How to Re-Invent Yourself in Photography

eric kim portrait hanoi cindy
Hanoi, 2017 (portrait by Cindy)

Dear friend,

I want to share some personal thoughts on the idea of ‘reinventing yourself’ — by casting away your past self, and starting afresh.

‘Allow me to reintroduce myself.’ – Jay-Z

The problem that a lot of us face is that we live in the past. We constantly play back negative memories from the past, and let our negative experiences get ‘stuck on repeat.’ We are like an old record, which is stuck in the old grooves.

Yet, if we really want to flourish in life, and take our lives to the next level, we need to learn how to re-invent ourselves.

1. Start now

First of all, you can reinvent yourself no matter how old (or young) you are.

For me, it means to re-invent a part of yourself that you dislike. To become the person you want to become.

2. Un-defining myself as a street photographer

For me, I tried to reinvent myself by distancing myself from ‘street photography.’ In the beginning of my photography career, I wanted everyone desperately to identify me with being a ‘street photographer.’ However over time, I felt the label was a bit confining. Because I felt this obligation to only shoot street photography, even though I wanted to photograph other things.

Not only that, but my plan sort of backfired. After a while, I did start to get identified as the ‘street photography guy’ — which once again put me in a pigeon-hole.

3. Becoming creative with your limitations

At the time, I was also living in the suburbs. Where there aren’t a lot of street people to photograph (it is hard to shoot ‘street photography’ when there are no sidewalks).

However, I used this frustrating time to re-invent myself. Instead, I decided to pursue ‘personal photography’ — a form of photography that was wholly personal. A style of photography that had no barriers. That had no rules. That you could photograph anything you wanted; as long as it was personal to yourself.

Therefore, I pursued the ‘Cindy project’ with zeal. I wanted to photograph who I loved most, and knew most— Cindy, the love of my life. I feel the photos I shot of Cindy are 100 times more meaningful and personal than any street photos I’ve ever shot.

Even now, I feel that I don’t want to become overly reliant on Cindy. I have taken it upon myself to start shooting more self-portraits. By either shooting myself in the mirror, my reflection, or asking Cindy to take certain photos of me.

I also like the collaborative photo-making process. I trust Cindy as my editor now, and she helps me choose my best photos (both of her, and of myself). I trust her because she knows me the best.

4. Practical tips how to re-invent yourself in photography

eric kim street photography spa

If you want to re-invent yourself in your photography, here are some tips:

a. Strip away any self-imposed labels:

First of all, don’t identify yourself with a certain genre. Remove the biography from your social media accounts, and your website.

Un-define yourself.

This will open up a lot more doors and opportunities to you.

b. Explore new fields:

One of the best ways to re-invent yourself as a photographer is to pursue other forms of art.

Don’t just be a photographer. Be a different type of artist. Pick up painting, drawing, or another art form. Start dancing, take up theater, or who knows, even be a rapper.

As much as I love photography, I have explored new fields outside of photography. As of late, my biggest inspiration is from poetry — Ovid, Horace, and Virgil are some of my favorites.

What you can end up doing is ‘cross-pollinating’ yourself and your different interests.

For example, I like the idea that a ‘photo is a poem without words.’ So who knows maybe I want to re-invent myself from being a photographer, to being a poet with a camera.

c. Constantly experiment

One of the ways you can also re-invent yourself in photography is to constantly experiment, and try pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

For example, Kanye West started off as a producer, and got stuck in that bubble. He wanted to desperately rap, but nobody believed in him. But with enough hustle, he became a respected rapper. Now, he wants to also be known as a fashion designer, and has been pushing back against a lot of the negative criticism.

Picasso was another artist who always re-invented himself, and went through different periods in his art (his azul/blue period, and his rose/red period), as well as toying with different forms of art (painting, sculpture, etc).

Even Andy Warhol experimented with photography and film, not just paintings.

d. Go opposite

If you’re a street photographer, try shooting landscape photography. If you shoot landscape photography, try shooting street photography.

If you shoot monochrome, try color. If you shoot color, try monochrome.

If you upload your photos everyday to social media, try uploading as infrequently as possible.

If you shoot with a wide-angle lens, try shooting a tele lens. And vice-versa.

By going 100% opposite from what you normally do, you will have the biggest growth options.

e. Purge

The last piece of advice in re-inventing yourself; purge your old self.

Maybe you want to change your name. Maybe you want to throw away all of your old belongings. Perhaps you want to cut ties with your old (negative) family members.

Whatever — try to find self-liberation, through purging the bad, keeping the good, and starting afresh.


Learn more Creativity >

Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo, 2016

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