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Eric Kim on failure and street photography

Posted on by Mike Evans

Street photography is all about failure. The failure to have the courage to take that one shot. The failure to capture “the decisive moment.” The failure to get a clean background. The failure to have your subject make eye contact. The failure to move your feet to get a better frame. The failure to get recognition for your work. The failure to have your photo get “explored” on Flickr. Failures upon failures upon failures

Eric Kim is right, of course. Street photography, superficially dead easy, is one of the most difficult genres to do successfully as he points out in his article published today:

....when I started street photography I thought all of my photos were absolutely amazing. But when I started to look at the work of the masters before me, I soon became disappointed in my work. I felt like every photo I took was an “almost” photo– and that I would fail constantly, over and over– to get that one “perfect” photo. But in street photography (and in life) there are no perfect photos or perfect moments. They are all imperfect in little ways. Imperfect in terms of the frame. Imperfect in terms of the moment captured. Imperfect with random things dangling around the corners of your frame.

One of my street shots taken in December with Eric Kim at my right hand and encouraging me to make the best of a compliant subject. Without Eric's prompting I probably wouldn't have had the courage to approach the guy. It was Eric who suggested moving him near to the advertising hoarding to create a more interesting background. You have to work at street photography. (Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron)

One of my street shots taken in December with Eric Kim at my right hand and encouraging me to make the best of a compliant subject. Without Eric's prompting I probably wouldn't have had the courage to approach the guy. It was Eric who suggested moving him near to the advertising hoarding to create a more interesting background. You have to work at street photography. (Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron)

I learned a lot from Eric during the three days I spent with him and Charlie Kirk at the December London workshop. I learned how to be bolder in approaching complete strangers in the street, how to charm them into posing for candid shots. Sadly I have lost some of that new-found confidence because I didn't keep it up, didn't work at it. Sometimes, though, the best shots just happen unexpectedly.

Many days I can go out with the camera on the streets of London and polish off two or three hundred frames. Yet I feel happy to find just one that pleases me and is a real keeper. Most times I get nothing worth keeping or publishing. In the course of the past year I could count my good shots on the fingers of my two hands. The wastage is phenomenal. But you do improve, both in terms of perception of what makes a good shot and in the ability to turn that opportunity into something you can be proud of. I am now less of a trigger-happy snapper than I was. To some extent experience with my film cameras, particularly the Leica MP, has taught me to be more patient, to press the shutter only when there is a decent shot in view. With 36 frames in the camera you need to be more circumspect than when you have a 500-shot SD card at your disposal.

I can fully sympathise with Eric's conclusion:

I think failure is something I always fear– but something I have learned to embrace. I find that there are moments of fear that I always feel– when it comes to taking photos, sharing my work with others, or not getting admiration from others.

But every time I fail in something– it gives me more information, inspiration, and motivation to better myself and my photography.

I am the biggest failure in street photography, but it is those failures which help me re-evaluate myself and learn from my mistakes. I hope to one day aspire to be great, but I still have a lot more failing until I get there.

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