The last two weeks I have spent in Istanbul with my good friend Charlie Kirk. I first met Charlie around two years ago in Paris– and since then we have shot together, had good food and drinks together, critiqued each others’ photos, taught together, and met others together.
During many of my other travels I also had the pleasure of meeting so many incredible people during my life’s journey.
I interviewed Josh White about a month or two ago– and one of the questions I asked him is why he shoots street photography. He told me that it was the friendships that he made through street photography is what mattered to him the most.
When I first started this blog, I wrote about the idea of “open source photography.” To sum up the idea, I wanted to make a personal vow to always keep the information on this blog open and free for anyone to use, remix, or share.
I remember when I was an undergraduate student at school, and I was so broke I could barely afford textbooks. It always infuriated me how these textbook companies would charge ridiculous sums of money for knowledge that I believed should be open and free to promote knowledge, wisdom, and learning for the rest of humanity. Sure I do agree that these companies have to make a profit somehow, but I think that charging $200 a textbook (required reading) was excessive for a student surviving on pizza and ramen.
I have always been into computers growing up, and my student job was IT. I remember first reading about “open source” software and was amazed how generous these developers were in creating software that changed the world. It gave access to people who could not afford expensive copies of Windows, Office, or Photoshop. The open source versions were free to download, and were nearly as good (sometimes even better) than their expensive for-profit-driven counterparts.
I grew up in the lower socio-economic class in America, with my mom holding down three part time jobs working as a waitress, cashier, and even cleaning houses to put me and my sister through school. The biggest resources that helped us were public services (thank God for libraries) and other free organizations that helped me build character and leadership skills (Boy Scouts, local community centers, etc).
I was also fortunate enough that I was able to pay my way through school at UCLA with a combination of grants from the American government and also through my work study job (also subsidized from the government). I also have had countless mentors throughout my life who dedicated thousands of hours to help shape me into the person I am today, and I have a moral and societal obligation to give back to the community.
Therefore I want to re-clarify my purpose of running this blog. My purpose is to spread and promote the love of photography— via educational posts (what I have learned from the master photographers), inspirational (interviews and feature for contemporary photographers), or community-based (exhibitions, books, etc.) I initially started this blog as a hobby and to help others in their journey in street photography (as there were few community-driven blogs online dedicated to street photography about three years ago). I have been lucky enough to make it a living primarily by teaching workshops.
I am certainly not the authority when it comes to street photography. There is still a lot I am ignorant of and many things I need to learn. I am not the best street photographer either, I don’t have a body of work I am proud of yet. However I have the passion, drive, and fervent love of street photography I want to promote– and I wish to contribute to the community by sharing things I have been learning along the way.
Therefore I want to reiterate the fact that I will never charge anything on the blog in terms of information. I will make sure that anything information-based (articles, videos, features, etc) will always be available openly and for free on the blog. I do envision myself writing more paper-bound books in the future, but if I self publish these– I want to always have an ebook available for free online.
I also plan on offering more free street photography workshops to students as well as those who cannot traditionally afford to attend my workshops. I have recently offered some student scholarships when I taught workshops in Manila, and also hosted a charity-based workshop in Detroit with Brian Day which was pay-what-you-can (the profits went to the Detroit firefighters fund).
I have no intentions to becoming rich through my blog, and certainly don’t want to be a blood-thirsty capitalist. I studied sociology in school and I view my socio-political-economic views as quite liberal, and I hope not to stray away from my core ideals and beliefs. If I do by chance become a blood-thirsty capitalist/vampire trying to suck profits out of the street photography community, please stab a wooden stake through my heart and bust out the garlic.
I also wanted to announce that I have recently made all of my photos on Flickr available for free as full-resolution downloads. So if you have ever liked any of my photos and wanted a print, feel free to download any photo and print any sized photo you want. Use it as wallpapers, prints to hang on your wall, or whatever you want to use them for (non commercial). And no, you don’t need my permission.
I already make a living through my workshops and am currently earning enough to live comfortably. I am starting to think more about my future financially (in terms of starting a family, buying a house, all of that “grown up” stuff) but I want to always keep the information on my blog available for free.
Currently what I think is charging for workshops to earn my living (and also I love teaching as well) while keeping everything else available for free.
I also just moved into my new place in Berkeley and finally am starting to get settled in. I ordered an uber-fast 50megabit Internet connection for my home (will be installed this weekend) so I plan on publishing video lectures, and I also hope to write more free ebooks on street photography. I am also currently a bit burnt out from international travel, and I want to focus my energies more locally while spending more time with my girlfriend, family, and close friends.
I think this year (and hopefully many years to come) will be a well spring of educational learning and community-involvement (I am collaborating more with guest writers for this blog). I also hope to become more involved in the local Bay Area photography scene, as this is where I grew up (I grew up in Alameda).
Thanks again so much for reading, participating, and helping this beautiful art of street photography flourish. None of this would be possible without you.
“You don’t eat to be “the best” taster the world, don’t take a stroll to be “the best” stroller in the world, don’t push buttons in an elevator to be the best button pusher in the world.” – Nassim Taleb
One question which has always bothered me is the following: “Why are photographers so competitive?”
Okay I get it– if you work as a commercial photographer you are competing against other photographers to obtain clients and make a living. However in the world of amateur photography (photography in which we do it for pure love, not profit) why does competition matter at all?
One of the articles I read a while ago (and recently re-read) was the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” To sum up, a nurse who took care of the elderly and dying kept a record of her patients’ top regrets in life.
The top regrets of the elderly were:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I think we can apply this same mentality to street photography to prevent regrets in our life.
I was sitting at home with my girlfriend Cindy, and I suddenly got a call from my cousin overseas. After two bouts of heart attacks while he was in the hospital, he passed away suddenly. My mom then called me and told me that I had to immediately get on the next plane to Korea to attend my grandfather’s funeral (which was on Sunday).
It was Friday night, and Cindy was fortunately able to help me book a plane that left the next morning. I quickly tossed some clothes into a gym bag, packed my camera and laptop, slept, then left to the airport.
After a 18-hour flight to Busan, I arrived Saturday night in cold and rainy weather. I took a taxi straight to the church where my entire family from all around the globe was getting prepared for the funeral.
One book that has deeply influenced me the last few months is: “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.” The book is a great introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism: which can be summed up as being undisturbed by negative emotions and gaining tranquility and a peace of mind.
I have applied the philosophy of Stoicism to many parts of my personal and work life– as well to my street photography. While I am still new to the concepts of Stoicism, much of its concepts have helped me I hope this post can also help you. To illustrate the points in this article, I have included some photographs from my ongoing “Suits” project.
Serendipity. One of the most beautiful things about street photography. Stumbling upon something totally unexpected, but so intrinsically unique and beautiful it cannot be put into words. All of your sensations tingling, giving all of your sensory features a feast from a thing or a place that you have never known existed.
Serendipity. A reward for being adventurous and daring. Taking the road off the beaten path. Not being a dumb tourist and following everyone else like sheep. Being a nomad; thirsting for new sights and adventures.
Serendipity. Being in the present and on the prowl, like a jaguar in the streets. Disregarding your “common sense.” Taking the “scenic” rather the quickest route.
Serendipity. Your own little jewel. Taking it and forever keeping it in your box of memories. Taking a photo of it for a keepsake and making it immortal. Wanting to share it with the world, and wanting others to experience a small slice for themselves as well.
Serendipity. Living life without a map. Spinning around in a circle while closing your eyes, then throwing a dart on the map—determined to go wherever the hell it lands.
It is not the destination, stupid. It is about the adventure.
Serendipity. Taking your time and being patient. Not rushing to the nearest attractions but appreciating the beauty in the mundane. Looking for ordinary things, rather than the large and glamorous.
As a street photographer, you must jump into experiencing serendipity. Grab nothing but your camera and storm out into the streets, and letting your curiosity lead you.