I wanted to give you some advice on bouncing back from negative and debilitating experiences when you’re shooting street photography.
I just finished teaching a workshop in Seattle, and one of the students had a really negative experience. They took a photo of a stranger, and that stranger really told off the student. That really discouraged the student, and they felt anxious and scared to take any more photos. They felt like they were doing something wrong, they felt that they were being inconsiderate, and they felt like they were being a bad person.
But at the end of the day, remember how others perceive you and your street photography is more of a reflection of them, rather than of you.
For example, let’s say you take a photo of a stranger, and they get pissed off at you. They call you a creep, a pervert, an asshole, whatever. You might feel like you are indeed a creep, pervert, asshole, or whatever.
But in reality, the strangers response is more of a reflection of themselves and their worldview and their own insecurities, rather than of you as a photographer and human being.
How to bounce back from negative experiences
Let me ask you a question friend: have you ever walked in the streets and a dog started to bark at you, randomly, for no reason? Probably. If so, did you get upset or angry at the dog? Not necessarily. Why not? Because that’s what dogs do. Dogs bark. They bark at strangers. To expect a dog not to bark is insanity. Do you take it personally that a dog barks at you? Of course not, dogs bark at anybody.
So let’s take this analogy to human beings: have you ever had someone yell at you? Do you take it personally? Most of the time, yes. But why do you get angry about it? Well, because they are a human being, they have rationality and judgments. But at the end of the day, imagine some irrational human beings as barking dogs. You don’t get angry at a barking dog.
Another example: have you ever been on a plane and you heard a crying baby? Yeah it sucks. But do you get angry at the baby? Perhaps, maybe angry at the parents. You are annoyed by the baby, but you don’t get angry at the baby at crying. Why not? The baby doesn’t know any better. And that’s what babies do, they cry.
Sometimes also human beings are like crying babies. I know so many crying “man babies” (and also women babies). They complain and whine about everything in life, and are always crying, rather than trying to change their situation in life.
Another example: have you ever been in the sub, subway, or bus stop, and a random crazy homeless person comes up to you, waves their arm, says something crazy, and yells at you? Might have happened. When that happened, did you feel shameful, upset, or like a bad person? No. That would be irrational. Why? It would make no sense to wonder to yourself, “Why did that crazy guy single me out out of all the people in the world and decide to yell at me?” You should think, “Oh that is just another crazy guy, they yell at everybody. That crazy person didn’t decide to yell at me for a specific reason, I just happened to be the closest person nearby for that crazy person to yell at.”
So bringing it back to street photography: let’s say that stranger that just got angry at you is just a negative and nasty person in real life. They probably yell at everybody. They yell at the barista making their coffee, they yell at the waiter or witness serving them lunch, they yell at their loved ones, children, and family, and they probably hate themselves.
So long story short, don’t take it personally when someone yells at you or gets angry at you. It is always a reflection of the other person, not yourself.
You yourself have the right intentions. You want to capture the beauty of everyday life. You want to make genuine connections with strangers. You have a pure soul, and the right intentions. So don’t feel guilty when you accidentally piss someone off.
If you drive a car, the question isn’t whether you ever get into a car accident or not. The question is when you get into an accident.
The same is in street photography. It isn’t a question whether you will ever piss someone off or not. The question is when you piss somebody off.
As a street photographer, it is insanity to think that nobody will ever get pissed off from you. It is the hazard we face being a street photographer. If you are a garbage collector, it is insanity to think that you won’t smell like garbage at the end of the day. As a street photographer, it is insanity to think you’ll never upset someone, you’ll never get people angry at you, or anything along the lines of that.
Disregard what negative people say
I want to also share something with you friend, in terms of practical advice on how to deal with shitty and negative people.
Whenever people say negative things or mean things about me, it hurts me. I take it personally. I let their negative words ruminate in my thoughts for an entire week (or two). But how do I cure myself of this? Some advice from Seneca in his book, “Letters from a stoic”. He got this advice from another philosopher named Demetrius:
“What difference does it make for me, whether the rumblings come the upper or their nether region?” – Demetrius
To translate that quote into modern words:
“What difference does it make for me, whether the negative words of sounds that people say comes from their mouth, or their asshole (farting?)
Whenever someone says something negative about you, just imagine the sound of them farting. The negative words they say to you is just the sound of farting coming out of their mouth. How can you be upset? You will probably “LOL” instead.
So friend, to summarize; disregard the negative reactions of those in the streets, random haters, and negative people in your life. Imagine them like barking dogs, or crying babies, or random crazy people yelling at you in the bus. Or in your personal life, when people say negative things about you, imagine their words to be farting sounds coming from their mouth.
But still, you want to listen to the feedback, constructive critique from your close friends, family and colleagues. But besides your inner circle; disregard what everyone else says. At the end of the day, follow your own heart, do what feels right for you, and let your inner moral compass guide you.
Stay strong friend, farewell, and know that you have the strength to overcome any obstacles, difficulties, or challenges in life.
3:06pm, Seattle, Saturday, September 19th, 2015. After a nice espresso (Stumptown beans) at my friend Walters apartment, some nitro cold brew (so smooth and delicious, also at Stumptown), and half a cup of Chemex (also at Stumptown, man seriously some of the best coffee in the world).
Some random thoughts: if you’re interested in stoic philosophy, I recommend “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, very practical and an easy read. For those of you hardcore, check out “Letters From a Stoic” by Seneca.