If you want to be good at anything, you just have to do it. Do a lot of it. Everything I do professionally these days I did not learn them from school. I just did a lot of it.
This photograph was taken in 1996 at Yale. It was a photograph showing the harsh winter of New Haven. It was taken at the Old Campus — where the freshmen live. I spent four years working at TheYaleHerald — first as a photographer, then eventually as the photo editor. The Herald is a weekly newspaper at Yale with features and articles that people actually read.
I never took a class in photography. But I photographed a lot. I used to buy T-MAX + TriX in bulk from B&H and rolled my own film. I went through 100 feet of film every month — sometimes in a week. I worked in the darkroom every week. Processing, developing, getting dirty with all these nasty chemicals and working under the red safe light.
It was a lot of work, but when you have worked in the darkroom, then you would understand why Sharpen is called “Unsharped Mask” in Photoshop. These are super old tech. Try doing Unsharped Mask in the darkroom — it’s not for the faint of heart.
In any case, just do it. You don’t need to go to school for anything — unless of course you want to meet interesting people, then it is a very good place for it. Otherwise, to learn anything and to eventually master something, just do it.
Do it every day. Do it whenever you want to. I truly believe that anyone can become good at anything if they have the will to do it — as that is how I do what I do.
This is something that I did a lot of throughout the years. I never truly knew why I got into it, but if I had to think about a reason for it, it’s because I love exploring things that interest me. I want to record what I saw, and to share them with others.
Later in life, I found that there are many important ideas that simply don’t get the necessary coverage that they deserve. As someone who grew up being so different from others, I know how it feels like to want to say something but never being heard.
My own ideas do not matter much — but there are important ideas and philosophies that I feel are important enough to warrant representations. Since no one was covering them, I took my camera, ran around, and photographed them. Then I processed and shared them everywhere on social media (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc) with the intention that more people would see them.
I wanted to give a voice to those who simply don’t have a way to reach people who need to hear them — often because of bigotry and prejudice.
Important ideas can change the world. I want to do my part to give them a nudge and to help them along. Then I know that at least I have done something about it. It matters not whether my little dent in the universe would make a significant difference. What’s important is that I know that I have done my part — no matter how insignificant it may be.
I did major in art, and yes, Gregory Crewdson was already teaching at Yale when I was there. I never intended to do photography so extensively — and certainly not as an art medium. My interests in photography was simply that it’s something I always wanted to do, and to record a moment of time and things that happened.
Had I appreciated photography in the same way I did now, I would’ve jumped at the chance of taking his class. But I never did. He did give some guest lectures in some of my classes, and I went to some of his presentations. I also got to look at his works up close and personal.
The strange thing about all of this was that when I eventually saw his works again at Gagosian in 2012, it all felt so different. The Gregroy Crewdson that I knew was someone who is very personable and friendly. His works — approachable. It’s so different when you see these same photographs being shown in an imposing huge space with white walls like the Gagosian Gallery in New York. It’s the same works — but the context of how it‘s shown — in an artist studio vs a gallery — makes all the difference. I have always felt that art is a relationship you form with the artist, and the context of how you see the work is very important.
T-Max is a black and white film from Kodak. It’s a very fine grain film. I used to buy them in bulk and roll my own film. I would then develop it in the darkroom. I usually get the T-Max 400.
In the old days, you have to pick the ISO when you get the films. ISO is the light sensitivity of the film. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to light. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive it is to light. 400 is generally a good all around ISO.
For what I did in my days at Yale, which was photojournalism, lighting conditions can vary a lot, and 400 is a good fit. 100 (or 50) is good if you would use the film for studio work and daylight, but it’s generally unsuitable for low light conditions, which happens a lot when you’re “out on assignment”.
I really dreaded the dark room. The chemicals, the red light, that squeaky noise from the heater which was only next door. The Dark room that I spent most of my time in was in the basement of in the tower of Stiles — my residential college (I was ES '99). I think that I was one of four people who actually used it. I could use the one at the Yale School of Art, but as a loner, I preferred this dead space that no one uses. I loved that I was the only one using it, so I could start my development and not having to “mark my territory,” so to speak. In my four years of using that dark room, I think that I have only run into another person twice.
This post was originally published on Instagram in 2013. I edited parts of it today, and added additional contexts and the notes.