Believe It Or Not: The 3 Deadly Photography Sins!
A drunk guy in a bar in Amsterdam said the following to me after I told him I work as a fine-art photographer: "So man, you love that photo stuff, right? Do you have to pray to the photo gods for good shots or how do you get them?" Although he spit all over me, it really made me think. On the ride home I asked myself: "If your photography was a church, what would you believe in?" This article focuses on my strongest beliefs to create great photos and my personal deadly sins that prevent me from doing so. I can't wait to hear your sermons, sins and "shaaaame" shouts in the comments! This is my personal answer that merely serves as food for thought to confirm, re-evaluate or expand your beliefs.
Although I'm an agnostic Buddhist nowadays, I'm still very familiar with the Roman-Catholic belief system since I was raised that way. My great-uncle (retired now) held a higher position in the Catholic Church in Germany and whenever I visited my grandmother, I saw a framed photo of him and Pope John Paul II shaking hands. I personally strongly disagree and distance myself from the worldwide Catholic Church.
However, I acknowledge the good souls and people associated with it that truly practice the values that are being preached. One of my best friends' father is a very religious man, but doesn't ever go to Church. He's the head-surgeon of our local hospital and always says: Helping people around me to get better is my personal prayer, it's my way of doing God's work on earth!
In order to avoid turning the comment section into a hellfire, I'll just keep my two cents as short as possible: If Jesus existed and acted like I heard in church every week till I was 18, I don't see a reason not to love that generous, good-hearted dude from the bottom of my heart! The issue for me is that I simply don't trust the people that use him as an endorsement for their dubious practices. A church that preaches Jesus' altruism, love and charity while running an 8 Billion Dollar Business (probably still undervalued) fueled by corruption, tax-evasion, highly doubtful morale practices and greed, is nowhere near Jesus' words nor God's representation on earth.
Again, this is my personal opinion and If you disagree, I'm more than happy to hear your point of view to re-evaluate mine. I'm aware how this might offend some people, but I'd rather offend someone with genuine honesty and realness than wrap them in a fake cotton of lies and deception to keep their bubble of reality warm and cozy.
Religion usually plays the biggest role in desperate times. As a Buddhist myself, I always had to look for answers within me. I've faced so much adversity in my young life that I eventually fell in love with it for good. If negativity keeps flooding your lifeboat from all directions, you can only embrace the storm, believe in yourself and go kiting on whatever wave hits you. The reason why this photography article uses religion as a theme is, because it still evokes negative emotions in me and I want to transform it into something positive. Let's look beyond the bad for a moment and see what we can learn from the Catholic Church.
In order to make it a little bit more fun, just assume that you are the Holy Pope of your own Church of Photography. What do you believe opens the doors of your personal photography heaven, what sends you down to pixel hell? Before you answer that question for yourself, I'd kindly invite you to a little service in my very own Photography Church. Maybe it helps you define yours for yourself. Welcome to the Temple of Eye, Heart & Soul!
In my belief system, God and the Universe are one. When I say "Oh my God", I don't think of a bearded wise man, because why can't he be a woman or both? Defining this from a human's perspective is simply beyond us no matter who claims to have the better proof.
There is the Universe as we know it, which is "God" to me, and our Inner Universe, which consists of our Eye, Heart & Soul, which we influence as our own "God". The Universe gave us the freedom to do with our Eye, Heart & Soul whatever we want. You will only experience universal bliss though if your Inner Universe and Outer Universe are aligned.
How do you align them? You do "God's Work" on Earth. There are two energies in the Universe that matter: Positivity (+) and Negativity (-). If you think, act and create positively, the Universe rewards you sooner or later with what your Eye, Heart & Soul truly has to offer for you. You unleash your full potential only through positivity.
However, if you think, act and create negativity, the Universe feels it and sooner or later sends negative energy your way since you consist of it. I'm sure this can be explained way better by actual physics, but that almost made me drop out of high school. Any physics reading this, feel free to chime in!
But what has all this to do with photography? Photography simply means to me, that I access my Eye, Heart & Soul (Inner Universe), connect it with the world around me (Outer Universe) and capture this connection with a camera. I either keep the photos for myself, give them to my friends and family or share them with the world again. I love capturing golden moments from the bottom of my soul, but somehow it gives me the feeling of taking away more than I give back.
As a street photographer, I walk around and capture moments that would've passed in time if I hadn't connected with them. However, I didn't create that moment in the first place. I just "stole" it in a beautiful way without any harm nor inconvenience for the people that lived it.
While this already feels off to me, it just seems egoistic and wrong in my opinion to jump into someone's personal space and day to flash photograph their face for your own artistic work. Yes, art should provoke if necessary, but there is a fine line between doing so to achieve something positive in the end and simply being a (Please Insert Your Favorite Swearword Here) for your own pleasure. Since capturing moments felt more and more like taking to me, I started giving more and more as my photography career progressed.
In my Eye, Heart & Soul Photography Temple, I don't pray to The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. I deeply believe in the Creative Trinity of The Eye, The Heart & The Soul that together shapes The Creative Spirit. It's not a Holy Spirit that I pray to, it's an imperfect human one that I keep alive every day through my positive thoughts, words and actions. But what do the single elements mean?
The Eye, as you can imagine, is your visual perception of the world, your unique way of seeing things. It’s your attraction to patterns, colors, structures, lines and all sorts of visual elements around you. However, if you just use your eyes, you will merely take snapshots of life around you without actually connecting deeply with these moments. Your photos will look cool, but you won't really feel them.
That's why you need to embrace The Soul. Without going into the infinite depths of human psychology, your soul is pretty much your conscious and subconscious. What do you actually know about yourself? What are your pet peeves, passions, preferences and all that. Generally psychologists refer to it as the ego. What you've written in all these corny yearbooks is the conscious "ego" of your soul. On the other hand, there is the subconscious: Everything you've ever experienced is hidden deep down within you. Things you don't dare to say out loud, but feel on the inside: your deepest anxieties, dreams, desires and issues.
The more you are aware of it, the more it becomes part of the conscious ego. No matter how convenient or inconvenient it is to face these underlying aspects of your personality, they serve as your creative goldmine! It's the place where I've been digging for gold for 3 years now and it keeps giving and giving the more I dig.
How do you do it? Face yourself in the mirror and be 100% honest with yourself about your mindset, career, friends, family, partner, health, finances and everything that your life consists of. It hurts at first, but boy does it generate creative output like no other once you allow yourself to use it. You hate spiders? Shoot them! Everyone in your life screwed you over. Capture your anger! You are a still in the closet? Document your way out into your personal freedom. Use all these ingredients as juicy grapes that eventually end up in the creative wine you serve yourself and everyone you care about!
For better or worse, it takes quite a while to unite the Creative Spirit of The Eye, The Heart & The Soul. That's where the Heart comes in. It's your creative motor: your competitive edge, motivation, discipline, perseverance and work ethics. You are always your own personal motivational coach. He doesn't even cost you $1000 an hour, yay! However, if your heart doesn't beat strong enough for your Church of Photography and Life, you become a non-believer of your own creative beliefs. You live life, but it doesn't excite you so much anymore that you desperately want to capture it. Although my advice to love life, yourself and light to the fullest seems vague at first, it isn't. Because your love, hate, fascination and other emotions serve as fuel for your creative motor.
Creative motion comes from emotion. The more your heart is on fire, the more output you generate, the more you invest. However, without tapping into your soul, you'll soon loose interest since you are merely capturing the outer universe without a connection to your inner one. Your photos feel shallow even to you.
I made that mistake for the first two years of my photography career and it brought me nothing but misery - till I didn't look left and right anymore, but within myself! But won't this extreme form of introspection make you loose focus on the moments around you? As far as I see it, as soon as you glow and shine creatively from the inside, you can't keep it to yourself anymore even if you wanted to!
Just imagine for a moment that your favorite place to take street photos has fundamentally changed all of a sudden. Streets are getting filthier and dirtier, people aren't smiling like they used to and buildings are falling apart. The more negativity people around you create, the more negative your Outer Universe, i.e. the world around you, will become. You can still connect your own personality with it and even transform it into something beautiful, but after a while it drains the battery of your Creative Spirit. It's rather exhausting despite being highly rewarding as well.
That's why I believe that as street photographers and humans it's our highest duty to also create golden moments for others and ourselves. That's why Muhammad Ali famously said that your "service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." The values and golden moments you create for others are your personal contribution to keep your world as inspiring and positive as you can. Because without golden moments around you, what are you going to shoot then? How much you can contribute is totally up to you to decide. Simply having a smile on your face for the people around you already keeps life fresh and positive! Even if you have no financial means, complimenting, supporting, encouraging and listening to others is always an amazing contribution!
I personally always wanted to contribute through what my hearts beats and my soul lives for the most: art, entrepreneurship and people. Although my severe, undiagnosed ADHD (countless misdiagnoses and wrong medications) almost made it impossible to contribute properly, I never stopped believing that one day I would. In the meantime, my undiagnosed ADHD turned my life into hard mode through moderate depression and (social) anxiety for most of my life.
ADHD even spiraled me into suicidal depression with severe psychomotor retardation (bed-ridden for 6-9 months each time) 3 times in my twenties. Thanks to some rather special golden souls and my unbreakable desire to live by my Eye, Heart & Soul, I didn't end up on the graveyard when I was 22, 26 or 28.
My last depressive episode was the worst: Not being able to contribute as much as I demanded from myself, I became so mentally ill again that I couldn't write an email, returned back from Miami to an ice cold and dark winter in Amsterdam where I had no proper place to live for almost 9 months, I lost touch to the few friends I had, debt was piling up higher than ever and my dream of uniting art, entrepreneurship and people shattered into bits and pieces. I couldn't even take photos anymore for almost a year.
I think sometimes you have to hit rock bottom full force in order to see how high you can bounce back up again! It took me almost all of 2016 to beat my "soul cancer" and live by my Eye, Heart & Soul again. Although 2015 was the best year of my life, at the end I wasn't able to see my dream forest for all the trees anymore.
My clinical depression served as a forest fire that burned down everything I grew in all those years, but allowed me as well to plant old and new seeds again that blossomed into the life I always wanted. Maybe that's why I always have a flame and a "100" next to my name on Twitter and Instagram. No matter how much of your life burns to the ground, you always go for the 100 again, and again, and again even if it appears hopeless!
Take the adversity and flaws the Universe dealt you and turn it into something positive. It took me 28 years to turn around the negativity of ADHD, but now I proudly refer to it as ADHD Positive for the rest of my life!
That leads me to my personal No.1 deadly sin. I refer to it as a deadly sin since it literally kills your inner child and creative spirit no matter whether you have ADHD or not:
Deadly Sin #1: Never Ever Neglect Your Inner Universe.
In one of my former articles, I referred to The Creative Spirit as my Inner Child. Whether you are 19, 36 or 89, you always have to protect your Inner Child. The question you have to ask yourself though is, how much you allow that kid to come out and play? Picasso said, children are all artists, but the challenge is to remain one once you grow up. I couldn't agree more.
Yes, pay your bills and be responsible, but once that's taken care of, live out your inner child! Crack dumb jokes, dare to fail, play around, go crazy, try a million things, gather your friends for a project, be weird, cry, laugh, be real, be you...and if you are a ginger with no soul like me, at least celebrate “Kiss a Ginger” day January 12th every year big time!
The issue is that our education system, corporations and our society turn us all into obedient consumption machines. I know how hard it is to ignore the bills, boss, colleagues, 9-5 hustle, insurances, mortgages, taxes and all that. But I deeply believe that if most people took their Eye, Heart & Soul as seriously as their favorite TV show, new iPhone or next camera equipment, they would live for a living instead of for single moments.
"Making it" with your own Eye, Heart & Soul is not about luck nor is it about being at the right place, at the right time. Yes, it helps, but I'd rather leave 0.01% to luck. 99.99% is showing up to work for your dream every morning the second you wake up. The only thing you need to do is create value for others. The more you help, the wealthier your Eye, Heart & Soul gets spiritually and financially.
Ask yourself, how can you help people around you the most? Become so good in that skill, that they are more than happy to reward you with their money, i.e. time. If you solve their problem it saves them time and money as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
But what do you do if you don't really have a valuable skill yet? Try everything you can find. Before I discovered photography as my creative outlet, I tried at least 15 others where I "failed" big time. Allow yourself to fail, learn from it, try smarter, fail better, try even smarter and all of a sudden you know more about something than most people. Educate yourself as much as you can. Trust me, the hardest thing is to start. How do you start? Find your personal "why" and motivation shifts to discipline after a while.
End of 2012, I was about to quit photography. I just couldn't feel it. Yay, "fail" number 16 in the Marius Vieth autobiography best-seller "Well, I Guess That Didn't Work". I wanted to go out with a bang and started my "365 days, 365 photos" project on the 1st of January, 2013. That was the first time I showed the world a photo of mine. It says in the caption on Flickr this: "Let's see where this 365 will take me. Got nothing to lose anyways...".
2 months into the project I discovered street photography, 6 months later Iquit my job to live life as an artist. In order to survive, I quickly had to grow beyond being a fine-art photographer. The first years are very rough if there are no structures to support you. In order to make my dream come true, I became a label-manager, online marketer, book author, coach, editor, fine-art magazine publisher, award judge, YouTuber, podcaster, consultant, entrepreneur and eventually investor with an invincible inner child! What a ride it was so far!
What makes this journey so special to me is that I later realized that I've done all these things with an artistic approach. For a while I thought that I didn't live life as an artist since all these things aren't necessarily "artsy" roles. However, since I poured all my Eye, Heart & Soul into all of these roles and projects, they are all artworks to me. To me, art means connecting your Inner Universe (Eye, Heart & Soul) with your Outer Universe (life around you) to create something for yourself and others.
It doesn't matter whether you write poems for a living or crunch Excel numbers every day in a cubicle. At least turn your workplace into an artwork. Decorate your cubicle, use your favorite colors in your spreadsheets, arrange the numbers how you feel them the most, challenge yourself to crunch them more beautifully. I've had a number if soul-sucking jobs in my life, but my Inner Child always helped me to turn Mondays into Fundays. It's easy to become bitter, it's a challenge to become sweet, it's easy to neglect your Eye, Heart & Soul, it's a challenge to explore and unleash it!
The only question you have to ask yourself is whether you are up for the most rewarding challenge of your life or not?
Deadly Sin #2: Never Ever Neglect Your Outer Universe!
The world around you is your playground. Make sure that it stays fun, safe and clean. It's always our own responsibility to take care of your environment. If you treat the chef with disrespect, it will be hard for you to capture a golden moment with him for someone else later.
However, if you treat him well, thank him for creating the best meals and tell him that he's the reason why you eat their regularly, you created a golden moment for him, yourself and others. He will feel good about himself and may even carry that gold around for days, weeks and months. That way as soon as someone sees him, they might think: man, I want to capture that happy flavor magician!
As soon as you have figured out, how to take care of yourself, your mission is to contribute as much as you can to the happiness and well being of others. But why can't you just focus on yourself and forget the rest? You can, but it won't make you happy in the long term. Giving feels better than taking. Period. Science has proven it over and over again.
Try if for yourself. One day you are allowed to spend $5, $50 or $500 on yourself. Treat yourself and make it an amazing day. I'm sure you will enjoy it. On another day, you are only allowed to spend that amount on others. Your task is to make them happy. Their gratitude, smile, sweetness will release so much more dopamine in your brain that you will ask yourself: Why did I always take so much in life?
I thought about it myself, could I have given more? I was on my own financially ever since I was 18. I worked 40 hours a week and more to be able to attend University. I was so poor that sleep for dinner was a nice treat since it mean that I still had a roof over my head. For the last 10 years I invested every cent I made into my self-education and dream.
I wouldn't have changed one thing except for the giving part. Even though I've been working day in and day out 14-18 hours a day for my dream in all those years, I'm sure I could've carved out 1 hour a day for others and at least 5€ a week for someone that was worse off than me. It would've given me the energy, happiness and bliss that fuels my much more comfortable life nowadays.
To cut to the Chase Jarvis, become more than a photographer. Go all in with all the skills you have to offer to the world, connect your Eye, Heart & Soul with the world and transform your photography into the highlight-reel of your contribution on the stage of life!
Deadly Sin #3: Never Neglect Uniting Your Two Universes!
No matter whether you think you are an artist or not, you are a creator. Humans have been creating a better life ever since the dawn of time. Some painted the caves to make them nicer, others created fire. As long as everyone contributes with what they can at their full potential, we all benefit. However, as soon as egoism, fear and greed rule your life, you will have a hard time connecting your Inner and Outer Universe.
That's why I can't just teach photography without the life it relates to. Your fear of shooting strangers in street photography isn't limited to your hobby; it's your general fear in life. If you know how to reach beyond your fear for your job, wouldn't you know it as well for your photos? I studied Psychology in University and simply applied all scientifically proven anxiety therapies to my street photography. My confidence from going beyond my comfort zone in street photography helped me go beyond my comfort zone in my businesses. It's all interconnected.
I once helped someone get rid of his photographer's block. He just couldn't shoot as passionately as he used to. We talked for hours and eventually I figured out that it's the slight resentment from his wife towards his hobby. Due to his long office hours, she barely saw him during the week. I asked him: "What does your heart beat for the most?" and he instantly replied "My wife!" I asked him: "Why don't you capture your soul mate instead then?" All of a sudden, I saw his eyes opening up, his motivation came back and the words he said about creating a project about her were the most passionate I've heard him say all day. I could feel how his Eye, Heart & Soul came to life again and in the course of the next months he not only captured her in the most beautiful way possible, they now even go together on photo walks together.
Every morning it's your most important duty to acknowledge and express your Eye, Heart & Soul. Look in the mirror and ask yourself why you do the things you do every day. The more honestly you answer these questions, the more self-respect and confidence you will gain. The more curious you are about the world around and within you, the more you want to create something with it that you and the people that matter to you can enjoy!
Never forget: How you perceive the world around you is a reflection of your inner world. Whether your daily life is filled with positivity or negativity is largely determined by how you decide to experience it. Where do your eyes look during the day? What makes you angry, happy, sad or passionate? How much of your soul do you allow yourself to live out in the open?
To remain in the religious analogy, consider your Eye, Heart & Soul some sort of Garden of Eden. Every day you decide whether you are making it blossom through exposing it to positive light and planting positive seeds. If you only nurture it with negative things and dark thoughts, dangerous plants and distracting weed will overgrow all the beauty that could've been there. If you don't check every morning how you feel, whether you are happy with yourself, whether you are making progress in life and doing the things you want to do, your inner child and creative spirit dies off eventually. Negativity does not only breed failure as Biggie Smalls rapped, it takes away, and it destroys. Positivity attracts opportunities; it unites and creates something new.
As long as you connect your positive energy within you with the world around you, you are always aligned with what the Universe loves the most: expand positive energy and create matters that matter to you and the people you love!
Whether you fell asleep, only thought about football all the way through or screamed "Hallelujah" after this far too long sermon, I want to thank you! It means a lot to me that you took time out of your precious day to enter my digital "Temple of Eye, Heart & Soul"!
If you have constructive feedback, I can’t wait to talk to you on my social channels or via email. Besides that, I would love to hear about your personal beliefs to reach your personal photography paradise as well! I’m sure it will inspire me and other photographers to re-think and improve our beliefs.
To finish off this digital service, I'd love to share one last bit of advise with you that truly changed my life for the better:
"The Universe's No 1 Hiding Place for the Most Awesome Shit is Right Behind Fear!"
It doesn’t matter whether you capture that place with your phone like me or use a Hasselblad, your most important gear is your Eye, Heart & Soul.
But more importantly, who’s down for some altar wine?