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,
To master working on your own photography project, check out my STREET PHOTOGRAPHY STARTER KIT
Living in a cubicle hell,
with shit to sell
How will you feel at the end of your life?
Only time will tell.
If you work as a suit,
I feel for you
like a pig about to get slaughtered,
I will squeal for you
We need to peel back
the layers of false reality
to let our spirits soar,
and be what we want to be
To not be held back by the golden handcuffs
or being suckered to buy protein powder to look buff
or to try to dominate women and act tough
You’re living in the matrix
do you take the blue pill or the red?
don’t let yourself sink into the bottomless sea
tied to a chain of lead
All you need is faith
water and bread
to multiply your gifts
and share it with others
your brothers and your sisters
to shout the truth; not to just whisper.
Work the system
listen to yourself
Don’t hate your job, make the best use of it
do the minimum work (not) to get fired
and use your free time to stay inspired.
Take your creativity
to a higher
because you’re soaring high
on creativity’s wings.
Never fall victim to running on the treadmill of the rat race
because no matter how fast you run,
you will always stay in the same place.
It don’t matter if you have a Rolex
or a Louis Vuitton purse
because when we die
we will all be driven away in the same blacked-out hearse.
imagine like you are 90 years old
and you have the choice to press rewind
and start your life all over again.
What would you do? What would you won’t?
What don’t you want to do? What do you want to do?
Stay glued to your life’s purpose like superglue
and follow your own footsteps — not every foot fits the same old shoe.
Your path in life– that is for you to choose.