Photography For the Soul

Portugal, 2015 #cindyproject #trix1600
Portugal, 2015 #cindyproject #trix1600

Dear friend,

Do you remember when you were a kid and there were those “chicken soup for the soul” books? Yeah, I remember those too.

I remember reading these stories as a kid, and feeling so uplifted and inspired.

Photography is the same way too— I wrote about this earlier (street photography is self-therapy)— but I don’t want to just be particular with street photography, but the entire genre of photography as a whole.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what kind of photography you shoot— as long as whatever subject-matter you photograph heals your soul, and uplifts you.

Apparently Don McCullin (famous war photographer) was so traumatized after war, that he took the next few years off and just photographed nature. This really gave his soul a lot of healing, and the chance to revel in God’s beauty.

I personally started off as a landscape photographer, because it was the “obvious” thing to shoot. I was a Boy Scout growing up, so nature was always embedded into my DNA. However, at the end of the day— I was a much more social and extroverted person, and less contemplative and introverted. Therefore landscape photography eventually bored me, and when I discovered street photography— I found a genre of photography that helped me connect with fellow human beings, and helped uplift me with joy. Street photography was a tool that helped me not only make photos, but make connections with those I would never before.

But once again, “street photography” isn’t a certain type of photography— it is just photography. After all, all photography is photography.

Why do we put up all these walls and have different “genre’s” in photography? To differentiate ourselves. To make ourselves feel good. To put ourselves on a pedestal, and look down on “other” genres.

After all, that is a common human trait— we like to amplify our commonalities with people in our “tribe”, and to distance ourselves from others who are “different” from us.

I won’t lie— as a street photographer I have a lot of pride in what I do, especially the guts it takes to approach a stranger and take a photo of them (either with permission or without permission). If you take a photo of a flower, it won’t yell at you (however you might have the risk of a bee stinging you).

But why this need for bravado in photography?

Why do fashion photographers think they rule the world, because they have fancy lights, beautiful models, and assistants? Why do street photographers think that their genre is more “pure” than others because they don’t need any external tools besides their cameras and public areas to make photos? Why do nature photographers think that they’re enlightened because they enjoy nature and shoot with these huge telephoto lenses? Why do black and white photographers look down on color photographers, and why do color photographers see black and white photographers as being stuck in the past?

All photography is photography

Let’s all get along.

We’re all one community of human beings, photographers— rather than distancing ourselves from our fellow photographers, we should accept all photographers into our sphere of love, compassion, and empathy.

Photography is not about making photos. Photography is about helping us see the light of the world (pun intended), for helping us appreciate the beauty in the mundane, and to make our hearts and souls sing.

In the past, I have written countless articles, blog posts, and guides on how to shoot photography— now I want to focus on more why to shoot photography. And once we discover why we shoot what we shoot, we can better discover how to photograph the subject-matter we are passionate about.

Know thyself

I go through weird phases— at times I am uber-social and hyper-extroverted (generally while traveling or teaching workshops). Yet at the same time I can go into “hibernation” and “recluse” mode— focusing on reading, writing, and meditating.

I have discovered in my time off of traveling (haven’t really traveled overseas the last 4 months) that I can appreciate things in life without taking photos of it.

For example, when I go hiking with my mom, I don’t even bring a camera anymore. I just love to smell the dew in the air, to enjoy the misty trees, and to stand in awe and wonderment of God and the universe.

When I am at a family birthday party, I like to sit and enjoy the moment. I like to smell the delicious meat in the air, to see people enjoying eating their cake, and the smell of wine and whiskey in the air.

When I am walking on the streets, at times I like to just look at old people who I see beautiful— smile at them, without having the urge to take photos.

After all, why do we take photos? Perhaps to preserve a moment?

But every moment is fleeting. Nothing will last forever.

Another reason to take photos— I often feel more engaged in the present moment when taking photos. Or sometimes I feel that the camera is a tool that makes me feel more courageous (and gives me a reason to talk to a stranger).

Why do you shoot?

If photography is not making your heart sing, and your soul flourish— why do you do it?

Sometimes we make photos (especially when traveling to exotic locations) as “proof” that we have been somewhere. Not only that, but we want to share the beauty we have encountered with our friends. And honestly sometimes it is just to show off that we are in Paris, enjoying our lives (and slightly shoving it into the faces of others).

But if you’re going to take a photo (whenever) and never expect to see it ever again (like 99% of the photos I shoot on my smartphone), why shoot it in the first place?

Just know that in life, you can just look at the world, enjoy the moment, savor and relish the beauty of life, and let the moment pass.

Don’t feel the compulsive urge to photograph and document everything.

Are you enjoying that nice latte? Put away the smartphone, none of your Instagram followers need to know that.

Are you enjoying a wonderful day with your loved one? No need for the selfie.

Are you enjoying the glory of nature? Put away your phone, you can just sit and relish in the moment.

Meet an interesting stranger in the streets who tells you his/her life story? Don’t feel the urge to have to take photos of them (if they’re not comfortable with it). But if you ask nicely, and they are cool with it— go ahead by all means.

Love your life

Always ask why you shoot what you shoot, and think how photography is good for your soul.

Live your life, enjoy your life, and share that love with others.

Be strong,

10:10am, Feb 2, 2016, Tuesday, in Berkeley, about to fly out to Dubai (and my epic 16 hour flight)— super excited to see all my friends.

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