eric kim photography composition fibonacci1

Dear friend,

I want to write you some words of encouragement if you’re dealing with depression.

Don’t listen to me

First of all,

I have no idea what you are going through — nor am I going to pretend to know what you’re going through. But I know that depression is one of the shittiest things you can feel in life. The feeling of ennui, purposeless, and not having a reason to wake up in the morning. When I was in high school, I’ve had a few suicidal thoughts— if I ended my life, would others appreciate me more, or would they notice me?

I suffered very mild depression in high school— and had a few suicidal thoughts here and there, but in my mind, it wasn’t anything serious. I was fortunate enough to have a loving community— supportive friends, a phenomenal mother, purposeful community-service activities (working as a student intern at a Korean-American community center, being a Boy Scout troop leader), and being active in my local Korean-Catholic church (St. Andrew Kim in Oakland).

Let’s do this together

I have no idea what the ‘cure’ for depression is — but I certainly know ways that we can work together to conquer and overcome our depression, and sense of purposeless in life — using photography as our self-therapy device.

1. Finding your life’s purpose with photography

I think one of the biggest reasons we suffer from depression is because we feel like we have no purpose in life. No reason to wake up in the world.

The world looks like a fucking shitty place, and there is nothing we can do to fix it. We feel helpless. We become disempowered.

But I feel that we can use photography to find purpose in our life.

For me, I have found my life’s purpose through photography — to use photography as a tool to empower others. I find great and deep purpose and meaning in life, when I encourage others to conquer their fears in life— using street photography as a tool. I have an American friend who has conquered his PTSD (after being in the war) using street photography to help him feel comfortable around strangers, and to re-socialize.

I have spent the last 10 years or so, fascinated with human behavior, psychology— and the mind. But to me, all modern psychological notions are weak. I still think it goes back to philosophy — a lot of modern cognitive therapy is pretty much a more modern version of Stoicism — learning how to overcome any situation in life.

2. Find a social purpose for your photography (then share it with others)

You can find your life’s purpose through photography in many ways.

First of all, find your social purpose. The talent or the gift you have— that you can share with others. I feel the easiest way to conquer depression is to find something meaningful, useful, or helpful you can do to help others.

For example, I have a friend who has a gift for writing. And she loves photography too. And she has learned to bridge the gap— she loves to write about her photography, and photograph what she writes. Her photos and poems have the spirit soul embedded in them. Her photos and poems uplift my soul. Her photos and poems help me find beauty in everyday life (like street photography) and help me overcome any pessimism I have in life. And by her sharing her photos and writings— she is able to help empower others.

3. Help the disadvantaged and elderly

Another idea— use photography as a tool to help out the disadvantaged or the elderly.

I’ve taught a photography class at Phoenix High — a continuation school in Los Angeles in 2010. Many of the students were in gangs, slanging drugs, and had parents (often both) in jail. They felt lost. They had no hope. But photography gave them a tool for self-expression. For self-empowerment. And by teaching them the tool to empower themselves, I felt great purpose and meaning, and great joy in my heart.

I’ve also (with the help of my friends Neil Ta and Josh White) taught a photography workshop at a senior center in Toronto. The senior and elderly are some of the most depressed and lonely. Their families never call them. All their friends around them are dying. I felt great happiness to share my joy of photography with them — and it isn’t even just photography — it is sharing your heart, love, and time with them.

If you have a passion for photography, but feel depressed— one of the best ways to conquer your depression is to share your joy of photography with others. Even if you don’t consider yourself ‘good’ in photography or ‘experienced enough’ — if you have a love and passion for it, that is all you need. Because passion is infectious. Passion gives others the zest for creative self-expression. And as long as your photography is just a (little bit) better than those you are teaching— you are a teacher. And not only that, but to be humble— remember, “When one teaches, two learn” (when you teach, you learn from your students).

You don’t do nothing big. Help your little brother or sister photography. Help teach your mom or your mother-in-law learn photography. I’ve gained great happiness teaching my mom how to make better photos. I’ve gained great purpose helping empower others to make better photos — by keeping everything on this blog ‘open source’ and by sharing my ‘secrets.’

You can do the same. Don’t be closed. Be open. Share your insights, tips, and your secret sauce with others.

4. Photography blogging as self-therapy

For a while I went through some dark stuff— writing about my past, especially my history with my dad. I suffered a lot of trauma from my dad as a kid and teenager— verbal abuse, blackmailing, and this constant sense of guilt (didn’t help that I was raised on that Catholic guilt too).

But for me, photography and blogging was a form of self-therapy. By writing and blogging about what I suffered (and doing it in a very public and open, uncensored, raw way) — I felt like I was able to shed my old cocoon — and was able to become reborn as a beautiful butterfly.

I feel many of us suffer depression because we are afraid to share our pain and suffering with others. But honestly, everyone (no matter how fortunate) have dealt with pain, death, and suffering in their lives in one way or another.

So for me, writing, and talking about photography and my personal experiences is a way to connect with others. For me to connect with the rest of the community — and for the community to connect with me. That gives me a sense of purpose.

I wrote about photographing death— at my grandfather’s funeral. I wrote about how I constantly meditate on death — my death, the eventual death of my loved ones, my mom, and my family. I don’t feel this as something depressing— rather, uplifting. Because I know that my life is limited and will eventually end— I don’t waste time. For example, if this is the last thing I ever write before I die— I will die happy.

So as a practical tip, I would recommend starting your own photo blog.

If you want a free photography blog, just make one through wordpress.com. And after writing about your personal experiences in life, what you’re dealing with, add some meaningful photographs as a way to illustrate your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. If you want a paid (more controlled) option — signup via bluehost.com and install wordpress.org. The paid option will allow you to own your own website domain (firstnamelastnamephoto.com) and will eventually allow you to have more control, and no advertisements.

I far far far recommend starting a WordPress blog instead of just on Facebook or whatever— because you have more control. Facebook, you become a slave to the algorithm. And you start to outsource your self-esteem via likes and comments. For me on wordpress.org — I’ve disabled all my comments and statistics. Because I don’t want to out-source my self-esteem via how many views or comments I get. And I also feel that writing is a selfish endeavor — I write many of these things (also) for myself.

And when you write— my personal recommendation is to not edit. Just check for basic spell-check. Don’t care about grammar. As long as you’re getting the message across, that is good enough.

Also, don’t force yourself to write or blog. Only do it if you want to. And if it helps.

If you need some advice on blogging, read these blogging tips.

5. Create a community

One of the reasons we suffer depression is because we lose contact with fellow friends and a local community. A lot of modern life is waking up in a box, eating your breakfast out of a box, stepping into a box with 4 wheels, and driving to your box office, working on a digital box, then driving home in your box stuck in traffic with many other boxes, then turning on another digital box with flashing lights, then smoking a joint or taking a pill and going to sleep — and starting the process all over again.

I feel for your pain — to me, this is worse than slavery or anything.

But — regardless of our shitty lives, we can always find meaning. I know that finding an online community helped me a ton — in terms of helping me improve in my photography, and finding my style and purpose in photography. I thank the early black and white forum at Fredmiranda.com and the early days of Flickr (the ‘Grit and Grain’ community), and many of my ‘online’ friends. They taught me everything I learned.

I also found great purpose finding other photographers (in real life) in photography. I loved to go out and shoot with other photographers, because half the time — we’re just talking about real life. And enjoying coffee together. And enjoying drinks together. It wasn’t about photography — photography was just a bridge to help connect us as human beings.

When I worked at my old office job, a friend helped me organize a office photo club. And it was great. Every Friday afternoon, we walked around the office block together— and made photos. Some of us with DSLR’s, some of us with point and shoots, and some of us with smartphones. And we had simple assignments— only photograph triangles for the entire day, or the color red. It wasn’t a competition — it was a form of creative self-expression, to take away the dread of everyday life.

So you can start your own community, or join another community. Use meetup.com to find some other like-minded individuals in whatever genre of photography interests you. Or just find 1 other friend or human being that shares your interest. 2 people is enough to have a ‘community.’

For an online community — start a chat-room group with friends via Facebook Messenger, Whats app, Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat, or whatever — and share photos with your friends. Share a photo, and just ask your friends, “Keep or ditch?” This will help you get some direction and feedback in your photos.

6. Make portraits of yourself

A lot of us deal with self-image issues. If this is your issue, make self-portraits of yourself. And you don’t need to share them with anyone. My buddy Oggsie taught a ‘selfie school’ with the modern art museum (TATE) in London — and it dealt with issues of self-identity.

If you hate having your photo taken, it means that you probably deal with some sort of self-confidence issues with your image. So learn how to make portraits of yourself, and learn how to overcome those feelings.

Conclusion

Ultimately I feel that depression is an opportunity for you to find your purpose in life. Obviously if you’re feeling depressed in life — this is your brian telling you that you’re feeling a lack of purpose or direction in life.

So don’t see depression as the enemy. Depression is just a signal in your brain telling you to change something in your life.

Some things to do:
– Walk around more, and make more photos in the streets. Treat street photography as walking therapy, to find beauty in the everyday.
– Shoot street portraits, and talk to strangers on the streets before making portraits of them. Smile really big, and give them a handshake (or fist bump) after making their portrait. This will bring you great happiness.
– Start a photo community (either offline or online)
– Help those less fortunate than you — empower yourself by empowering others.

Be strong,
Eric

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