How You Can Apply Sociology to Your Street Photography Projects

Dark Skies Over Tokyo

(One of the photographs from my new “Dark Skies Over Tokyo” project)

As a sociology student at UCLA, I have learned many insightful things through my courses that I have applied to my street photography projects. If you are struggling with finding your own voice in street photography or how to construct a project- check out my post below. I discuss my personal experiences in sociology, how I applied those concepts to my street photography projects, as well as practical advice to those who want to learn more.

I am also excited to announce my new “Dark Skies Over Tokyo” project that I shot in 2011 and just published.

Curious? Read on!

10 Things Sociology Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Eric Kim Street Photography Chicago
(Chicago, Eric Kim)

I studied Sociology during my undergrad at UCLA. I loved learning all of the ways that people interacted, communicated, and collected in groups. It really opened up my eyes to the world around me. However little did I know that all these things I have learned in Sociology (and trained myself to see) would apply so much to street photography.

Below are some things that I have learned about human nature and interaction – which has helped me along my street photography journey in terms of building my courage and candidly taking photos of strangers. Hope these are as helpful to you as they were helpful to me!

"Wandering" - Prague, Czech Republic

A Photographic Existential Question: Integrating Photography, Happiness, and Sociology

"Wandering" - Prague, Czech Republic
"Wandering" - Prague, Czech Republic

“What do I want out of photography” has been a question I have been grappling with for the last few weeks. When I was still in school, I had barely any time to even practice my photography, let alone contemplate what I wanted out of it.

However now, after graduating college and having more free time than ever, I have found myself in a quite stagnant position—sort of a limbo. Having always been so busy, I didn’t know what to do with myself with all of this free time. I then started to fill up all of my free time preoccupying myself by going out and taking more photos, working more on my website and blog, as well as participating more on Flickr and my friends’ blogs. However it seems that by the end of every day, I feel unsatisfied and wanting for more.

What do I want out of photography? Money, fame, prestige? Well I’m definitely not in it for the money. I have noticed that the more my photography gets involved with money, the less that I enjoy it and it becomes more of a job than a passion for me. Is it for the fame? I doubt that I will ever be as famous as Henri-Cartier Bresson or any of the other great street photographers without being a full-blown photojournalist or anything of the sort. The prestige? Sure I love attention (as does everyone else in the world) and enjoy having my work appreciated. However, I don’t want to ever become an “elitist” of any sort, congregating with snobby photographers and self-proclaimed “artists.”

I know I want to spread my love of photography to others. I love being a teacher—especially when it comes to photography. Nothing gets me more excited than teaching the basics of photography to an eager beginner. Being one of the co-founders and the president of The Photography Club at UCLA was one of my greatest joys. I want to give the gift of photography especially to those who do not have access to it, be it social or economic reasons. Something along the lines of “Kids with Cameras,” a non-profit situated in Calcutta, India which teaches children in the red-light district photography, while providing aid and support as well.

Although being a photographer is a very individualistic practice, it is beautiful to participate in a community as well. It is impossible to say that a photographer is completely original in his or her photography. He or she will always draw inspiration from other photographers merely by looking at the photographs of others. Like what Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, bad artists steal.”

They say that money doesn’t buy happiness. To bridge this into photography, neither does the number of views, comments, favorites, or subscribers that your website or Flickr has. In real life, it is not the number of friends that one that dictates their happiness and satisfaction with life, but rather the few and powerful connections that one has with his close circle of friends. Therefore it must not be the popularity that one has with their photography which brings them satisfaction,  but the support circle that they have with their friends, family, and other fellow photographers.

A photographer that only seeks fame is doomed to be miserable. It is a never-ending quest, as there will always be a photographer more talented, popular, or skilled than oneself. This is definitely a path that all photographers should avoid at all costs.

Focusing on having a relationship with a close circle of photographers is crucial. The support that a photographer gets from others is the energy that continues to drive one another in going out and continuing their photography. A photographer that walls him or herself in without any support from others is a photographer who will have difficulty pursuing his or her art.

In writing this, it seemed that my vision has been clarified. I guess to find the true meaning of my photography, I need to do what I (as a sociologist) have always known, but lost sight of. That is to create community, teach, and share.

So who is down for a photo outing sometime?