One of the things I have in my “bag of tricks” when I coach street photographers is stories. There's a lot that I use, but there are 4 that I come to over and over again, here they are, for the first time compiled:
10 years ago my teacher told me something
I'll never forget
When I was in college for graphic design, my teacher told me this story that stuck with me for years. I don't remember much of her, only two stories she told…and the fact that she threatened us with lower grades if we misspelled her name. I guess I'll get an F on this one…
Anyway, I'll tell you one of her stories, the other one is below. It has to do with art but of course this is for streetshooters too…
Picture this: My teacher is in college, it's her first art class and she sits down near this other girl. The art teacher starts her lecture, gives the first assignment and everyone starts drawing. My teacher takes a peak at what her classmate is doing and her heart drops. Why? Because her drawing skills are amazing,
After going home, my teacher gets to her room, closes the door and weeps bitterly feeling sorry for herself. Everyday she would go home in tears…that other girl was too good.
This went on for months, until one day, something incredible happened. In a few months of simply sticking with it, my teacher ended up becoming better than her classmate…so much so that the classmate ended up dropping out of the class entirely because she was intimidated.
What is this about? Well, I know when you look at some really good street photography, your stomach churns inside. You feel sorry for yourself and tell yourself you'll never be that good. I know because I've been there. I felt like I was lying to myself calling myself a street photographer. But I stuck with it.
Tell you what, nothing beats sticking with it. When I started Street Photography about 10 years ago, I had many “online buddies” with their sites and Flickr. Most of them are long gone because they didn't simply stick with it.
Will Smith said something similar: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?”
Moral of the story is: Stick with it.
The other story my teacher told me that I'll never forget
When I was in college for graphic design, my teacher told me ANOTHER story I'll never forget. Not bad for a teacher I don't remember the name of!
She was working for a company as one of the graphic designers. She says there was another lady there who was -her words- a mediocre designer.
For every project she would push out 2-3 different designs, all of them mediocre stuff. Back then this stuff took time, you had to use scissors something called glue and paper.
But one day, she heard a THUD, it was the boss who put down a large rectangular machine on the desk. It was the brand new Apple Mackintosh.
Might not seem like much today, but back then this was breakthrough stuff, and it offered the possibility to design layouts right on the computer. My teacher told us that the mediocre designer went at the computer like crazy believing it to be her salvation, the answer to everything. For every project, now she outputted 10-15 designs…all mediocre.
Her point was this: That designer believed the computer would make her better, but all the computer did was to enable her to make even more mediocre designs per project.
I got her point as a graphic designer…it's not the computer, not the tablet, it's what you know to do that counts.
In other words… It's not the camera you have it's what you do with it that matters. By the way, months I received an email from someone who canceled their subscription to Inspired Eye Magazine, I asked him for feedback and he said “There are many affordable (Expensive brand) cameras on ebay”. His email reminded me of the story I just told you about my graphic
design teacher and having the wrong focus. Not hating on the brand he want, but for sure he'll be making the same pictures on a more expensive camera.
How would I know? Because I was an ex gear head myself, and non of the cameras I got year and in year out ever made me a lick better. Shoulda listened to my old teacher, right?
Moral of the story is: It's not what camera you have, it's what you do with it that matters
The rejected David
Probably the most famous statue of ALL TIME is Michelangelo's David. I've seen a replica of it in St Augustine, Florida and LET ME TELL YA, this thing is both massive and impressive.
But you probably don't know the story behind it. It's one of the stories that shaped my philosophy of street photography.
It starts in a quarry. There was a huge stone that was rejected by previous sculptors because it had too many imperfections. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years…. It spent decades overlooked, until Michelangelo took a crack (pun intended) at it.
He is reported as saying “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”. This is a dynamite quote for photographers. It talks about the power of Vision. He saw something where others saw a piece of rock. I think that's one of the tasks of the street photographer: To see what others routinely miss.
It's like having two antennas up and constantly looking for angels that are trapped and setting them free with your camera.
He's got another quote of Michelangelo I really like:
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
It translate very well for street photographers:
“Every scene has a photograph inside it and it's the task of the photographer to discover it.”\
Moral of the story is: Pay attention
Field of diamonds
Let me tell you the most inspirational story I know about It will not only motivate you, but also reveals what's REALLY important in street photography. And despite what you've heard, it's NOT about getting close. Here's how it goes:
There once was a man by the name of Ali Afed. He had kids, a beautiful wife, land and camels..
One day the priest came by and started to talk about the most beautiful object of creation: Diamonds
The more Ali heard of diamonds the more he wanted them. The more he wanted them, the more he wanted to hear about them. At some point, he couldn't stand it anymore. So he sold his land and cows, left his family with neighbors and went on to
All he had was a large bag of money. After two years of wandering all around the country, searching high and low, a desolate and desperate Ali Afed was left looking at the sea. He stood up and walked towards the sea, never to be seen again, having never seen a diamond. Isn't that sad?
Back in Ali's field, the new owner was making his camel eat when it chewed on a rock and spit it out, but the new owner saw a spark. He took the rock, washed it and it was the most beautiful thing he's ever seen: A diamond.
After taking a shovel and digging all around what used to be Ali Afed's land was a large field full of diamonds of the purest form.
The diamonds were there all along, all Ali had to do was to dig in his own field rather than trying to find them elsewhere And that my friend is where most street photographers go wrong, instead of focusing on their own eye, heart and mind they focus on other things like getting more cameras, making more followers, dreaming of other cities, etc.
But the secret and treasure of photography is right there within them. And it's been right there all along. It's the premise behind the Phototactic course: To help you discover your own street photography genius.
Moral of the story is: The secret of street photography is in YOUR eye, heart and mind
I share many stories like these in the behind the scenes videos of Inspired Eye, but these are the 4 that has most impacted me, and that I keep telling over and over. Which one was your favorite?