I have often read that life is a journey, not a destination. Meaning that we all have goals in life. But the happiest moments aren’t when we reach our goals. Rather, life is a “beautiful struggle” in which we are happiest when we are pursuing our goals. When we are pursuing our happiness.
I have often found the same is true with street photography. I am always motivated by my photography through the projects I am working on. I used to think that once I had my project completed and published– it would bring me great joy.
Unfortunately I have discovered that is wrong. I have the most joy when I am out on the streets either shooting– or with close friends and confidants when I’m editing and sequencing my work. Once I am down with a project, I feel a little empty and lonely– and simply look for the next project to keep me busy.
I used to have all these lofty goals in my photography and life. Some of the following included:
- Own a Leica M9 (ended up finally getting one after lusting for it for a long time. Soon became used to it and fell victim to “hedonic adaptation”, setting a new baseline to what makes you happy. I ended up selling it 8 months after I bought it, for a film Leica MP).
- Have a solo exhibition (had a few solo exhibitions at the Leica gallery in Singapore, Seoul, and Kuala Lumpur. Felt awesome showing my work and feeling important, but after the exhibition ended– everyone forgot about the exhibition. I felt empty and unaccomplished inside afterwards).
- Get at least 100 “favorites” on one photo on Flickr (when I finally did get 100 favorites, I was really excited. But soon that wasn’t enough, I saw the other photographer who had 200 favorites. I wanted 200 favorites. I got the 200 favorites, but now saw another guy with 500 favorites. I finally got 500 favorites, and looked at someone with 1000+ favorites. You are never satisfied).
- Be a “full-time” photographer (I make about 95% of my income teaching workshops, and I have tons of freedom in terms of my time. Yet being a full-time photographer wasn’t as glamorous as I thought. I have to deal with lots of emails, logistical work, finances– same stuff I did at my day-job. On top of that, the stress of paying bills and making a living).
- Travel the world (Last year I filled up my passport with stamps from all of the places I’ve been. I loved and cherished all of the places that I’ve been to– but the novelty of traveling has mostly worn off for me. I don’t appreciate it as much as I used to, which is quite sad. I remember going to NYC and not feeling very excited, and being shocked that I was quite blasé about the whole trip).
In all of these cases when I reached my “goal” or “destination”
I didn’t feel 100% happy and fulfilled. Of course I was happy for a short duration, but once again– I fell victim to “hedonic adaptation” (getting used to a new standard). And of course this leads me to going on the “hedonic treadmill” (wanting to get more and more stuff, as the old stuff isn’t good enough anymore). Hedonic treadmill examples: buying a BMW and now wanting a Maserati, buying a Leica and wanting a Phase one, buying a Leica lens and wanting a Noctilux.
Rather what I have discovered personally in my life is that it is the journey which I have always savored the most. It is the pain and struggles and difficulties of life which always make life great. They often call life as a “hero’s journey”
and no hero’s journey is complete without molten lava, fire-breathing dragons, and obstacles. They also call life like a mountain– the climbing of the mountain is painful and tough, but well worth it when you can see the beautiful view on top. But without the struggle of the hard hike, you wouldn’t appreciate the view. Kind of how food doesn’t taste as good if you’re not hungry, or if you didn’t work out before eating.
So when it comes to your photography, set yourself a general destination or direction where you want to be– but don’t set goals that are too concrete. Know where you want to take your photography and where you generally want to be with your work, but know that reaching your goals isn’t as exciting as it might seem. Some ideas of things to savor in your street photography journey:
- Savor the time spent shooting on the streets.
- Savor the time spent with other photographers, talking about photography.
- Savor the photography books and exhibitions you look at.
- Savor the cameras and equipment you already own.
- Savor the difficulty of shooting street photography– and know that the difficulty of the journey is the reward. If street photography was easy, it wouldn’t be as exciting or rewarding.
- Savor the editing process of “killing your babies”– and letting your shots marinate, to find the few good shots among the many bad ones.
- Savor the moments when you finally do publish, exhibit, or share your work– but know that it will be a fleeting feeling.
Life is impermanent and fleeting. Our life is nothing but a bunch of waves of life’s events. They flow in and out of our lives, and undulate at a certain rhythm. Good times come and go. Bad times come and go. We have certain good days when we’re out shooting street photography, and certain days where we take only bad photos (kind of like how a fisherman sometimes catches a lot of fish on certain days, and no fish on other days).
But once again, savor the present moment when it comes to your street photography. The present moment is the only thing which is “real” and matters.