5 interesting ways photography mirrors life

Would you believe that just pointing your camera at something is a mirror of something greater? I believe so, therefore here are 5 interesting ways I have found photography mirrors life.

1) We tend to see the edited version of life


You and I, we edit our pictures, we chose the ones to show and the ones not to show. We show the keepers but we quickly push the not-so-great ones under the rug. The result being, when someone sees our photography, they essentially see only a fraction of what we do, the result being us looking real good as photographers.

I got no problem with that. But I think there is a problem when we fail to see that we tend to view life in an edited version. To add insult to injury, the media probably plays a huge role in this. Turn on the TV, you'll probably see a bunch of millionaires. They are financially successful, that's the edited version. The fact that they toiled on an average 32 years is the unedited version.




How can we not feel sorry for ourselves sometimes, when we have full experience of our lives, all the while looking at the edited view of others? You'll see the best images of folks like Kertesz or Bresson, yet we will forget that before these 100 or so images wh have seen, there's thousands of failed or not so great ones that came before.

It's always useful to remember that we are always seeing the edited version of life, we are only seeing a few frames, who knows how many tears has been shed until X,Y,Z reached where they are? Things look much more sober in the unedited version, doesn't it?


2) Life and photography as interpretation

I believe when someone creates a photograph, that person is effectively interpreting their environment. The keyword here is interpretation. Take these shots of Japan for example, here's what I saw:



And here is my interpretation of that scene:




From the reality of an intersection, I interpreted a cyberpunk image. Isn't life the same way? We make our own heart glad or sad, depending on how we interpret things. It's the whole is the glass half full or is it half empty thing, it depends on your interpretation. Let's take problems for example, one could see them as hurdles, bound to catch you and slow you down, or one could interpret them as opportunities to grow, to get better.


Interpretation in itself is nothing, until we realize that we will act based on our interpretation of a situation. We will run away from what we perceive is a bear, never mind if it's someone in a bear costume. It's what we tell ourselves that matters, not what happened. Reality is out there, but more important is what we tell ourselves about it.




Girlfriend left, that's the reality. The interpretation of that fact could be that our life is forever ruined. A woman walking into a tunnel is the reality, a woman going to heaven is our photographic interpretation of the scene. Let's take an example closer to us photographers, you've just got refused by a gallery, that's the reality. Thinking that you just are a terrible photographer is the interpretation. I think understanding the role of interpretation is key in transforming our photography from a simple representation of reality into something more…..and by extension it helps us realize how much we create our problems by framing them (pun intended) a certain way. Doesn't the Good book say that out of the heart flows the issues of life?

3) Embrace the Process


Photographs are not taken, they are created. The photograph, in it's raw state is pretty much dull. Flat colors, no contrast, bleh. It needs to go trough a process in order to make something beautiful out of it. It needs to go trough post processing, dodging and burning, a lot of back and forth, putting the sliders a litte bit to the left or a little bit to the right. Process. Process. Process.


Everything has to go trough a process before becoming something else. Look at the butterfly, it is a caterpillar that has been trough a radical process that ends up becoming a butterfly. If an alien ever came to our planet, never in their right mind, would they suggest that the caterpillar and the butterfly are one and the same, such is the magic of process.




But process is usually resisted. Either we want to go back to being a caterpillar or we want to be a butterfly but not willing to pay the price. I've heard it said that everyone wants to go to Heaven but no one wants to die. We want everything without having to go trough the process. There's big bucks in making people believe that too, many products in the health industry, guarantee you you'll lose weight without any process. Something along the lines of, eat like a pig and you'll still lose weight!


But the process is the key, and just like in photography the process changes depending on the image, we all need to go trough a different process depending on us as individuals. Some images need a little more of this, others a little more of that. Same thing in life, some require more, some require less love/pain/guilt/happiness/etc. but all of us need to go trough it.


We want to be in galleries, we have to learn the process to do so. We want to be on top of our career, again we must go trough the process to do so. Just like without a process an image will never be what it could have been, so will we never be what we could be without process.


4) Finding confidence in photography and life

I think confidence in photography comes from knowing that you have what it takes to make a good image in whatever situation. Because let's face it, we have no idea what we will encounter in the streets, all we can do is prepare ourselves the best we can.


Just like we don't know what the streets will give us, we also have no idea what life will throw our way. All we can do is to make sure we have what it takes to make the best of the situation. We can cultivate something like love and forgiveness in our life, so that when the time comes to forgive, we can do so. The streets, as in life is all about being equipped. I'm a big fan of pocket cameras because images will not wait for you, and to some extent, I do believe life doesn't either. Better be equipped and knowledgeable for when the time comes.

5) Operating on Kairos time


Most of the western world resides in Chronos time, where time is a unit more than anything (divided into hours, minutes, seconds). Ask a westerner when the meeting is, they will say it is at 5:30 sharp, that is Chronos time. But lots of places in the East, don't really go by Chronos time, rather they go by Kairos time, in other words, they have a radically different view of time than us. They don't see time as a unit, but rather as opportunity. Kairos is the opportune time. When is the meeting? An answer to that could be “when the sun is almost about to set”, and in reality that means when everyone who is supposed to be there comes.




In photography, it's all about recognizing the potential of an image and making it, it's operating in Kairos time. It's seizing opportunities. For what is an image but an opportunity that we have seized? If one day was a billion frames, we seized only a few. And I believe life functions in the same way too, sometimes we come across Kairos moments that we must take advantage of,That might be taking a chance in a relationship, new job, new direction, etc. Just like if we were in the streets we must shoot an image that appears in front of us.


Kairos in Greek mythology has a lock of hair in the front, meaning you can only catch it when it comes. Opportunities, both in images and and life presents themselves to us, up to us to make the most out of it, to catch Kairos as he passes by. Because Kairos is bald in the back, if he passes by and you do not catch the strand of hair, you cannot get him anymore. Just like images, they are usually a one time deal.




But I don't want to give the impression that one must wait for Kairos. I believe life is like the streets, just like if you don't go out you will never make any images, if you don't get doing, nothing will ever happen. I've never made any great images just sitting around, have you?





I believe life is a system, and everything influences everything else. So I hope you can see my points on ow photography can inform our lives, how very much similar the process of creating an image mirrors the process of our lives. I feel blessed to be a photographer and hope you do do. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.


P.S: How have you found that photography mirrors life? Please let me know in the comments!



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15 thoughts on “5 interesting ways photography mirrors life”

  1. Oliver,

    Another insightful, well written piece from an interesting philosophical perspective. Reading it engendered a lot of affirmative head nodding on my part. A great read!

    It’s a real pleasure to see someone so totally and lovingly immersed in his craft. A real pleasure.
    Thanks for all your tireless hard work that you (and Don) do to make “The Inspired Eye” such a great street photography resource!

  2. Very well said. This is not only a lesson of photography, it is a lesson of life!
    I am 65 and still learning from wise men like you.
    I’ve been making photographs all my life. Whenever I need to ask permission before I shoot I will verbalize like this: “please let me make a photograph of you”, instead of the usual: “can I take a picture of you?”
    We can actually take these 5 points of yours and apply them to our jobs, family, our selfs in life in general and end up being a better person above being a better photographer!
    Thanks a barrel.

  3. Hi Oliver,

    I’m not quite sure how I ended up receiving your mails but I kinda’ treated them as some shape of spam. Only recently did I dare to open one up and was very surprised to read what I sensed were the words of a genuine, passionate photographer. Yopur most recent piece, above, is very inspiring and is goving me a little shot in the arm – giving me renewed confidence to geep on going and I thank you for that.

    1. Hey there, you probably signed up for a free issue =} I do make a few pitches here and there but my philosophy is to always leave you better than I found you, glad I could help =}

  4. Hi Oliver. I think you just described the essence of the ‘decisive moment’ very nicely. Inspiring as usual thank you for posting this.

  5. Pretty good indeed, a mix of Tao and Buddhism and your own experience.

    After all, doesn’t it boils down to viewpoint, emotional condition, technical and personal experience and more important having an artistic personae? A lot for a human being th have it all under control and good use.
    Anyway I like what you’re doing, you’re an intere so keep on.sting being

  6. Very interesting article Oliver, but I wonder if you might not be loading too much on the act of taking a photograph? We all have our own reasons, sometimes they are merely to capture something amusing, funny, unusual or whatever, and we keep our eyes ready and react spontaneously to what captures our interest. I speak as an amateur and photography is my hobby – I also play the piano for my own pleasure and don’t expect to give a concert at the Albert hall one day.

    1. Absolutely! I just make pictures, but I also reflect. I just think everything informs everything else, so I look for parallels everywhere.

      You spoke of the piano: I see two things, the song that you know and actually sitting down and playing it, isn’t that the same thing with people who say they have so much knowledge but not do anything about it?

      Hope you see what I mean =}

      1. Hello Olivier,
        What I’m trying to say is perhaps we should not overload photography as a hobby with the same objectives as people who earn their living from photography. When I pick up my camera the whole world is open to me, I can photograph whatever I feel like – work on a project, improve my skills (what I call playing scales) or try something entirely new. I forget my problems and remember that the people I see also have problems and how fortunate I am in being able to make mine disappear for a while!

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