Monday, April 30, 2012

5 Life Lessons from a Photography Debate

A few days ago Eric Kim wrote a provocative article explaining why he chooses film over digital for street photography. As you can imagine, this caused a ruckus and he responded with an excellent 5 point defense for his article.

Reading through his arguments, it occurred to me that his responses were actually 5 wonderful life lessons. So, here they are, translated to apply to more than photography:

  1. Choose a goal, not a team. For example: want to fix poverty in this country? Make that your goal. Sometime Democrats my have a good fix, other times Republicans may. Focus on accomplishing the goal, not picking and defending your team.
  2. Experiment. When you experiment, you try new things by collecting data. Even if you fail to accomplish your goal, you'll still have succeeded because you'll have collected the data (and learned the lesson).
  3. Look beyond platitudes. Sure, it may be conventional wisdom, but don't trust it just because everyone keeps repeating. See point #2: experiment for yourself.
  4. You should be contradicting yourself. If you're not changing at least some of your opinions over time, then that's a sign you're not open to new ideas. The last thing you want to be is the captain in this story.
  5. Keep an eye on the big picture. It's possible get mired in the details and end up arguing about stuff that truly doesn't matter. Find what counts and focus on it. As you do, you should end up putting #4 into effect.

As a side note: I do the think the setup that Eric talks about would make for a fun photography project for kids and adults alike. He talks about shooting black and white film, which I assumed meant (a) expensive development fees or (b) the need to have access to a darkroom. Turns out, he's not suggesting either. Instead he talks about developing the black and white film (which will need some equipment and chemistry, but not a darkroom) and then using a scanner to create prints. Clever stuff!

I may have to add some of these to my own set of rules for life.


  1. #4 reminds me of something I stress at engineering meetings:

    At an engineering meeting, agreement is bad and disagreement is good. Because when disagreement is missing, you can be sure something is being overlooked.

    It's the same basic adversarial process that acts to keep science and politics healthy.

    The problem, of course, is that there are always players who can't keep the thing objective. They perceive an attack on their engineering (or policy) choice as a personal attack. These people are not fun to work with long term, but they can often be brought round with careful handling and an explanation of the scientific process.

    I remember I first became aware of this at a scientific conference at which I was working as an undergraduate intern. One particular scientist presented a paper, and during the question and answer period, another scientist in the audience attacked the paper tooth and nail. It basically devolved into a red-faced near shouting match. "Wow," I thought "these guys must really hate each other!" That is, I though that until I later passed them in the hallway, where they were joking, laughing, and discussing where they were going to go for lunch. And I had one of those "Aha!" moments: ideas deserve conflict, even when they are the ideas of a friend and colleague.

  2. TechNeilogy, that's really well explained - thanks.