Microphone with red tassel, on blue stage. London, 2014
Microphone with red tassel, on blue stage. London, 2014

Dear friend, a word of advice: don’t seek to be a ‘fancy’ or complicated photographer/artist– seek to be more simple in your artistry and picture-making:

1. Who are we trying to impress with our photography?

Airplane and telephone wires. Downtown LA, 2013
Airplane and telephone wires. Downtown LA, 2013

The problem with photography is that we are always comparing ourselves with others. It is a constant rat-race of ‘one-upmanship’. Every photographer is trying to show how clever he/she is– by adding more ‘visual gymnastics’ to their images.

Rather than making pictures that are personally meaningful to us– we are just trying to make more complex pictures, for the sake of it. We are trying to make difficult compositions, just to show off our visual prowess. We want to flex our picture-making muscles.

Yet– I look at the pictures of Josef Koudelka and Richard Avedon — and see the true genius of their work is how simple their work was. Black and white. No distractions. Just focus on the subject. No fancy camera-work. Pictures that show their own soul– and shows their clear-cut reality, without any superfluous ornamentation or frills.

2. Simple colors are key.

Man with red tape. Venice, 2013
Man with red tape. Venice, 2013

I’ve been interested in shooting color for a while now– and trying to understand what makes a good color picture. I studied color-theory, and honestly — there are no ‘rules’ in color. These are all just conjectures and theories.

But the most important thing I learned from personal experience:

Make simple color pictures.

Not too many colors. Try to vary your colors– some with complementary colors (where all the colors are the same), or contrasting colors (orange juxtaposed against blue), or just colors that please your own eye.

Don’t over-think color. Just keep it simple.

Orange bathroom.
Orange bathroom.

Photography should be simple. Rather than seeking to make our pictures more and more complicated– let us seek to make more simple pictures. Pictures that are less pretentious, but more personal. Pictures that reflect LIFE, rather than compositional trickery.

Purple umbrella on the floor with yellow sidewalk line.
Purple umbrella on the floor with yellow sidewalk line.

3. Simple color photography

Often when I’m shooting on the streets, I just look for simple colors. A pop of red, blue, or orange.

The color-combination I love is BLUE-ORANGE — I feel that these two colors beside one another, ENHANCE the colors of both (this is what my sister ANNETTE KIM taught me):

4. Simple black and white photography

With black and white pictures, I like to do the ‘thumbnail test’. The concept: you know if a picture works if you can obtain visual and aesthetic appreciation with the image as a small thumbnail — the same as if you saw it full-screen.

For example, when I’m choosing all of these black and white pictures, I look at them them as small thumbnails. If the composition ‘pops out’ at me– it means that it is a strong image:

5. Simple Cindy

I also look at the pictures I’ve made of Cindy — and my favorite pictures of her are the simple ones. Without complex compositions. That are simple, straight-on, and full of my emotion and soul:

6. Simple is hard.

Contrary to popular belief, it is more difficult to make a simple picture than a complicated picture.

A simple picture (like simple design) takes a lot of thought. It takes a lot of chipping away the superfluous– like a sculptor with a block of marble. To know what to REMOVE is more difficult than knowing what to add.

7. My evolution as a photographer

I’ve been looking at a lot of my old pictures, to see how I’ve grown and evolved. I like to see that as I’m starting to develop, evolve, and grow as a photographer– I’m actually becoming more and more simple in my image-making.

For example, here are some of my earlier pictures from 2009-2011 — I started with pretty simple graphical pictures:

Looking at my recent pictures from Kyoto — I’ve returned to this ‘naive’ simple-style of picture-making:

Green car. Kyoto, 2017
Green car. Kyoto, 2017
Rusty muffler. Kyoto, 2017
Rusty muffler. Kyoto, 2017

Urban landscape. Kyoto, 2017
Urban landscape. Kyoto, 2017

Cindy looking at laptop with red jacket. Kyoto, 2017.
Cindy looking at laptop with red jacket. Kyoto, 2017.

8. Do your pictures feel authentic to you?

And for me — it is nice to look at simple pictures. Why? They aren’t pretentious, or feel forced. They feel natural. They feel authentic.

Rather than show off to the viewer, ‘Look at how clever I am at making pictures’ — you are saying, ‘Look at how I see the world, and how I live my life.’

To me, authenticity is the key of being a real photographer and artist.

Head of lettuce, in grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Head of lettuce, in grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Sunset in Kyoto, 2017
Sunset in Kyoto, 2017
Cindy doing yoga in the living room of our Airbnb. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy doing yoga in the living room of our Airbnb. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy color. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy color. Kyoto, 2017

9. What makes an ‘authentic’ picture?

Red texture. Kyoto, 2017.
Red texture. Kyoto, 2017.

But what makes our pictures ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’?

Just ask yourself:

Do you need the approval of others before you determine your picture is ‘good’ or not? Or are your own judge and own arbiter?

Beam of light. Tokyo, 2011.
Beam of light. Tokyo, 2011.
Salary men drinking. Tokyo, 2011
Salary men drinking. Tokyo, 2011
Woman with box on her head. Tokyo, 2011
Woman with box on her head. Tokyo, 2011

Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.
Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.

Tokyo urban landscape in rain. Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo urban landscape in rain. Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo diagonal composition, 2016
Tokyo, 2016
Dark man in silhouette and boot. Dark Skies Over Tokyo.
Dark man in silhouette and boot. Dark Skies Over Tokyo.
Woman in elevator. Tokyo, 2016.
Woman in elevator. Tokyo, 2016.
Tokyo eye. DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO
Tokyo eye. DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO
DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO / Man with umbrella.
DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO / Man with umbrella.
Man dodging. Tokyo, 2011.
Tokyo, 2011.
Frog garbage can. Tokyo, 2016
Frog garbage can. Tokyo, 2016

Cafe Kitsune. Tokyo, 2016
Cafe Kitsune. Tokyo, 2016
People walking at cross walk. Tokyo, 2016
People walking at cross walk. Tokyo, 2016
Man in suit. Tokyo, 2016
Man in suit. Tokyo, 2016
Strong graphical lines, black and whites.
Strong graphical lines, black and whites. Tokyo, 2016

10. I never asked myself, ‘Do I like my own pictures?’

In the past, I cared too much what others thought of me and my pictures. Before posting a picture, I had to get ‘approval’ from my friends/colleagues– because I had no faith in myself.

Now, I have absolute faith in my pictures. I feel evolved, uplifted, and more empowered as an artist.

Conclusion: How to empower yourself as a visual artist

Stylish woman outside of department store. Kyoto, 2017.
Stylish woman outside of department store. Kyoto, 2017. RICOH GR II with P mode and flash.

But how do you gain this sort of self-empowerment, and self-confidence as a photographer? This is what worked for me:

  1. Study the masters of photography, and the history of photography. To know the past, is to have confidence that you are on the right path– and that you have assimilated the knowledge, technique, and philosophies of the photographers who came from before you.
  2. Don’t care for the approval of anyone but yourself. If you don’t like your own pictures– what do you care what others think of your pictures?
  3. Photography should be your stimulus for life. If photography doesn’t encourage you to LIVE MORE — and to experience more of ‘real life’ — why are you making pictures? Does photography encourage you to live more, and does photography give you more hope, optimism, and joy of real life? Or does it just make you feel envious and jealous of other artists?

BE STRONG, AND ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
ERIC


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Cindy in Yukata and cup of tea in Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017
Cindy in Yukata and cup of tea in Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017
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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
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