Social Photography

Amsterdam, 2015
Amsterdam, 2015

Dear friend,

I wanted to share some personal thoughts I’ve been having about “street photography” in general— that I feel that “social photography” would be a better definition.

We live in a world where we are so disconnected. Most of us live in the suburbs, disconnected from our communities (who knows their neighbors anymore), little time to see our friends (most of our time is with our nuclear families), and little opportunity to interact with social groups outside of work.

I think this causes a lot of misery, sense of alienation, and causes people to just stay locked up in their homes, miserable, sad, and alone.

Don’t be alone

“Solitude is the mother of all anxieties.” – Publilius Syrus

One of the trends in America the last 50+ years is the trend of society becoming more and more isolated. Many sociologists have written about this— especially the landmark essay, “Bowling alone” — which shows whereas bowling used to be a social activity, more Americans (back then) started to bowl alone.

I see this happening with the modern world as well.

In photography, it used to be more social. You would go to the camera shop, buy film, get your film processed, meet other photographers for a coffee, go see exhibitions together, and share prints in person.

Nowadays we are (still) social, yet it is all meditated through a 4’’ device. We no longer need to contact and communicate with places that develop our films, because it is all digital. We no longer need to visit the darkroom, because we can upload our photos instantly to Instagram.

We used to go to movie theaters with our friends, now it is much easier to just stay at home by yourself after work and watch Netflix.

We used to meet our friends (more often) in-person for a coffee or dinner; now we communicate in short-burst text-messages.

As humans, we are hard-wired to be social. After all, the only advantages that we have as human beings is that we know how to use tools, and we can organize, collaborate, and socialize with one another.

I know personally, whenever I am home by myself, I feel miserable. When I play video games at home by myself, I feel isolated and alone. Even when I was a kid, all the video games I played (which I actually enjoyed) were with friends— either playing together on the SNES at my house, or playing Starcraft or Counterstrike with my friends at “LAN Parties” (bringing our heavy-ass desktop computers and CRT monitors to one another’s houses).

“Street photography” vs “social photography”

The reason why I feel that “street photography” appeals to so many people is that it helps us get out of our apartments, into public places, and the chance to socialize, interact, and communicate with the outside world.

For this reason, I feel that “social photography” is probably a more precise definition of what most “street photographers” are trying to do.

“Street photography” helps us be more social. After all, most “street photographers” are interested in photographing fellow-human beings; whether candidly or with permission.

A landscape photographer can go just fine photographing nature, trees, and flowers. Yet you can do landscape photography without any need of a partner. You can do it alone.

Even when I think of my personal “street photography” — I like to call up friends and ask them if they just want to go on a walk and “shoot.” 90% of the time we’re not even taking photos, we’re just walking, chatting, and enjoying one another’s company. Even when I teach workshops, I feel the biggest benefit is the chance to meet other passionate people, to socialize, to share one another’s passion for photography, and to make new connections. Photography is less important.

Engage with others

Whether you find yourself a more extroverted or introverted person; try to figure out ways how you can make your photography more “social.”

Perhaps you shoot by yourself— but maybe meet friends later and print our your works and ask to get honest feedback/critique on it.

If you’re extroverted, use your charm to talk more with strangers and socialize with them that way.

While I am skeptical of a lot of technology being alienating— there are tons of fantastic Instagram and Flickr communities which allow the formation of online communities. I feel an online community is far better than no community— although I do prefer in-person communication. Yet for many of us who are alienated by our jobs (sticking in a cubicle with artificial lights, stuck in a basement), staying connected with other people via the internet is a lifeline.

I know that personally a lot of my inspiration and motivation in my photography was from help I got from strangers on the internet, and other photographers I met in-person. I would get honest feedback, critique, and the opportunity to also help other photographers.

Even in my journey in photography, I am so grateful for all the photographers who I met, interviewed, shared nice coffees with, and shared passions with. From other photographers, I learned how to shoot photography (technical settings, framing, etc), as well as the photographers to study (which ended up turning into the “Learn From the Masters” series).

I think about all my travels around the world, and I had far more fun socializing with the people I met along the way (not the photography side). If anything, I discovered my passion for traveling wasn’t about making “exotic photos” — it was about opening my mind to new cultures, new experiences, and new ways of life. And the people I have met along my life’s journey have always been the most valuable to me.

Don’t spend so much time alone

I do appreciate having time alone; but eventually as humans we need social contact.

Think of ways you can inject ways to be more social in life. Perhaps attend local “meet-ups” (, attend local photography or art exhibitions or shows or gallery openings, attend photography classes or workshops, hit up the local camera shop and chat with the people who work there, talk more with strangers you photograph, or use the Internet to give honest feedback and critique on the work of others.

If I think about it honestly— if I were the last human being on the world, I definitely would not make photos. I don’t even know if I would have a will to keep living without having another human being to share the joy of life with.

Nothing good in life is worth having or experiencing without someone to share it with.

Stay inspired, stay strong, and shoot as if today were your last

Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016, 10:55am