Walking down the street with a camera under his arm, Eric Kim looks like just another tourist. In fact, sometimes he claims to be an out-of-towner just to put his subjects at ease. But Eric is no tourist; he’s an avid street photographer who also writes a successful blog that features tips on how to take pictures of people in their most candid moments. We caught up with him to learn about street photography and hear what he has to say about capturing life in photos.
What sparked your interest in photography? What made you gravitate towards specializing in street photography?
My interest in photography started with my fascination with life. I was particularly drawn to the beauty in the mundane and capturing moments, which made me stumble upon street photography. The wonderful thing about street photography is that everything is unposed and spontaneous.
Why did you feel compelled to create a blog? What motivated you to start your street photography blog?
When I first started shooting street photography, I was absolutely petrified of shooting strangers and didn’t know much about it. I tried searching the web for tips on how to shoot street photography but couldn’t find anything. This was very frustrating in the beginning, and I had to learn almost everything myself. However, over time, I learned tips and techniques when it came to shooting street photography so I became inspired to help others by creating my blog.
What is the Sukhee Chung Photography Foundation?
In 2010, I started teaching photography classes to a continuation high school and had difficulty getting enough funding to supply cameras to students (from lower socio-economic backgrounds). Therefore, I had the idea of creating some sort of foundation that would help spread the love of photography through classes and camera donations. I then created the foundation, and named it after my mother, Sukhee Chung, who has been a pivotal figure in my life.
Who are your favorite photographers?
My earlier street photography was inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who integrated lines, geometry, and beautiful shapes in his photography. Studying his work also helped me integrate “The Decisive Moment” and integrate people into certain environments with the right timing and precision.
My current work is much more up-close and personal, inspired by street photographers like Bruce Gilden, Weegee, Mark Cohen, Charlie Kirk, and Charalampos Kydonakis. They all have used a flash in some point in their career and get close to their subjects as well. I feel this creates a much more personal type of image that is also much more fascinating to look at.
We’ve enjoyed watching your YouTube videos on what tactics you use to take photos of strangers and not look ‘like a creep.’ What’s your take on the ethics of street photography?
Talking about ethics when it comes to street photography is very tricky. To start off, there are laws in the US which allow anybody to take photos of strangers or anything as long as the photographer is on public property. Therefore, street photography is 100% legal as long as you are not intruding on private property.
However, when you are shooting on the streets, I still feel it is important to have a degree of ethics when shooting strangers. For example, I don’t encourage taking photos of the homeless or the destitute. Many aspiring street photographers try to do this, and I feel it is more exploitation than trying to convey a unique message. If you are shooting to make an interesting image out of suffering for your own personal gain, that is unethical in my opinion. However, if you are doing it out of the love of your heart, I say there is nothing unethical about it. It is all about why you are shooting.
What is your favorite picture that you have taken so far?
One of my favorite images I have ever shot is titled: “Together in the Rain.” I shot this in Shinsadong in Korea during the Sonagi season when it would rain extremely hard at irregular intervals. One night, I was there drinking with my friends in a bar, and I saw two girls in the rain about to enter. I instinctively grabbed my camera, ran toward the entrance, and shot the photo. I love the ambiance of the image, as well as the curious look of the girl who noticed me shooting her.
For those who want to start shooting, what would be your first piece of advice? Which camera is best for those hoping to start street photography?
The best camera to use in street photography is the one you have. The beautiful thing about street photography is that you don’t need a fancy camera to shoot street photography. I have seen a ton of great street photography with iPhones and point-and-shoots. However, generally speaking, the smaller your camera, the better (as you can stay low-key).
As for advice for street photographers: just do it. Go outside with a curiosity about life and people, and shoot with your heart and tell stories. Also, when it comes to street photography, the closer you are, the better. As street photographer Robert Capa once said, ‘If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough.’
[Photos: Courtesy of Eric Kim]