There was a time when I was a good street photographer. There was a time when I would shoot constantly. I’d walk constantly.
I’d walk and shoot. Nowadays I walk to the coffee shop on Sunday mornings to get a coffee for me and my wife. I sometimes take my camera. The coffee shop is at the end of the road above.
Time waits for no one.
As they say.
There was a time when I’d walk all around Iksan on a rainy day. I’d cover my non-weather sealed X100 in a plastic bag with a hole poked through for the lens and walk around town. These days, I take photos of my breakfast.
I guess I lost the plot. At least, photographically. I mean, not lost the plot. I love my life. I am happy.
Happy. That’s the crux innit. That’s the problem. Being happy. I sat down today in this cafe and this post was meant to be called “why I love street photography?”
I figured out before starting to write that the reason I love street photography (or loved as it were) was that it was my mental release. Street photography was therapeutic. Feel stress, grab my camera and boogie.
Street photography was the distraction. Some people zone out playing or listening to music. Some play video games or read books. Some relieve stress by punching a punching bag or going to the skate park. I did so with my camera. I walked. I took photos.
There was nothing else. Anxiety is a c%$t. My cure for anxiety wasn’t pills or booze. It was my feet and my camera.
Now, I don’t grab the camera so much. I don’t care if my camera is big because I rarely reach for it. My photos are happy, because I am. I don’t need to walk out of my house at 3AM to take photos because I can’t sleep. The reason I loved living in Asia is that Asia was as much a cure for anxiety as the camera. Something always happening and always somewhere to go.
Will I ever be good again? Will I ever take the photos I used to?
I don’t know, honestly. I really don’t. I don’t know how much I care to. I look back at these photos and know they’re mine. They feel like someone else’s. I don’t remember this emotion. I don’t remember why I’d take that photo.
I don’t remember being on the train and walking. I walked through the cars continuously. I didn’t want to sit down. Sitting down meant thinking. I didn’t want to think.
So I walked.
If I sat down, I’d constantly be looking out the window. I’d shoot.
Blurry or not.
Framed well or not.
Interesting or not.
These thoughts were safe thoughts.
These photos were self portraits of my mood. I shot people looking the way I felt. I never thought of it that way. I might have said it and wrote it off as hipster artsy nonsense.
Looking back now it is obvious how true that was. I don’t remember being the way I was. Not really. But seeing these photos I can “feel” it.
Will I ever be the same? I don’t think so. I have a loving wife and great family. Anxiety is no longer what it used to be. I don’t need 3AM walks like I once did.
It all started in 2010. My father drowned in 2010. Before that, my photos weren’t that dissimilar to what they are now. They were happier. I was happier. Something happened when he passed. I changed that year. So did everything else.
I meandered through Tokyo for a time. I don’t remember much of what I did. I was just, there. I don’t even think I told many people. I just existed for a while. That was enough. It had to be.
I wandered through Seoul. I thought I was starting to figure things out. I’d go back to Canada for a while. Finish law school. Make my dad proud.
Things weren’t better in Toronto. It was too soon. In fact, I think they were worse. My photos from Toronto scare me. I look at them and feel scared for myself. What was I like then? I’m sure I put on a good face. I’m good at that. I don’t think I was well. I couldn’t have been.
I’m happy being happy. I still take photos, they just aren’t the same as they were. I take them for different reasons. I’m happy for the old photos. I’m happy to look at them. They remind me of where I came from. They remind me of how far I’ve come. Am I a better photographer? Probably not. I don’t think I care. If being depressed and anxiety riddled is what it takes to be what people think of as “good” then maybe I’m happy being mediocre.
Being “good” certainly isn’t the same as,
Some of the images above are from my now for sale zine, Neverland: Volume II “Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.” It covers my travels back and forth from, as mentioned, Iksan and Seoul.
Available for purchase from Magcloud.
Profits going to help build a home studio. Any questions, feel free to ask.
Ha , this sounds like me ! Two years ago I met the love of my life, we got married last Friday. Im happy but my photography has gone to shit !
I think it will come back , I just need to find a new rhythm to life. I still take pictures but I need to chill out , stop pressuring myself to make a good image. Accept life is great but different and if the pictures come ,they come. If not , dont stress.
haha, completely true. And congrats on recently getting married 😉
An honest post, kudos to you.
Personally, I have always thought that – Photography enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time, (in other words, it is a circular existence); holding a camera, is in fact, much like holding a mirror to the soul, it seems to me.
Yeah, I think it has been that way for me. These days I just lack the gumption.
excellent work, like always… …impressing!!!! wow
Kurt Vonnegut Jr might suggest that you will be good again.
The author? Haha.
I have very similar experience. I was walking the streets for couple of years. Resulting in photos that a mirror of myself. But I needed to move on in life. I was probably not happy and I showed it in the pictures, but didn’t know what I was going.
Better to be happy than have decent photos, that’s for sure.
This sounds so simple when written down, yet I have been to blind to see it. Thank you.
There are so many different thoughts here, Josh. I started seeing your photographs in those dark years. They were stunning. But you were in pain. I’ve always believed photography is a reflection of who you are. Or at least, who you are at that moment. It’s like holding a mirror up to the world and seeing yourself in your photographs. That person who you were was hurting, and the photographs from those years are unique because of it. Is that good? Is that bad? It just is. But I’m so glad you’re not that person anymore. You must have taken thousands or tens of thousands of photographs documenting the road you walked. Do you need more like that? I love those old photographs but I would worry for you if you were still that person and not moving forward but staying in that place. Watching you heal and move on and fall in love with your amazing wife has been incredible to follow. You’re not the photographer you were back then and thank god! We love your photographs, Josh. All of them. And you’re writing. And your thoughts. And your generous spirit. And you’re incredible story. And you! I found you because of your photography but what I actually look forward to most is your writing on your blog. And the chats you have with people in the comments section. You’re a great photographer and a great writer. And as for what people think of as “good”… one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from you is just shoot for yourself. Who cares what other people think? What matters is what you think of your photographs. I hang out with a bunch of analog guys who hate digital and I shoot both and I honestly don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of my work or what gear I’m using. Let people with clients worry about that. I’m not a wedding photographer or an event photographer, I’m a ME photographer. I shoot things I love or find interesting. And a few weeks ago I saw some of your TLR shots and I was blown away. I was like, here’s a guy who’s bombing around with a Twin Lens Camera and using it like a point and shoot. I actually went and got some Rolleinars for my autocord to try some close up stuff and I shot some photos of my daughters and they’re stunning. It never would have occurred to me to try that if I hadn’t seen your shots with it and someone asking you about it on your blog. You’re an inspiring dude, Josh. Keep posting pictures of your cats and your wife and your lunch and your story. Or don’t post any photos at all but jot something down and tell us what you’re up to. – Best, Robbie
First of all, sorry for my late reply. I was waiting a while before I responded to some of these comments to let them sink in a bit. Of course, I appreciate the kind words. I look back at those old photographs, and having lived those times I think they were even darker than the photos suggested. I’m happy, in some ways, that photography was my drug instead of an actual drug. I’m not sure I can easily call the time productive, but it certainly was more so than being drunk. Albeit, I spent much of that time drunk as well so there’s that. I’m really happy to hear you are bonding with your Rollei! I love mine. It was a gift from my wife, and honestly that makes me love it more than anything else. I guess that is how it should be.
Anyway, would love to chat about our TLR fetishes sometime. Drop me a line via email or elsewhere.
Taking walks at 3 am can happen….at different times in a person’s life. It can happen when you are struggling. Or barely keeping afloat in a rising tide. But it can also happen….when you are happy. Or content. But when, you feel the need to go out and walk…when the rest of the world is sleeping. It isn’t always quite as simple as….being happy. Or not.
This was a great post by the way. Much food for thought. The photographs and images here have a way of cutting through other layers….but your words, here, do similar things.
Photographs, like words….are like the tide: they come in, they go out….and then….they come again.
I agree, it is a different thing. After my wife read this post you know what she said?
“Maybe I should make you miserable so you start walking again and loose some weight.”
Ha, at least there are those moments.
I have been through years of shit going down. Now also got a wife, i just have a vast number of cameras shipped from overseas. I’m going to start doing the walk again too – i don’t know if you are but I think with time you don’t need to always be working it as hard – that becomes more like a grind than a passion.
I think I need to walk again just to make up for the dad belly I’ve accumulated in this new life..
Great, heart-felt post.
It’s only great news if you are now shooting less because you have better things to fill your mind with, starting with the soothing effect of having a loving wife and a home you made yourself from almost scratch.
Well, you are essentially subscribing to the theory of the anguished artist and to that other theory that with photos we are making self-portraits and/or self-searches. And there is a good element of truth in that, though perhaps the first category is only one part of the artistic landscape. Arguably, you yourself have made tons of great non-anguished work, where you’ve taken us along inside your circle of friends and not just out in the street and on trains. Arguably, your recent work may be more sparse (see above, better things to do), but it’s equally strong and personal, only a happier and mellower sort of personal.
All of us (not you yet!) that have been shooting for 30-40 years have certainly gone through periods of activity or even hyperactivity and periods of slower activity if any. And being more or less lonely may or may not be crucial to producing work, let alone good work.
So, cherish your “old” work done when things were different, accept that you may be shooting less in this moment (but you may go back to shooting more someday), keep your eyes sharp (make photos without a camera, in your mind), capture your current life at the rhythm you feel comfortable with now, it’s just us here who will be for a while seeing fewer pics of yours and less frequent posts.
But your heart and eyes and mind are always going to be recognisable from a million miles, and I for one am looking forward to seeing whatever you will choose to share with us. Happy, in between posts, to know that you are happy.
I always look forward to your messages. My wife when reading this post told me to read your comment as inspiration. She said she doesn’t know what I do to deserve to have such eloquent and proper advice from “strangers.” I tried to explain to her that “stranger” is a relative term. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say other than thank you, and of course you’re right. By the way, still getting on with that Ricoh? Have you moved up to the 3? (I’m still guilty of enjoying gear, while I don’t really buy it anymore).
THanks for your kind words. Tell your wife that —as she knows first hand— love begets love and that your posts are loving gifts that you give to the world, it’s difficult not to love you back by responding as thoughtfully as one can to your very, very thoughtful musings.
I will confess that I fell for the GRiii a week ago. I have spent a whole night (!) going through the settings as best I could (they are still somewhat bewildering to me…), and have shot around 200 frames. Image stabilization and high ISO really help nailing those hyperfocal snap focus shots at f/11, and the 6-cm macro capability is going to be fun working with. I think I’m going to love it. Too bad that the battery life is far from promising, it’s an issue even compared with the first GR (image stabilization must be a drain). I bought two spare batteries for the moment and will decide if I need two more.
Fact is, this thing is so good that I will probably make a lot less use of the 28mm Elmarit on my Leica. Will probably keep the M10 attached to the 40mm Nokton or my old 50mm Summicron IV, and do the wide work with the Ricoh rather than the M9… To be seen!
I’m contemplating starting a project on another island-with-volcanoes, Sicily; surely the GR will be perfect in crowded markets and narrow alleys where perhaps flaunting a larger camera is not a smart policy. Will keep you posted…
PS Wish I could join you on the wrokshop, but hey it’s not around the corner alas…
No back scratching or whatsoever, I wanna thank you for the post because it’s the state I experience, your days of Future past as I tend to call them.
Now I only have photography, and my “naked” self is in constant fear or interest towards a future that will have more.
In that sense it’s acceptance of my state that I was looking for. And I found it in your words.
Thank you, for that. I’m glad you found something worth taking from this.
Long time follower, first time commenter. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I don’t pick up my camera as much lately as well – when at a point in time it truly felt like a fifth limb on my body. I do think that we change as artists and as humans and it shows in the work we produce (Or don’t produce).
I appreciate the genuine side of artists like you and I applaud you for being vulnerable!
Sorry for not responding sooner. I actually have been letting these comments on this post sink in a bit. It was a strange post, where I think I sort of confronted something in myself that I’d not really thought about before.
I hope you’ve picked up your camera since this, and please let me know if you have. From your email, seems as though you’re in Seoul. Looks like rain for a couple of days, be sure to pack that umbrella 😉 haha. Anytime you want to talk photography, let me know.
I do not like street but I love seeing your
Thanks for the share!
Art is a path, and of course as we wander, we traverse many paths. One man enters where another man leaves. Thank you for sharing your art, including these words.
Quite similar feelings here. I enjoyed reading this post, helped me. Thanks for writing it, really.
I don’t think yiou need to feel happy/unhappy to make good pictures. You need to find your fascination with something.
This post resonated with me, for my own reasons. You have articulated your’s with typical and insightful clarity. The photos above were of you, at a previous point. I sense you’re now where you are is because someone close to you is instrumental in this. I’m sure she senses and understands this progression, too.
Brilliant and honest post of how things change as a photographer using their heart as much as the lens. Ive just discovered your work and writings via JCH in your bag entry. You are on page 300+ By the look of things your still good 😉
Josh don’t obsess too much with “good” pictures. Back when you were unhappy you made moody pictures. You can still make them. Being miserable isn’t required Make good “I’m happy pictures” now. How do you photograph that?