Don’t Take a Photo of what it Looks like, Take a Photo of What it Feels Like

When I look at the images of photographer Josh White, I feel them. They can be as mundane as a funny poster, fish for sale at an outdoor market,or a candid photo of a lady on the Seoul subway system. I got the chance to meet Josh a few years ago in Toronto after being introduced by our mutual friend Eric Kim. Josh was living in Toronto during a transition stage in his life after teaching for several years in Korea. We shot a lot together while he was in Toronto, but more than that we nerded out about gear and spoke about our greatest photographic influences. I don’t think we ever produced a memorable photo during our outings.

Josh eventually made his way back to Seoul about a year and a half ago. It was where his real calling was. I had noticed a dip in Josh’s photography output after he returned to Korea. He mostly photographed his new female muse and friends, but I was missing the old Josh. I missed the guy who took his camera everywhere with him and captured life as he saw it, an aesthetic that I can only describe it as dark and gritty. The beauty of the look he has achieved with his images is that you can glance at a photo and say “that’s a Josh White photo”.

Josh and I met up in Korea recently and decided on a two-day bromantic getaway trip to Busan, Korea’s second largest city. Before leaving, we wanted to motivate each other by placing a friendly wager on who would produce the best image of the weekend. The contest would be anonymously judged by Eric. We would each submit our top three photos from the weekend and Eric would declare one single image as the winner. The loser would owe the other a bucket of fried chicken the next time we crossed paths.

What I wasn’t expecting was to be inspired by him. Prior to this trip, I viewed Josh as an equal. Like it or not, there is a sense of ego you need to have in photography. We’re competitive by nature. Though I have never thought of myself as a particularly good street photographer, I still wanted to prove to Josh that I had the chops to compete with him – or to beat him. What I quickly found out over the weekend was that Josh and I were not equals.

We photographed in tandem a lot of the time, capturing the more obvious moments simultaneously. This was not what set us apart, however. Perhaps it is Josh’s Daido Moriyama influence, but he would often stop to take photos of things I would overlook or deem stupid, mundane, or too easy to capture – birds in a bird cage, a tattered poster, or me posing in full thug form. When we reviewed our images, I could see the greater story that Josh was putting together.

My contact sheet was full of random crap images trying to capture the one single epic photo. It was a lot of embarassing photos with the occasional usable photo. Josh’s contact sheet was consistently good. There was rarely a wasted frame. It told the story of our trip to Busan, our friendship, and the things he saw along the way – in a very artistic way that gave you a sense of what the trip was like. You could feel like you were part of the trip by looking at his images. Even the photos he deemed crap were actually very good. There were a few that were outstanding.

How did I do? Well I got a few photos from the weekend that I think are pretty good as well. They were definitely better than I had anticipated and without Josh being there I know I wouldn’t have pushed myself to take many of the images I did.

I learned a number of things from Josh during my trip to Korea. Most importantly, I learned that he’s a good friend. That he’s an incredible photographer. That a photo doesn’t need to be perfect if it makes someone feel something in their gut. That consistency in processing will eventually lead to your own photographic identity. I hope to one day capture the streets as he has done and continues to do.

So who won the contest? Let’s just say I owe Josh a bucket of fried chicken.

And finally, here is a selection of Josh’s images from the weekend. The lead photo won the contest and my favorite shot is the black and white one of the trees from the train. Incredible shot.

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