Embracing “Creativity”: 7 Life Lessons Learned from Street Photography by Jeffrey Lam

One of my best friends Jeffrey Lam cooked up this guest blog post for us — his tagline is:

A non-creative trying to become “Creative” in 7 days

Very good insights and good read:

JEFF LAM:

I’m never sure what superlatives or descriptors should go after my name, but I certainly would not put my name anywhere near artist, photographer, or creative human-being. To give some more context about myself, I’m still salty I got a B+ on my 6th-grade ceramics final exam. Anyways… 

I am, however, into trying new things. One of my good friends and street photographer, ERICKIM, is always challenging me to tap into my “creative” potential. So, I decided to take up street photography for 7 days to see what I could learn. Here are my seven takeaways: 


1. I became more “present” to the moment… and happier

I felt like my life upgraded from 360p to 4K. At my baseline, I’m a person that finds my inside world much more interesting than the outside world. During this week, photography forced me to examine what goes on beyond my head… I felt like I was seeing, hearing, and being. Generally, I was much more in the “zone.” 

Even when I wasn’t actively shooting photography, the observation skills I had been using in photography extended to my daily life. For the first time, I heard the sound of birds chirping upon waking in the morning. 

My favorite scientific research study ever, “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind, ” pinged thousands of people asking them about their current happiness level, their current activity, and their current level of mindfulness. The study found that activities like making love, exercising, and good conversations were associated with 1) being in the moment and 2) happiness. 

While the study didn’t assess how happy people were while creating art, I guarantee the act of creating art makes is correlated to both mindfulness and happiness. 

2. Taking pictures is easy; creating a work of art is hard 

I chose photography to test my creativity because it has an extraordinarily low barrier to entry. All one needs is a camera (I used my iPhone 6) and a pair of legs. I didn’t have to buy any new equipment; I didn’t have to watch any YouTube videos to learn new skills. The barriers to entry are nil. 

Towards the beginning of the week, I wanted to capture the same emotions that I was seeing and feeling — awe, wonder, beauty, interest, fear, etc. I wanted to document things exactly as I was seeing them. For example, since we are currently in the middle of the Spring flower bloom, I wanted to capture all of the hope and vast feelings of the endless cherry blossoms. Before realizing this is much harder to do than say.

Towards the end of the week, I found that to practice my own sense of creativity, I had to represent the world in a new way instead of simply trying to capture the world verbatim. It was so much easier to take a small slice of what I was experiencing to convey one singular thing with the picture. Post-editing can amplify these same tones and themes.

Even though the process is simple (point and click), I can see how people devote decades to improving their skills. 

3. Everything is interesting; Every moment is interesting

Photography made life seem much more profound. During this 7-day photography challenge, inanimate objects morphed into opportunities. Fences became symbols. Lines and shapes told stories. Strangers became characters. 

In photography, every moment is a golden opportunity. During the week, I holstered my camera at the ready just in case my eyes saw something, anything interesting. I realized every second of time that passes is an opportunity to capture and memorialize a moment that will never happen again.

4. I learned inspiration is hard to come by

Okay, I have a little bit of a confession: the title of this article is a little bit misleading. I became super inspired and motivated to shoot photos for four days straight. And then there were a few days of rain, a few days of being busy, and then a few days of sadness. I also felt like all of my pictures looked similar. I lost motivation for a good 10 days before coming back to finish the 7-day challenge.

There are two theories for inspiration: you come to inspiration or inspiration comes to you. I don’t know which theory is true, but I prefer to believe we can move towards inspiration. 

For the last three days, I treated inspiration like a dog. Regardless if I feltlike walking and feeding my pet “inspiration,” I went out and did it anyway. Yes, inspiration is fleeting, but I think it can be tracked down and tamed.

5. I became more reflective

On a basic level, looking back through my everyday photos made me remember the days better. I noticed that when I was journaling at the end of the day, I didn’t just recall the events I did, but rather, I was better able to recall my feelings. 

On a more philosophical level, photography got me thinking… What does it mean to be creative? Is this art for me? Or the viewer? How will others perceive this photo?

6. Being Generative Makes Me Feel Good

Bringing something (I’m too embarrassed to call it “Art”) into the world like a photograph or blog post makes me happy. I feel the most satisfied when I feel like I have accomplished something. Unfortunately, in the professional setting, my ability to generate is often limited by others. In the artistic world, I can create as much as I want. 

Art can be created by anyone at any time.

7. Art is a means for personal growth?

I still by no means consider myself a creative, but I certainly see the value in photography and exercising my “creativity.” If you look at each of the takeaways above, many of them relate to becoming a better person. Art is a microcosm of life. Art is a way to grow. Art is a way to live a better life.

Follow Jeff

Me, Jeff and Cindy enjoying an ice cream cone!
Me, Jeff and Cindy enjoying an ice cream cone!

See more of Jeff’s blog posts here, or shoot him an email at jeffrey_lam@brown.edu

Jeff’s interests span creativity, ‘existential health’, and he is currently a medical student at Brown University’s Med School. Also, we first met in Vietnam; and he is one of the most introspective, thoughtful, and deep thinkers I know!

My favorite Jeff Lam Writings

Consuming less, learning more
  1. Diagramming Life #1: Consuming less, learning more
  2. My Quest for Meaningful Connections
  3. Writing: A skill to be learned or an innate talent?
  4. Confessions From an Insecure “Writer”
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