Naziha Baassiri

Picture This

“Street photography isn’t something that came to me overnight,” 22-year-old Eric Kim told NOW Extra after his workshop on Sunday night. “I like taking candid images of people, because you can see someone’s soul.”

The young photographer was invited by Spreadminds to give a two-day workshop in Beirut on street photography as part of a larger effort to promote the craft through a number of events, such as I Have My Hamra, and You Have Your Hamra, and currently, the Mosaic - Ashrafieh International Photography Contest.

But Kim’s dream to come to the Middle East and give a workshop at the Lebanese capital had one obstacle: money. So without delay, he set up a page on his blog through which friends and fans could donate money to finance his trip.

Kim emphasized the importance of community as a means to spread his extensive experience with street photography as well as to allow other street photographers to share their passion. He also stated that open-source knowledge remains to be the driving mode of his blog, which is probably why so many fans, all 1,436 of them, are avid followers of Kim. And that’s just on Facebook.

“I try to respond to every [e-mail or message] I get, even though it is tiring and time-consuming. Once people have that personal connection with someone, they will admire and respect that person, and they will want to see that person succeed,” he told NOW Extra.

And that has proven to be true. Within the first two days, Kim raised $300. But the real bonus was when Thomas Leuthard, a Swiss street photographer and a Kim follower on twitter, decided to contact the young artist and to sponsor his trip to Beirut by paying $800 that went to buying Kim’s plane ticket. Not only that, Leuthard also volunteered to be a guest speaker at Kim’s workshop by sharing his own experiences and insights with the eager Beirut-based group.

Twenty people, as young as 17 and as old as 57, from varying photography backgrounds and skill ranges attended the workshop.  Perhaps the success of the workshop could be attributed to Kim’s interactive, holistic approach. From slideshows to discussion sessions, the crowd was always involved. But it does not stop there; a hands-on learning exercise was incorporated, and the group had to go out, face their fear and start clicking away.

But the fear is hardly inexplicable. Putting aside the normal jitters a photographer has – or what some might call an adrenaline rush – Lebanon’s nonexistent photography laws had to be explained to Kim upon arrival.  

“[I was told] that we cannot photograph people in the military or embassy buildings, but other than that, you pretty much have free reign,” he said.

In an attempt to help beginner photographers, who made 40 to 50 percent of the workshop attendees, get over their fear, Kim also shared techniques on how to approach people.

“Just be casual and courteous. For example, if you are taking a photo of someone on the streets and they are looking at you in a weird way, instead of running away or being suspicious, a simple smile can go a really long way. And once people know you are not someone with ill-intent, they will open up to you… In four years of street photography, I’ve only had two people walk up to me and tell me not to take their photos,” Kim explained.

Since the summer of 2009, Kim’s photography career kicked off, and he couldn’t be more excited. Despite the fact that he has a day job at his current city of Los Angeles as an online community manager, the young artist is contemplating holding similar workshops locally, and perhaps even publishing a book on street photography.

On a final note, Kim’s advice to photography lovers was to go out and take a lot of pictures. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst,” Kim said, quoting German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton.