer needs to own. The somber mood and societal critique resonates with me
and is one of the classics).
- Bruce Davidson: “Subway” (Some of the finest color photo books I own. Incredible printing by Steidl, and the intensity of the portraits of the people he captures in the Subway are remarkable. I wish to create a book even half as good as this one day).
- Lars Tunbjork: “Office” (It inspired a lot of my current “Suits” project- and love his surrealism and the chaos and silence he captures in these barren empty office spaces).
- Bystander: A history of Street Photography (Not a photography book per-se, but I always go back to it for reference regarding the history of street photography).
- Alex Webb: “The Suffering of Light” (One of the finest contemporary street photography books in color. Some of Webb’s best work in his entire working career- and the colors are phenomenal).
Thanks so much for a phenomenal 2013 and for all of your love and support. Let’s make 2014 an amazing year for learning, shooting, and building this street photography community :)
– Written December 31, 2013 @ Garden Grove (Cindy’s House)