It didn’t fully sink in until my wife oversaw me editing some photographs from my visit to Chinatown but she pointed out that a lot of the images I brought back weren’t the typical collection of shots she would expect someone to capture after having spent a short time in such a touristy neighborhood.
I have this thing about going places and taking photos. A slight aversion if you will about taking shots I know everyone else has taken. Even if it’s a beautiful well-framed shot, I still cringed at the thought that the perspective may be unoriginal but I suppose it’s something you simply can’t get away from it.
This is not to say that what I shot in Chinatown has never been done before but what I took from her comment is that there must lie an inherent interest towards people in me because regardless of where I may be photographing, I’m far likely to seek out opportunities to photograph people than I am anything else.
I’ve traveled locally and abroad with my wife in numerous occasions obviously and as unwilling as she may be at times, I consistently encourage for her to carry a camera because I know that her way of looking, her perspective of being in a place is going to be totally different from mine. She gravitates more towards capturing the typical shots such as landmarks, signs, flowers or even what she had for lunch which is all fine.
So when my wife said that my shots “weren’t the typical” photos she expected to see, I guess she was comparing it to what her approach would have been. Neither approach is wrong. It’s all a matter of what you feel is worth sharing from your experience in a place.
I believe that what you read and what you see has unquestionably an influence on the type of content you feel more satisfied photographing. In comparing the material I shot a year ago, it’s remarkably different to what I shoot now. The camera and lenses remained the same but my mentality has changed and that’s what ultimately determines the type of work you produce.
All of this reminds me of a tip Eric Kim suggested regarding street photography where he said, “don’t shoot without knowing why you shoot.” He elaborates more by saying:
Whenever you go out on the streets, you should have a reason why you shoot. Whether it be for pleasure, whether it be for documenting humanity, whether it be a personal project, or something that drives you.
Street photography is often misunderstood as simply going outside and taking random photos of whatever. Although having the mindset of a flaneur (going outside and strolling aimlessly) is great—you still want some sort of concrete goal or plan when out shooting.
With a place like Chinatown in Flushing as a backdrop, there’s so many angles in which you can choose to portray your experience. Whether it’s with the culture’s authentic cuisine, the massively abandoned department store buildings, the bagged garbage and filthy liquid trapped near sidewalks, the supermarkets, the street vendors or in my case just the actual people in general, I always suggest trying to narrow down what it is that you want to say anywhere that you go. Not only because your photos will have more cohesiveness to them but because the process will lessen the chance of you going crazy trying to capture everything in sight.