Life is good in Berkeley! Just finished a fun 1-day intensive street photography portrait crash course workshop in SF, and after meeting all the great students, I’m more pumped up to write articles, produce content, and share what’s in my neck of the woods!
Switching to black and white film
So I’m currently dwindling down my supply of Kodak Portra 400. Prices are starting to climb up more and more, and I had some Kodak Tri-X 400 chilling at home.
It has been almost 2 years since I’ve shot black and white film (because it is so much easier to process color film at the neighborhood Costco). But I recently learned that the Costco in Mountain View (where I usually get my film processed) is discontinuing processing film (their machine broke down), so I was at a bit of a crossroads.
So suddenly, I thought to myself— hey why not use this as an opportunity to try to switch it up with my film?
I have around 10 rolls of Tri-X chilling at home, so I popped a roll into my Leica, changed my meter to ISO 1600, and started to shoot.
And boy, this is the most fun I have had in photography in a long time.
It was like I was a kid again, or picking up photography for the first time. Shooting at ISO 1600 (instead of the normal 400 I do on Portra) was a lot more liberating— I could shoot at faster shutter speeds indoors, and I didn’t have to worry about making photos with nice colors (black and white for me is more about emotion, mood, and forms).
Suddenly I found myself shooting almost everything. Selfies in the mirror, my shadow, my balcony looking out, Cindy working at home, and even random strangers in coffee shops. I know that most of these photos probably won’t be that interesting, but they feel much more personal, and I am having more fun.
I also have been wondering what film (or if I shoot digital) in my Europe trip. I still don’t know, but I’m highly tempted to just pick up 100 rolls of Tri-X and shoot it all in black and white.
I started street photography in black and white, and shifted to color for the last 3 years. But for some reason, black and white is calling me back.
I plan on probably processing my film at home, and perhaps scanning it on my own. I generally don’t like to process and scan by myself, but I think it might be a good practice for me to be more hands-on with my film, and be able to “Zen-out” when processing and scanning. Perhaps I can listen to some chill music and just mediate on life while doing my film-related stuff.
What I’ve been reading
Lately, I’ve been really on a lot of Buddhist philosophy by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I love his writings, as they are pretty simple, straightforward, but honest. He is quite repetitive, but I like that— he reminds me of ideas and concepts that are easy to forget.
I read an excellent short book titled: “How to Walk”, which is about being mindful while walking. A perfect companion for street photographers to be more mindful when you’re out shooting street photography.
I also enjoyed his book: “How to Eat”, which reminds me to enjoy my food while eating, instead of just looking at my smartphone or listening to podcasts while wolfing down my food.
I recently finished “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, about overcoming your creative blocks and obstacles. I’m currently finishing up a free e-book titled: “How to Overcome Photographer’s Block” that I will release in the next week or so on the blog.
I’m starting to re-read “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb, who is my favorite author and modern philosopher. I have literally read the book 5 times (once on my nook, once on my smartphone in the Kindle app, once as a hardcover, another time on the nook, and now on paperback). His thoughts on how to live life amidst uncertainty, chaos, and randomness have helped me gain more clarity in life. Not only that, but his ideas about removing unnecessary things from life (via negativa) has inspired me to spend less time on social media, and more time to read, write, teach, and spend time with family and loved ones.
Other random books I have read recently:
- “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu: thinking about how to live life with certain strategies. I am a lover, not a fighter, but I enjoyed his thoughts on facing combats in life.
- “Becoming Steve Jobs”: Showed the more humanistic side of Steve Jobs, excellent book.
- “Keto Clarity”: I have been experimenting with a “ketogenic diet” (high fat, moderate protein, low carbs), and have found that I have had more clarity of thought, less food comas, and more productivity. Still experimenting with this diet.
- “The Warrior Diet”: Another diet book I read in which the concept is simple: have one big ass meal a day, and fast during the other times of the day. I combine this with a “ketogenic diet”, and have only 1 big meal a day (usually dinner). Sometimes if I have a lunch date, I will do an intense workout (kettlebell swings) and then gorge on lunch. Then have a small dinner. Strangely enough, I find when I am in a fasted state, that I am much more focused.
- “Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us”: A history on caffeine and the socio-economic implications, as well as health notes. As a coffee addict, I have learned the potential downsides of caffeine, and have slowly been lowering my intake. I usually have been sticking to matcha green tea lately, and drink decaf Americanos later in the day. I haven’t had a full cup of coffee for the last 2 weeks, and I miss it dearly— but I have been sleeping much better at night, and have felt less tired and irritable during the day.
- “The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth”: A great book and resource for entrepreneurial strategies in the modern world. Huge fan of James Altucher, his blog, his books, and his podcast.
Life in general
Life back home in Berkeley has been wonderful. After an intense travel schedule, I love enjoying the small things in life: going to Costco with Cindy or Trader Joes, visiting my mom and having lunch with her, visiting my friends at church, hanging out with my friends at Artis Coffee in Berkeley, going out and shooting and talking photography with my photography friends, and cooking at home.
I am blessed to have a “perfect life” in the sense that I have a lot of free time, control over my schedule, and I do what I love (read, write, teach).
But at the same time, I have felt that having too much freedom and lax-ness has been a bad thing. I’ve had a hard time staying motivated to shoot, write, research, or be passionate about life.
But fortunately I have been reading a lot more stoic philosophy and Taoist/Zen Buddhist texts, which have helped me gain greater appreciation for my life, and more clarity in terms of my purpose in life: to help empower other people.
I think a lot about death, and I want to make sure that I don’t squander a moment of my life. I want to dedicate my life helping others, as others have dedicated so much of their lives to help me out.
I also haven’t had much time during the week to go out on the streets to shoot, so I’ve discovered a better way to approach photography is this: not to be a ‘street photographer’, but just a ‘photographer’. Or better yet, as my buddy Josh White says, just enjoy my life (and bring a camera along for the ride).
I have also grappled a lot with trying to force myself to work versus letting things come naturally.
I do believe that you should embrace “wu-wei” (action without action), or simply going with the flow.
I don’t enjoy writing if I am being forced to do so. I enjoy writing when I feel that I have something that I feel is worth writing about, or something I am genuinely excited to write about (like writing this).
But on the other hand, I am not always “inspired” or motivated to write, read, or shoot photography. So in these cases, I’ve been trying to adopt strategies to help nudge me in the right direction to stay motivated.
What has helped the most when it comes to writing is this: wake up in the morning (on an empty and fasted state), enjoy a caffeinated beverage (nowadays matcha green tea), to just walk to my keyboard and start typing away. The beginning is always a little awkward (like starting up my engine), but once I get warmed up, the words just flow from my fingertips.
I have also made it a practice to not have my camera in my backpack. I now have permanently been leaving it close to me on my desk, around my neck, or in my passenger car seat while driving. As a result, I have been able to shoot around a roll of film a day (36 shots), which is actually a lot for me. This has made me feel a lot happier.
I have also have been trying my best to keep in touch with friends, because after talking to a lot of older folks, their biggest regret is losing contact with close friends. I try to always remember the article: “Regrets of the dying”.
People’s biggest regrets in life tend to be something along the lines of this:
- Not living a life true to themselves
- Working too hard
- Not keeping in better touch with friends and family
So the secret to happiness? Doing the exact opposite:
- Live a life that is true to yourself (not based on the expectations of others)
- Not work too hard (give yourself the freedom to be lazy and not feel guilty about it)
- Keep in close touch with friends and family
What to expect from the blog
I’m always thinking of what direction to take this blog.
The last several years, I have been 100% committed to street photography, and I still am. But lately I’ve been enjoying reading books on creativity, art, and just “general” photography.
I think (for now) I have written most of the articles I’ve wanted on street photography. I still plan on writing more articles on street photography, but I want to also write more articles and e-books on general photographers.
I genuinely believe that street photography and “general” photography are interchangeable. I don’t want people to worry too much about labels, and for people to feel open, free, and able to enjoy themselves in photography.
So I want to write some articles and books about challenges that all artists and photographers face.
One of the issues I’ve had is staying motivation, and breaking out of a creative block. So I’m almost done writing this free e-book on “How to Overcome Photographer’s Block”, which I help will help a lot of other people (as it has helped me).
I also find myself wanting to write more in-depth books instead of just blog posts. The problem I see with blog posts is that they have such a limited shelf life, and I am never able to get into enough detail or depth as I can.
I want to write things that will last: and my favorite things to read are always books. I generally dislike reading magazines (too many advertisements and “fluff” articles) and don’t like reading blogs (many articles tend to be too surface-level). I enjoy the classics— any book that is older than 100 years old.
For inspiration for my photography, I also love photography books over Flickr or Instagram.
Call me an old soul, but I think these things bring me the most happiness and satisfaction in life. So the direction I want to take my writing and photography is this: write more books and produce more photography books.
Oh yeah, and hopefully record some more YouTube video lectures.
I’m in Berkeley for another week or so, then heading down to LA to visit Cindy and her family. Then flying off to Seattle (doing a workshop there), and also to Vancouver (doing a 1-day street portrait workshop there).
Then I have an intense workshop/travel schedule: a week-long workshop in Paris, an Intermediate/Advanced workshop in Amsterdam, a week-long in Prague, enjoying time in Marseille, an intro Vienna workshop, an intro Berlin workshop, a London intro workshop, a week-long Istanbul workshop, and finally an intro Stockholm workshop.
I figured because I am not in Europe often, to load up my schedule (almost like how a musician goes on “tour”). This is the most packed schedule I have ever tried, so I am a bit nervous. But at the same time, I am excited to meet all the students, old friends, and to have new memories and experiences. Perhaps I will just try to sleep a lot, not ingest as much caffeine, and to eat well.
The rest of the year I am spending most of my time in Berkeley (the main reason I am traveling to Europe is because Cindy is doing research for her Vietnamese colonial studies in the south of France). I am exited to do more weekend and 1-day workshops in SF, and also do more collaborations with local photographers and institutions.
I feel like the last few months have passed super quickly, but I am always grateful for you reading, supporting, and following me on this crazy ride.
Keep rocking guys, and make beautiful art in the streets!
5/11/2015, 4:10pm, @ Artis Coffee in Berkeley