NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

Dear friend,

The other day I was in a hotel lobby, reading some art books (found a fantastic book on Keith Haring, one of my favorite artists, as well as a book on American advertising from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

The most effective ads (I found) were the ones that stoked our sense of desire, especially to create a sense of dissatisfaction.

For example, some of the ads would tell us to “advance” ourselves, to “look ahead”, and to look more beautiful, handsome, and to be more skilled.

The modern day brand that stimulates our sense of desire the most is probably Apple. Not only do they have the sexiest products, but we feel by not having them, we are at a serious disadvantage. We imagine that Apple products will make us more creative, to “think different”, and help us achieve our creative potential.

I feel that cameras, camera review sites, and any camera magazine does this well. We get afraid of being “left behind in the dust” by not always having the latest and greatest. We want to be “modern”, to “stay up with the times”, and to make better images.

Not only do advertisements and modern day consumerism sucker us with creating a false sense of desire; it also stokes fear into us. The fear that by not having a certain camera, we won’t be able to capture the “decisive moment”, because our current camera doesn’t have fast-enough autofocus, high performing ISO, or enough sharpness.

This is hilarious.

The thing that I actually enjoyed the most about looking at these mad-men era ads is that I realized just how ridiculous these products were, how ridiculously outdated they were, as well as how silly it all was.

For example, old advertisements for older cars just look ridiculous. Same goes for “modern” technology (a TV that you could attach headphones to, a portable 10” TV that runs on rechargeable batteries, and “state of the art” radios).

How to remove desire

I think one of the steps in terms of removing desire from cameras, gadgets, and gear is to look at advertisements and reviews of gear that is 4-5 years old.

Remember when the iPhone 4s first came out how slick and sexy we thought it was? Now we think the screens are tiny, and balk at how heavy and “Neanderthal” it looks.

The same goes for the early DSLRs: I remember when the Canon 5D first came out, and how amazed everyone was with the ability to shoot at ISO 1600! Now we complain that our cameras are noisy at ISO 6400.

Never stop appreciating technology

Don’t get me wrong; I love technology. I am the ever-optimist and love how technology had democratized information, creativity, and online communities.

However I think the problem is when we stop appreciating technology— and how amazing it is.

I remember when I first got a GPS for my car, and was so bamboozled that I didn’t need to pay a monthly fee to use the GPS, “You mean, I can use it without paying for internet, and it is for free?”

I remember when I first got a smartphone (with data, the EVO 4G) I was able to access any information I wanted in the matter of seconds. I could watch movies on my phone, contact people from half-way across the world, and (even) access email on my phone! (this was only around 5-6 years ago).

Envy your own life

I guess the way I want to end this letter is just (another) reminder to not be suckered by desiring stuff we don’t need, and also being grateful for the life that we have, the gadgets that we have, the cameras and lenses that we have, and the loved ones that we have in our lives.

We are always envious of the lives of others; but how often do we forget to envy our own lives?

Imagine all the other people out there in the world who envy your life. Imagine those people without shelter, without a loving family, and who go to sleep hungry. Imagine how much they would envy your life.

Imagine all those photographers out there who would die to have the cameras and lenses you currently own.

And also in terms of your social media presence— you might envy others who have more followers than you, but how often do you look back and realize how others have fewer followers than you?

“All you need is love”

I had a dinner with some close friends in the lower-east side in NYC the other day, and loved their company. The laughter, the good food, the sense of warmth, shared memories and experiences, and I had a huge sense of gratitude that emanated my body.

At that moment I had no other desires; no desire for more fame, for more money, for more “excitement”, for more travel, or for any more electronic gadgets.

All I desired at that point was to love and be loved— and isn’t that enough?


9:00am, Saturday, March 26, 2016 @ Culture Espresso; ready to do a conquer your fear of shooting street photography this weekend. I have realized that my life’s task is to teach, and building communities and bringing people is what is in my bones. Thank God for this opportunity, let me never forget it.

Articles on gratitude

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015
  1. Good Enough
  2. Things I Am Grateful For
  3. Desire the Life You Already Have
  4. 15 (More) Lessons Taoism Has Taught Me About Street Photography
  5. How to Die Without Regrets
  6. 12 Scientifically Proven Ways to Have More Happiness in Street Photography
  7. Having No Choices is the Ultimate Freedom
  8. How to Be Grateful For What You Have