Let me share some thoughts on the importance of self-discovery in photography with you.
One of the most wise phrases ever uttered in history was:
This phrase echoed through the annals of Greek and Roman history, and still resonates with us strongly today.
For me, I feel that photography is a process of self-discovery. Photography is a tool that helps you better understand yourself, the world around you, and how you fit in society.
You are unique
One of the big problems I had when I started off photography was that I was seeking for inspiration outside of myself— rather than inspiration inside of myself.
Know that you don’t need any inspiration from other photographers. You already have all these amazing life experiences within you— photography should be a tool to unlock your hidden potential, and your hidden character within.
Everyone sees the world differently
I am very grateful that photography has helped me better understand who I am as a person.
Growing up, I’ve always been quite extroverted. I’ve always loved the company of friends and family around me. I was always the chatter-box, the one who brought friends together to play video games, and the one who sought out social interaction.
When I was in high school, I was constantly social— being active in my church, my Boy Scouts troop, sports, as well as my Korean-American community center.
When I went to college, I started off studying Biology (to become a doctor, like my Grandfather). After a quarter, I hated it— and went to the course registrar to change my major. Looking through the list of majors, “Sociology” popped up at me. I thought to myself, “I like society and people— maybe I’ll study that.”
Around that time, I started to become interested and passionate about photography. Needless to say, sociology + photography = street photography.
For me, Sociology was fascinating— the ability to study my fellow human beings. Photography for me is applied sociology— I use the camera as a research tool (rather than using a pen and pad).
However when I first started off in street photography, I was “taught” (by the random authorities on the internet) that I wasn’t allowed to interact with my subjects— that my mere presence would “disturb” the scene (and therefore make it ‘inauthentic’).
However now that I think about it, one of the main things I learned in my Sociology Ethnography course at UCLA was that no matter what— you’re always going to influence the scene, and you should embrace your presence and influence.
Who am I?
For the first few years, I loved shooting candidly— but somewhere, deep down inside, I felt that I wasn’t being authentic. I wasn’t shooting a way that was reflective of my own personality.
I soon started to interact with my subjects, and started to ask for permission (against the ‘rules’ of street photography). I soon found that this was more reflective of my personality. And now, I have discovered that my “style” of photography is “street portraiture”— interacting with strangers, asking them for their life stories, and shooting portraits of them.
My journey is unique— and yours is unique as well.
If you find yourself more introverted and prefer to stay to yourself— perhaps it is best for you not to interact with your subjects.
If you don’t really like human beings— perhaps you should shoot more “urban landscapes.”
If you’re a designer, perhaps you’re more interested in composition and nice framing in photography.
If you’re a writer, perhaps photography is “visual poetry” for you.
Nobody else has the answers
Nobody has the answers in terms of what is your personal style. You are the only authority on yourself.
So essentially, photography is a journey to help understand your own heart, your own soul, and how you view the world.
Your view of the world is unique and precious. Treasure that.
Your lens is unique
To end this letter, shoot who you are. Photograph in a way that reflects your own personality, and use photography as a tool for self-exploration, self-expression, and self-discovery.
I still do think it is a good idea to gain inspiration from others to give you that little kick in the ass (sometimes I do). But find photographers who you feel speak to you— find like-minded photographers, artists, or creatives that you jive-well with.
Express yourself through your own unique lens of the world.
Thursday, April 21, 2016 @ 10:17am // UC Berkeley