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We Talked Delayed Gratification with Eric Kim

Everyone with a camera claims to be a street photographer. Eric Kim actually is. His shots dominate Instagram and Tumblr, and his Youtube videos have led to a dedicated following of fans. We met up with him while he was in Australia.

Eric Kim is one of the most popular street photographers the internet has produced. His shots dominate Instagram and Tumblr, and his Youtube videos have lead to a dedicated following of fans. He’s a tech-head's tech-head, one who also manages to take interesting, thoughtful street photos that are thankfully not of graffiti walls. He was recently in Australia presenting a series of workshops, so we thought we’d interview him and scam some free advice.  

VICE: This is your first time in Australia. Have you seen anything local photographers might underappreciate?
Eric Kim:
Australia has the best light in the world for photography—number two is Istanbul. I don’t know if it’s because you guys have a wild ozone system... I think it’s because of the longitude and latitude. The angle the light hits, it’s really edgy—and the lights, the shadows, are absolutely incredible. Look at the work by Trent Parke. The light here is just phenomenal. You can’t get this anywhere else in the world.

So you mostly shoot film—is it practical, or are you a bit sentimental?
I started shooting film because I visited friends in Tokyo and everyone there shoots film. At first I’m like, “You’re all just a bunch of hipsters; why are you shooting film?!” I had my Leica M9 and thought I could shoot digital, use post-processing software, and make my shots look like film. It just seemed pointless to me. They’re like, “Nah, Eric, you gotta try it out.”

I decided to experiment. I remember shooting my first shot, and the first thing I did was look at the LCD screen and think, “Oh, shit, there’s no LCD screen.” I realized how dependent I was on technology to make images. I loved the idea of not being able to see my shots immediately.

It’s like a present.
Yeah! I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. My biggest reason for shooting on film is the delayed gratification, and you become an objective editor. I wait six months before I get my film processed.  At the moment I have about 150 rolls of Portra 400 I haven’t processed from the last eight to nine months.

Do you feel the influx of street photographers is a good thing, or does it make it feel like a bad cliché?
It’s a great thing. Street photography is the most democratic type of photography. Literally anyone, if you have an iPhone or a disposable camera or whatever, can make incredible photos. I love that there’s not that emphasis on having über-good image quality.  If anything, when I’m shooting digital, I try to add grain and make it less sharp.

Does it almost feel like you’re doing a service? When you look back, street photography has been one of the most important ways to capture history.
Oh, yeah. I see master street photographers from decades ago, and I still get inspiration from their work. The problem is that we romanticize the past—you think about 1920s Cartier-Bresson photos, and you think everyone looks so interesting. In 50 years from now, people will look at an iPhone photo and be like, Oh, shit! They had an iPhone back then?  Now we have the Google Brain, the interconnectivity matrix.

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