I was recently thinking about what my purpose in life is. And I think I got it (for now): “My purpose in life is to empower others.” Pretty simple, huh?
I’ve thought about it a lot— and also the more I’ve given, the more I’ve received. It is a positive feedback loop. Help others to the best of my extent, and then all of my needs are taken care of.
How does your photography empower you, and how can you empower others?
What is good for the community?
I’ve recently re-read Marcus Aurelius’ “The Meditations” — and was struck by the idea that we were put on earth to help others. As human beings, our duty is to serve the “common good.” Our fellow friends, family, and photographers.
My duty is to try to empower as many other photographers as possible. I’ve tried my best to do this through my YouTube instructional videos, my free e-books, articles, interviews and features of other photographers, and workshops.
Every photographer and human being has a potential. The saddest thing is when you see someone’s passion and potential that is untapped. I think about the kids in the ghettos and projects who have nobody to believe in them. They have so much creativity and love to share with others, but they have no outlets for their ideas. Therefore they end up joining gangs, doing drugs, and doing stupid shit.
Anyways, remember as a photographer you’re not a solo individual— you are a part of a greater photographic community. Sure, the act of taking photos is a solitary pursuit. However once you want to start exhibiting your work, publishing photography books, or sharing your images on social media— you need others. You need an audience. You need others to believe in your work in the community.
If there were no other photographers or people in the world, I doubt that anyone would take photos. Photos are only good if you can share them with others. Kind of how the ancient philosophers said that nobody would have all the treasures in the world if they couldn’t have any friends to enjoy these treasures with.
So with your photos, think of how they can help benefit the community. Do your images inspire and empower other photographers? Or are they gratuitous and only seek to show your own vanity?
I feel one of the best ways to empower other photographers is to teach others. You can start off by teaching your kid, your father, your mother, your friend, or any other newbie you come across.
The great thing about teaching photography is that it helps you get back to basics. Starting from the basics of photography— you need to ask yourself the fundamental questions: “Why do I take photos? What is really the best way for me to take photos? What am I trying to say through my photos?”
Almost every beginner in photography I meet— they are obsessed with the gear and technical settings. I feel many photographers need guidance in knowing that great photos is about the image, the emotion, and the soul of a photograph. As technology improves, there will be a day when an iPhone will have nearly the same image quality as high-end digital cameras. Then when we no longer need to worry about technical settings, it will come down to composition, light, and the soul of a photo.
Not only that, but we learn as we teach. I often find myself learning more from beginners than from master photographers. That is because the beginner photographers ask questions about photography, and are always eager to learn. Master photographers become stuck in their expert-prisons. They think they have learned it all, therefore lose their humility, and willingness to learn new ideas and concepts.
Empower your subject
One of the reasons I love to shoot “street portraits” is because it allows me to interact with strangers on the street. I love to compliment and acknowledge all the people I meet in the streets. Many people are like ghosts— they wander the streets, and are invisible to others. But when we stop, acknowledge someone, and show them some love — they feel a deep sense of gratitude. And who knows, they might go home that night feeling a little more acknowledged as a human being.
I heard that the worst thing about being homeless isn’t the fact that you have no money. Rather, it is that you become like a ghost, and you are ignored by other humans. As human beings, the worst thing is to get ostracized by others, to be shunned, and to be treated more like an animal, instead of a human.
There is so much negativity and bullshit in the world. We squabble about gossip, we hate on other photographers who are more successful than us, and we overly obsess about the negative things others say about us (and quickly forget the positive vibes).
Life is too short for pettiness and negativity. Spread positive vibes.
If you have nothing positive or constructive to say, why say it?
On social media— I always like to try to empower other photographers by sharing what I like about their shots, and what could improve the shot. This all comes from a place of love, not superiority.
Negative energy and vibes breed upon themselves. Reality is filtered through our pre-conceived notions, and how we interpret the world.
The thing that boils my blood the most is when I hear photographers say, “Photographer X is overrated. I hate that photographer’s work, why are they so successful?” Instead of hating on other photographers and their work, it is best to acknowledge their success, and use that to inspire yourself.
If anything, if you see a photographer (who you think work isn’t very good) — don’t be bitter. Make it an acknowledgement that you too can make it big and be “successful.”
The thing I love about being an American and having grown up in America is the sense that I can become or achieve anything I set my mind to. Of course this isn’t true (luck, socio-economic factors, race plays a huge part)— but it has given me positivity that has helped me overcome obstacles.
I also don’t like the idea that our destiny is pre-set. I do believe we have the power to change our lives; it is only fear that is holding us back. Even though I am Catholic, I think a lot of religion’s purpose is to have us obey the social structure (to prevent us from killing each other).
But in today’s world, we have so much untapped potential. Netflix is like soma for the masses— we veg out on the couch instead of starting our own YouTube channel, instead of pursuing more creative acts, and we are obsessed with gossip magazines. We are more interested in the lives of others, instead of our own lives.
Live up to your potential
I know. Many of us have tough life situations. Some of us are single parents. Some of us have health conditions (or family members who do). Some of us work 80 hour weeks. Some of us have mental or physical disabilities. Some of us aren’t “talented” or have had shitty childhoods growing up.
But no matter what— nothing or nobody can prevent you from achieving your potential. We are our own stumbling blocks. The problem isn’t that others don’t believe in us; the problem is that we don’t believe in ourselves.
For me, I always chant “memento mori” to myself in the morning and evening (remembering that I will die, and life is uncertain). This helps guide my life to do what is truly important to me— to focus on writing, producing information that empowers others (instead of worrying about email, social media, and making more money).
So friend— fulfill your potential. Shit is tough, but life is short— do you want to make an impact in the world, empower others, or just die with a nice 3-bedroom house in the suburbs with a BMW?
We were born to help empower others. So don’t waste a second of your life. Make the best out of today.