Whisper. Woman cop in Mumbai, 2011


Mumbai, 2011

Dear friend,

Let’s continue STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MANUAL, and talk about the importance of wandering, following your curiosity, and being a “Flaneur.”

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I love being a flaneur in street photography

Mumbai, 2011

First of all, what is a “flaneur”?

A flaneur (French word, flaner) is usually used in a bad connotation. A flaneur is typically defined as “Someone who lounges around and just idles.”

For me, I discovered the word from Nassim Taleb, the ultimate flaneur. He discourages the modern obsession of “productivity” and “efficiency”, and this foolish need to “always be doing something.” But the truth is: sometimes the best thing is to not do anything at all.

Paris, 2015

In investing, Warren Buffet encourages us to buy “value stocks” at low prices, and in theory, own them forever. Instead of just trading stocks like playing cards, like what many “day traders” (or minute traders) do.

In street photography, it is all about capturing the beauty of randomness and serendipity. As a street photographer, you are a professional flaneur. Someone with no road map. Someone who wanders and follows your nose, like a keen wolf or dog.

Tokyo. 2014

I see a flaneur as someone who walks 100% slower than the normal NYC businessman during rush hour. For myself when I’m shooting street photography, I try to walk 25% slower than I normally do, when I’m in a rush to go somewhere. I try to remind myself:

Slow down.

I try to feel the pavement under my feet. I try to feel the sensation of the concrete caressing the contours of my feet. I try to feel the nerves in my calves connecting with the ground and earth. To breathe in the (sometimes) fresh air, look up at the green trees, and be grateful to be alive, with fellow human beings, not stuck in some spaceship going to Mars.


Los Angeles, 2011

To be a flaneur street photographer is to be an anti-tourist. You hate pre arranged travel trips, where you’re being shuttled on an air-conditioned (now with wifi) bus, just to take a few selfies to share on social media.

I’ve always hated touristy shit. I felt like a prisoner. I couldn’t go at my own pace. Sometimes certain things would interest me, and I’d love to linger. Other times, things would bore me. I’d want to move on.

Nyc, 2015

Street photography is the ultimate freedom. You decide what you find interesting or boring. You decide when to stop, or when to continue to move on.

A good way to be more of a flaneur in your street photography: inject more randomness into your walking.

For example if you have a normal routine in street photography in terms of where you shoot, switch it up.

Shoot in a totally different part of town. Go down alleys you might be scared to. Shoot in a part of town that scares you. Often facing your fears is one of the best ways to build yourself as a human being, but also to take your photography to the next level.

Randomness in exercise

Portrait by Frank Steltzer

We’re told to go to the gym dutifully three times a week, always on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yet, with too much predictability, our bodies never become stronger.

Rather, I believe in injecting randomness and unpredictability in your workouts. Train the same muscle two days in a row. Or go a week without working it out at all.

Randomness and creativity

Hanoi, 2017

The more you embrace randomness, the more curiosity and fun you have. And the more creative ideas you have.

For example, when I’m out walking the streets like a flaneur, I always enter stores I’m interested in. Sometimes a random encounter into going into a Bang & Olfusen Store has inspired how I see design, composition, and marketing. I sometimes feel intimidated to enter a store that I don’t plan on buying anything. Now my rule is:

If I see a store I’m interested in, I just go in. And when the workers look at me, I just say, “Oh do you mind if I just look around a bit?” 100% of workers always say (with a smile), “Of course!”

To be a street photography flaneur, see yourself opening random doors, just like a “free range” kid, without a leash. Imagine yourself like on a road trip with an old Ford Mustang, with no top on. Ultimate freedom to wander, and follow your personal curiosity and muse.

Another tip, talk to strangers. Assume everyone is your friend.


Randomness in photography

Hanoi, 2017

Some of my best ways to find good photographers is this: Go Into a photo book store, or art book store, and browse random photographers. Often through serendipity, I find great new photographers that inspire me.

Tokyo, 2012
Tokyo, 2012

For example, I discovered the work of Guy Bourdain, a fashion photographer, purely by chance. But his work has inspired how I see color photography more than any other photographer out there. His surrealism also has inspired my street photography.

Melbourne, 2013

Another good tip: ask for recommendations from photographers whose work you admire. I love the work of Pierre Balthasan in Marseille. I discovered his work through my friend Yvette Vernin, another great Marseille street photographer. Anyways, Pierre showed me a lot of photo books in his library, and I re-discovered my passion for Richard Avedon and his “In the American West” street portrait series, of strangers against simple white backdrops. I’m glad I asked Pierre for his recommendations.

Santa Monica, 2010

So you can be a flaneur in your creative interests. Not just to be a slave to traditional tropes and styles in street photography.

Anti-definition in “Street Photography”


The ultimate street photographer is an “anti street photographer.”

For example, Garry Winogrand, the quintessential street photographer, hated being called a street photographer. He once said in an interview, “Call me a zoo photographer instead.”

Hong Kong, 2013

Why did he hate the definition of street photography? It put him in a small box.

Detroit, 2013

I say fuck boxes, like Justin Timberlake (dick in a box).

Don’t define yourself, your photography, or your street photography. Just follow your personal muse, and shoot whatever interests you, however you like to shoot.

Chicago, 2013

So friend, to end this chapter, ask yourself,

How can I inject more randomness and serendipity into my street photography? How can I channel the heart of a flaneur into my street photography, and aimless walks?


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