I want to let you know— I am a brand-slave. Meaning; I love brands. I love the way they make me feel, but I am imprisoned by them.
Don’t mention brand names
For example, if I am with you and I ask you to pass you over my camera, I may say, “Can you hand me my Leica?” (instead of saying, “Can you hand me my camera?”
Another example— when I refer to my shoes, I will refer to them as my “Nike’s” — rather than my shoes.
When I talk about my laptop, I refer to it as my Macbook Pro — rather than my laptop.
Don’t be suckered by brands
What is a “brand”? A brand is a concept, a symbol— some sort of attribute we give a type of consumer product.
For example, when we think of the “brand” of Apple— we think minimalist, clean, hip, cool, and sophisticated. When we think of the “brand” of Microsoft— we think work, productivity, Excel, Word, and being boring.
The fact is the power of brand has a strong psychological effect on us. The truth is if a designer uses an Apple computer, he/she does indeed feel more creative/innovative. And if you want to be taken “seriously” as a lawyer/real estate agent— it probably makes more sense for you to drive a BMW (to make you feel more confident, smart, and rich) than to drive a Honda.
But honestly; fuck brands.
I am personally the biggest slave to brands, and I am the biggest brand-slave.
My slavery to brands
I grew up in the “hood” — not really, but I did grow up being a paycheck away from being homeless (my mom has filed for bankruptcy in the past, due to my dad gambling away our rent money).
I didn’t have much growing up— and I always wanted to look “successful” and I didn’t want to have the stigma of being “poor.”
I started working since I was 15 years old, and I was able to scrape enough money to buy my first car (1991 Sentra for about $1000) by building and selling my own computers (my first taste of entrepreneurship). With all of the money I earned from tutoring, helping at the local community center, etc— I dumped all of that money into brands that would build up my status.
I owned at least 12 pairs of shoes, and tons of clothes. For me, clothes were a shield against my own sense of insecurity. I wore clothes and brands which made me feel good— and made me feel “cool.”
Now that I am older, I want others to like me. I want to look sophisticated, cool, and suave. For a while I was suckered into learning more about brands (fancy watches), devices (I know too much about Apple + Android products), cars (I know too much about luxury cars)— etc.
But fuck— all that shit is bullshit. For reals.
Who gives a shit if you drive a BMW? If you love the car, the experience— that is totally cool. But please, do not buy one thinking that if you buy it, it will totally change your life, everyone will suddenly think you’re successful, and you’re going to be more “liked” by others.
I personally got suckered by branding when I lusted after my first Leica. When I got a Leica M9— I’m not going to lie, I felt like the shit. I would strut into camera stores with my M9 strapped across my shoulder, feeling cool and suave. I noticed that more random people would start talking to me at exhibition openings, and taking me more seriously. I would see other photographers with their clunky DSLR’s looking over with envy, trying to take a peek of my Leica.
But now, I am glad that I have gotten a little more insight about the powerful allure of brands.
To be fair; I think the Leica is one of the most beautiful, minimalist, and functional cameras ever produced by man. It is the pure distillation of simplicity and elegance of a camera (the film Leica MP is just a brass piece of metal with a focusing tab, a shutter, an aperture/shutter speed dial). It is a classic design (like a Porsche) that will never die.
Yet I think nobody should ever buy a Leica thinking that it will make you a better photographer. Because it won’t. Buying a Leica will in-fact make life more difficult for you (you have to manually-focus everything and shoot at f/8, you have to deal with the added weight (it isn’t as light as you might think), and the anxiety of having someone steal it from you in a shady neighborhood).
The sad thing about Leica is that when it was used in the past, it was a camera that you bought once and owned for your entire life— and you never needed to “upgrade.” In-fact, the “serious” reporters (who didn’t give a shit about the brand of the camera, but just needed something durable and bullet-proof) would tape up the red dots on their Leica’s— because they knew how distracting it was, and how it would invite envy from other photographers who shot with Nikon’s or Canon’s. Now the irony is that you will pay a premium for not having a red dot— and be taken more “seriously” by other photographers.
Cover up brands
Gaffers tape is your best friend.
I recently started to gaffers-tape everything I own. I taped up the Apple logo on my Macbook Pro, and thank god the new Macbook pro no longer says “Macbook” on the bottom of the screen. I taped up my Amazon Kindle logo. I taped up the “ThinkTank” logo on my Retrospective 15 backpack. I also purposefully try to make it a point to wear clothes that have no branding on the outside (my entire outfit is UNIQLO— I just try to wear black V-Necks)— the only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is to get rid of the white “swoosh” of my Nike shoes.
Think about simple consumer decisions— isn’t it quite ridiculous that you are like a walking advertisement or billboard for a brand? Whenever you show others your Louie-Vuitton bag or wallet, you’re doing free advertising for them. Apparently the really super-rich people purposefully pay a premium not to have branding on their stuff— they will wear $1000 cardigan sweaters that don’t have branding. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
I know personally the reason I was so addicted to branding is that I wanted to be noticed, loved, and appreciated.
Now I want to be simple, boring, and unremarkable. I don’t want my clothes, my cars, my watches, my digital devices, or my camera to show anything that is admirable. I only want people to judge my character, my actions, and my virtue.
Become ignorant of brands
Something I’ve been doing is challenging all of my assumptions.
Call this “beginner’s mind” — imagine being reborn when you had no idea of any of the symbolism of brands. Imagine if someone said that they drove a “BMW” and you said— “What is that?” Or if someone said they shot a “Leica” camera— and you said, “What is that?”
My personal rule now— try to pay a premium for products that don’t have branding on it. I think it also shows that these brands aren’t insecure— they don’t need to rely on their branding to have additional marketing.
For example, MUJI is a fantastic minimalist brand that doesn’t have any distracting logos in the front.
Another example— the OnePlus smartphone doesn’t have any distracting branding in the front (same as the iPhone— but now everyone knows what an iPhone looks like, so this doesn’t quite count).
I’ve been thinking a lot about cars— I don’t personally know any cars that don’t have big badges. I used to be really into the import-tuning scene; and the “cool” thing to do was to “de-badge” your car and intentionally try to get rid of all the branding of your car— so you would show off the design of your car, rather than what brand of car you drove.
Also another tip— pay extra money not to be advertised to. If you’re on Flickr; pay for the pro membership. If you have a Kindle, pay extra not to have pop-up advertisements annoy you whenever you turn on your device. If you have certain products that you love, just gaffer tape up that bad boy to not let the branding distract you.
“Shot with a Leica M240, Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE, f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000th shutter speed, copyright Eric Kim”
Another thing I’ve been trying to do is not call something by it’s brand name— but just its description.
Another tip— if someone says they like your photo, never tell them what camera or lens you shot it with.
I have a problem; sometimes when someone tells me that they like my photo, I will shove in their face: “Yeah— I shot it on film” (thinking that by telling them that I shot film they will respect me or take me more seriously).
But honestly; nobody gives a shit what camera, lens, or technical settings you used to make a photo. So please please please— never upload a photo to Facebook and in the caption describe what camera/lens you use. That is just a sign of insecurity. Similarly— don’t watermark your photos; let your style make your photos recognizable, rather than a watermark.
What is your “true” preference?
I am trying my best to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve recently retired the Leica MP (going to lend it to a friend), and I’m just focused on shooting with a Ricoh GR II digital camera (around $550 in the states). I sometimes feel like a spoiled kid using a 13’’ Macbook Pro (it cost me around $2000)— at times I feel like just picking up a cheap 11’’ Macbook Air (I used my old 2012 11’’ Macbook Air for 3 years with love, until it got stolen in Paris). I am trying to also “downgrade” my smartphone (Galaxy S6 which I got for free from Samsung)— to make it a point to myself that I don’t need all these fancy devices to make me happy.
Even as I’m typing this— I’m listening to Kendrick Lamar (To Pimp a Butterfly) on a 5-year-old iPod Nano with some $40 earbuds. Funny enough— I prefer this over listening to Spotify with my $300 Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
Don’t become a slave to your stuff
Another thing I’m trying to do— figure out how much of the products I’m using because I have them, versus whether I actually like using them.
To clarify— do I use my film Leica because I really enjoy using it— or do I use it because I feel like I “should” use it, because I spent a ton of money on it? Do I really prefer to use Android, or because I get free smartphones from Samsung? Do I really prefer to use a Macbook computer because it is “better” than any competitors— or because I am suckered by the Apple marketing?
Also how much of my life is based on convention (living a life true to others because I’m trying to please them)— versus living life true to myself?
I’ve been questioning a lot of my beliefs. Everyday I want to reset my brain; and not let the demons of my past hold me back. I want to live in the present moment, not feel like a slave to brands, the expectations of others, or even my personal past expectations to hold me back.
It feels so much fresher, just like your old PC — how much faster and efficient your computer is after a nice reboot. Or even better— remember “reformatting” your computer?
I want to “reformat” my brain. I’m trying to restart my entire Gmail (I have so much crap on it), and trying to keep my operating system as lean as possible (uninstalling apps I no longer use).
I am also trying to clean out my brain. To take out unnecessary clutter and distractions.
I also recently “purged” my social media— deleted a shitload of photos on Instagram, and marked a bunch of photos on Flickr as “private”. I am even considering deleting/rebooting my Facebook (or maybe not even using Facebook)— it is just another distraction I don’t need in my life. My real friends know how to contact me.
I know in a past article I wrote that I was no longer trying to use “free” services— and I fell a bit off the bandwagon. But I’m getting back on the horse— I’m going to experiment to see how few “free” services I can use as possible. Honestly at this point, it is almost impossible to live without Google (is there any “paid” search engine?) — and it makes my life easier to collaborate with Cindy (she lives in Gmail, Google Calendar, Sheets, etc).
Google’s mission is to “don’t be evil” — but honestly they’re not a benevolent company to empower humanity. Maybe a bit— but at the end of the day, they are a business trying to sell advertisements by selling your personal data to companies. I love you Google; but honestly that is what you are.
I trust Apple a (little bit) more— their business is trying to sell you fancy products, rather than selling your personal data to advertisements.
Amazon (I have prime)— is also in the business of trying to get you to buy more shit. Even one thing I hate about Kindle is they are always “recommending” you new books— which is just another distraction. And they know your browing/buying history so much— that they “suggest” products that you might like to buy. Honestly if I didn’t have a prime membership, I think I would buy a lot less shit on Amazon.
At the end of the day, just look at digital technology, brands, etc with a cautious eye.
Everyone out there (myself included, I hope that you might like me enough to attend a workshop with me one day) is trying to sell you something.
So look at everything and everybody with a cautious eye. A snake isn’t dangerous if you hold it by the head and not letting its fangs bite you with its poison.
If you use Google products; know you’re doing so willingly by trading your personal data for their services. If you’re cool with that— that’s fine. Just be knowledgeable.
If you use a Leica product, use it because you genuinely love the camera and simplicity— not because it is expensive and is a “reputable” brand.
Another personal tip; don’t trust online reviews that have affiliate links. Why not? Because honestly it is in their best interest to have you buy a product. Also don’t trust any media that relies on advertising. I love “The Verge”— but will they really be honest about the review of a Samsung/LG product— when half of their website has Samsung/LG product advertisements? I think “Consumer Reports” requires a membership— so you can trust them a little more.
Even with camera reviews, I include Amazon affiliate links in my reviews (if you buy a camera with my link, I get a 5% cut). But honestly that is sneaky— moving forward I’m not going to do that shit. I really want to be truly honest with you, and trust is the most important currency in today’s economy.
So for now, I’m taking off affiliate links to camera products. But I will keep them on informational links (to books, etc)— because I do genuinely want you to buy books, not gear. And I want you to invest in experiences, not stuff.
What I’m reading
What am I reading right now? Check out “Letters From a Stoic” (look for the unabridged version) — get it on your Kindle or just read it online for free.
Also if you are a sucker for marketing/branding— read the “Via Negativa” book in Nassim Taleb’s “Antifragile” — and read on “neomania.”
Also whenever you are tempted to buy a new product, try your best to notice similarities, not differences.
Free PDF: Learn From the Masters of Street Photography (Mark II)
Oh yeah, and I am very proud and excited to announce my new “Learn From the Masters” (Mark II—yeah like the camera) PDF book. I edited it down a lot (ruthless pruning) and now the entire book is only 100 lessons. There might be a “Mark III” version in the future available, but download a copy for free below.
- Download / 155MB / .ibooks
- Download / 300KB / .txt
iBooks Author Source File
- Download / 620 MB / .iba
Upcoming street photography workshops in 2016
Also check out my new upcoming workshops— I am excited to announce a new series of composition street photography workshops. Oh yeah you can also read my free e-book: “The Street Photography Composition Manual” if you don’t want to attend a workshop.
- Jan 9-10: SF / Composition – Open!
- Feb 5-12: Dubai / Gulf Photo Plus 2016
- Mar 19-20: NYC / Composition – Open!
- Mar 26-27: NYC / Conquer Your Fears – Open!
- April 16-17: SF / Conquer Your Fears – Open!
- April 23-24: SF / Advanced – TBA
- Oct 1-2: Melbourne / Conquer Your Fears – Open!
- Oct 8-9: Sydney / Conquer Your Fears – Open!
- Nov 5-6: Singapore / Conquer Your Fears – Open!
- Nov 12-13: Tokyo / Advanced – TBA
- Nov 19-20: Kyoto / Composition – Open!
For any questions regarding upcoming workshops, contact email@example.com
Almost sold out!
Update: Cindy and I are excited to share that our “Henri” neck strap is almost sold out, and we are currently making a new batch to be shipped internationally. If you want to be first in line for the next shipment fill your information in the Google Form below:
We also still have a few “Henri” wrist straps available– pick one up before they all sell out!
Love your life
Drink coffee, be happy, hug your mom or dad, kiss your loved ones, say “this moment is perfect”, shoot if today were your last, and “do you.”
Achieve your personal maximum— and never let anybody hold you back, not others, and certainly not yourself.
Monday, 11:04am, Dec 14, 2015 @ “Bellano” coffee-shop in San Jose, with a lovely doppio espresso, before me and Cindy go down to SoCal and stay with her family. Going to be there until Jan 1st, going to eat lots of delicious Vietnamese food, get fat, read more, write more, and try to “zen” out and quiet all these goddamn demons in my head.