Dear friend, I am proud to share my first PDF photography book with you: SUITS:
What is ‘SUITS’?
Essentially, SUITS is probably my best photography project so far. It is a deep distillation of thousands of photos I’ve shot on Kodak Portra 400 film from 2011-2014, all on 35mm focal length (mix of film Leica MP and Contax T3). I am really proud of the project: it helped me get a MAGNUM Scholarship to a workshop with David Alan Harvey and Constantine Manos in Provincetown, where I made my ‘OLD COLONY‘ project.
Why photograph SUITS?
It is my ambition to use SUITS as a lens in which we can better analyze the world. It is my first stab as ‘visual sociology‘: Using photographs and visual images to create a sociological statement/critique/social commentary to the world.
For some background, I studied Sociology as an undergraduate student at UCLA. I was fascinated in Sociology because it better helped me understand the world around me. It helped me better analyze the behavior of my fellow human beings, and to ask a lot of questions:
- What is ‘happiness‘ in life?
- How do individuals act alone, versus when acting in groups?
- Are there certain ‘universal truths’ about societies in the world//or is it all different and socialized?
- How much of human behavior is biology (nature) versus socialization (nurture)?
Of course, I don’t know all the answers — but the pursuit of knowledge and understanding society has been a pure joy for me. To me, there is nothing more interesting than human beings. Sociology is the ‘science of people’ — I don’t think is a true ‘science’ behind people; but the concept of studying human beings is fascinating.
Photography as a metaphor
I started to photograph men in suits, because it was a metaphor for the imprisonment of working a soul-sucking 9-5 job (or even worse, 6am-10pm jobs, which a lot of my banker friends have). When I was pursuing the project, I was always curious:
Does earning/having more money make you happier? How much money is enough?
How did I know what or who to photograph?
I was very subjective in my photographic approach. I specifically looked for miserable suits. Why? It is my subjective view of the situation. Of course there are a lot of people who work as ‘suits’ who are very happy; with good family lives, etc. But that wasn’t my point: my point was to focus on the extreme end– those grinding out their souls working at hedge funds, investment banking, or any other soul-sucking jobs; thinking that working more/earning more money will bring them ‘happiness’.
Lesson: All photography is subjective; and you should make it as subjective and personal to your worldview as possible!
Advice for working on your own photography project
I also want to give some pointers when working on your own photography project:
First of all, allow yourself to change the project as you’re working on it. For example, early drafts of SUITS I photographed both men and women in suits:
The first photo I asked her to smile, the second I asked her to NOT smile. It is much more interesting to me:
Over time, I stopped photographing women in suits, because it was difficult to find a woman in a ‘suit’. Women businessmen tend to wear a fusion-suit; not quite the ‘suit and tie’ imagery I was trying to go for.
Suits and their partners
Another type of imagery I tried to get was to show the contentious relationship between some of these suits and their wives/partners/girlfriends:
Just as a general social critique, it hurts my heart when I see couples who are just addicted to their phones; not looking at one another, not talking, not conversing with one another, or not showing love to one another!
And of course as a social critique — there is an interesting power dynamic between men and women, especially when men are the money-making bankers with control/power (because they have the money), and some of their wives who stay at home. I’m not criticizing this relationship, but I find it interesting to seek to understand the ‘power-dynamic’ between the husband-wife, especially when the husband makes all the money, and the wife doesn’t work. Yet the wife still has power in the relationship.
Once again, you can see there are still a lot of unanswered questions I have through working on this project; but the intellectual pursuit is what interests me.
Balance Consistency and Variety: Aesthetics
Why? I think for me, a good photography project balances two things: consistency and variety.
- Consistency: Aesthetic consistency (what camera you shoot with, what film you shoot with, how you post-process your digital files, the focal length (whether 24mm, 28mm, 35mm), and just how the photos look.
- Variety: Avoid visual boredom by having different types of photos: some close-up photos, some far-away photos, and your subjects in different situations.
In a nutshell, you want to avoid your viewer from being bored when looking through your photography project, yet you want them to still feel visual-stimulation/joy from looking at your photos.
For myself, I don’t like to watch films where the aesthetic is inconsistent. When the aesthetic of any art project is inconsistent, there is some sort of ‘cognitive dissonance‘, where our brain kind of hurts, because a pattern has been disrupted/broken. I think part of the way the human brain works is this: it seeks patterns // the brain is a pattern-recognizing tool.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings
The fun thing about working on this SUITS project: I plan on shooting men in suits until I die. Why? As subject-matter they still fascinate me. And the fun thing: they won’t punch you in the face for photographing them, because they do have something to lose if they do.
Here are some out-takes/recent photos, or projects that haven’t made the final version of SUITS. But who knows, I might make a SUITS VOLUME II in the future:
Some analyses of my own SUITS compositions, specially with the ‘Golden Angle’ composition:
Conclusion: Work on your own project!
Dear friend, to conclude– I encourage you to work on your own photography project. Enjoy the process, and take your time. And only work on projects which are personally-meaningful to you. Only work on a project if nobody else would see the photos.
NEVER STOP SHOOTING,
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