Photolosophy 101: Street Photography and the Art of People

I’ve been passionate about street photography ever since I was 18 years old. But I never stopped to think, consider, and reflect:

Why street photography?

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For me, street photography is visual sociology, a way for me to connect with other people, understand society, communities, and cultures, using the camera as my pen (to document, analyze, observe, and to come up with my own conclusions and theories).

Not only that, but I’ve always loved art. When I was a child, I was selected by my elementary school teacher to be put into a “gifted art kids” school for middle school, in Queens borough, New York. However due to financial difficulties (my parents essentially went bankrupt), we moved back to California.

Laughing Cindy at Ciao Bella. Saigon. 2017

Anyways, I’ve always loved drawing, painting, and art, ever since I was a kid. I have photos shot by my mom of me as a child, drawing with insanely intense focus at around 2 years old, crouched over a tiny blue fisher price table. I was also endlessly fascinated by mechanics and engineering stuff; I remember seeing these DK picture books with cutaways of massive machines and castles, and also loving to play and build with LEGO technic toys (that have gears, levers, pulleys).

Old people laughing and pointing. Omotesando, Tokyo 2017

When I was 18 years old and about to graduate high school, my mom asked me what I wanted as a graduation present. I told her I wanted a digital point and shoot camera; I still fondly remember that Canon SD 600 powershot digital point and shoot. It was the first time I had a digital camera, with (gasp) an LCD screen in which I could instantly view my photos after I shot them! (remember in 2006, digital cameras with LCD screens were still a novelty, with most digital cameras having around 1 or 2 megapixels!)

Anyways, I discovered street photography as one of the best ways to engage and interact with the real world. For me to talk to strangers, for me to make art regardless of where I was (democratic and open and easy art creation), giving me the impetus to travel and see the world and seek to understand humanity on a deeper level.

Benefits of street photography

From a philosophy perspective, street photography is phenomenal. Consider the practical benefits of street photography:

  1. Walking more and shooting more: Walking is good for our mental and physical well being. The more we walk, the happier we are! And the more we walk, the more we shoot. The more we shoot, the more likely we are to make good photos. And the more good photos we make, the happier we are! So obviously there’s a great positive feedback loop going on here.
  2. Interacting with others more: Street photography necessitates us to talk and interact with strangers and our fellow human beings. I believe that street photography helps us build empathy with others. The more we can empathize with others, the more we can change the world for the better!
  3. Visual gymnastics: Street photography is just plain fun! To juggle composition, framing, getting close, and the decisive moment is awesome! Even after 10 years of shooting street photography, I think I’ve barely scratched the surface of great photography and composition.
  4. Challenging and interesting: To be a more fulfilled and happier human, we must achieve more “flow” states (being in the “zone”). As humans we must apply ourselves to difficult challenges, and also build the skills to overcome and accomplish our goals! Street photography is enjoyable because it is difficult and challenging in an interesting way!

Positive street photography

We all already know how much pain and suffering there is in the world. I think as street photographers, we should acknowledge injustice in the world, but also seek to uncover the beauty and joy of life!


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Introduction to Photolosophy: