I recently was listening to a podcast interview with Tony Robbins (on the “Tim Ferris Show”) and was struck by something Tony said: progress is happiness.
As you guys are probably well-aware of, I think a lot about happiness and progress in life. I want to live a happy and fulfilling life. I don’t want to feel stagnant. I don’t want to feel that I am hitting roadblocks. I want to fulfill my creative potential, and live a life without regrets. I want to suck out the marrow of life.
I think one of the greatest tragedies is when photographers stop shooting. I know a lot of difficulties occur in the lives of these photographers: they get busy raising families, they get busy with work, or they lose inspiration.
I was taking a nap earlier, and suddenly the thought came to mind: “swim or die.”
I once read something that in life, we have to keep moving— or else we atrophy and die. If we fall victim to an accident and lie in a hospital bed for months on end, our muscles no longer work, our bodies deteriorate, and we can just die in bed.
If we are in water, we need to keep moving, paddling, moving forward— or else we will die.
I think the same philosophy applies in photography. We need to keep shooting or else we will die. Not in a literal sense— but in a creative and figurative sense. Without creativity coursing through our veins, we feel like life has no vigor— no life. We need to shoot to fulfill that primal part of us, that craves excitement, randomness, and the tension of everyday life. As street photographers, are are endlessly fascinated by human beings and the human condition— what it means to be human. We are fascinated by human interaction, by society, and our own role and position in the world.
The Death of Curiosity
I think one of the saddest thing (also) is that curiosity is getting killed. It is getting stamped out. Ever since we are in school, we are discouraged to think creatively and “out of the box.” We are told to follow instructions (watch the LEGO movie and you will know what I am talking about).
What we need to do is throw away the instructional manual of life— and follow our curiosity.
I think one of the reasons that us as photographers lose “inspiration” is because we are no longer curious.
I think therefore one of the best ways to “prevent dying” in photography (by always shooting) is to constantly be curious— to follow wherever our curiosity leads us.
How to be more creative?
So how do we be more creative in our everyday lives?
Simple— I think it is to consume as much things that interest us. This can include photography books, films, architecture, art, museums— the collective of humanity’s arts.
I think curiosity is like a beautiful rabbit hole— we stumble upon one small thing that interests us, which leads us to another thing, which leads us to another thing. Curiosity is hungry— and never satisfied. The more we try to feed our curiosity, it just becomes more hungry. This is what it means to feel “fully human”, and “fully alive”.
Being curious in photography
I generally look at other photographers for inspiration in photography books. These photographers dedicate their entire lives and beings into creating these bodies of work— and they pour their entire lives and souls into it.
I don’t try to force myself to like the photography of a photographer whose work doesn’t naturally interest me. I do realize it is important to be aware of certain photographers— but I think that it is important to practice “selective ignorance.” Meaning— you don’t need to know every single photographer out there. Just look at the work of photographers whose work speaks to you, that captivates you, that makes your heart flutter.
My journey into urban landscape/medium-format
Currently I am shooting most of my “street photography” on medium-format film, with Kodak Portra 400, on a Hasselblad 501c and 80mm lens (thanks to Jeroen Hemlink from Amsterdam for the hook-up).
As time has gone on, I have found myself less interested in photographing people— and more interested in the urban environment.
Why the urban environment? I think it is fascinating how we interact with the environments we live in. Depending on what space we live in, it changes our human interactions. I have also become more and more interested in architecture and interior-design, as I have found the interior decoration and architecture of a place affects my mood so much. Not only that, but the way that spaces are arranged and organized changes human interaction as well. A circular table in a Chinese restaurant facilitates better interaction, collaboration, and conversation between a large group of friends. A cafe brings me more inspiration (high ceilings, wooden tables, smell of coffee) than a sterile classroom (fluorescent lights, no natural light, and boring colors).
So anyways, I have followed my curiosity— which has been urban landscape. I have also been fascinated by the 6×6 square-format, and the color-rendition of medium-format color film. There is something inexplicable about the sublime joy I get from looking at really beautiful colors. It is like I can touch the colors, feel them— there is this emotion that rushes through my body.
I don’t know if shooting medium-format is just another phase for me (probably is). But I am having so much fun following my curiosity, and I feel fully-alive as a photographer.
Following your curiosity vs what you “should” do
I think it is much more important to follow your curiosity than following what others prescribe what you “should” do. I know that I share a lot of my personal opinions on this blog (I mostly share advice I wish I knew when I started off)— but remember at the end of the day, you have the choice and power to follow the advice that resonates with you (and ignore what you think is bullshit).
So don’t feel pressured to conform to societal norms and follow what you “should” do. This isn’t just photography— it is life. Don’t just get a job because you “should” get a high-paying job with a good salary, to get a lot of money, to buy a lot of expensive cars (pink BMW’s), lots of expensive cameras (Leicas and Noctiluxes), and other expensive shit to show off. Don’t just live a life to gain fame, power, and influence (to brag to others about your title at job, or how much money you earn). Live a life true to yourself— follow your curiosity, passion, and dreams.
Nobody gives a shit how many 0’s you have in your bank account when you’re dead. You can’t take your BMW M3 to the grave when you die. Nobody is going to regret not buying more expensive cameras and lenses while they were alive.
What we are going to regret is not pursuing the photography projects that truly make us happy. We are going to regret not traveling more to places we’ve always wanted to go (but convinced ourselves that we “shouldn’t” go, because we “should” save more money for retirement, our kid’s college fund, whatever). We are going to regret not experimenting more with arts in our life which interest us (doesn’t just have to be photography— can be painting, music, drawing, whatever). We are going to regret not being able to experiment with shooting film (because we are worried that film and processing is too expensive).
If we use our money, time, attention, and resources on things we are passionate about— we can truly unlock our human potential. Don’t you want to live a life true to yourself— full of joy, optimism, and self-fulfillment? The more positive energy that flows from creating art that fulfills you— the more positive energy will go to others in your life, and inspire them as well.
So in conclusion, don’t die in photography. Don’t quit swimming. Keep moving forward. Follow your curiosity, and keep feeding your curiosities. Don’t let money, lack of time, lack of resources, or excuses get in your way. Just say “fuck it” — and go for it. Don’t give a shit what others think, be true to yourself. First aim to make yourself happy and fulfilled— and you will pay forward that positive energy to others.
Don’t stop shooting, don’t die.