Street insights with Olivier DUONG 2


If you like Street Photography, you probably know Inspired Eye. A few years ago, I interviewed Olivier DUONG, one of the co-founders (with Don SPRINGER). The idea was not to make another interview like I did before but just  to ask to Olivier a couple of questions. I’ve never met Olivier in person but I’m pretty sure that he’s a very talkative man with a lot of stories. I hope that one day we’ll be able to chit chat in front of a beer here or elsewhere.

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

You now live in Thailand, somewhere I planned to go before COVID hit. Was it your plan to stay so long or did COVID hinder your plans too?

It was planned! Here’s an anecdote: When I was a kid I went to my dad’s room and found a DVD with a green cover on it. I do not remember anything about the name, nor any actors, but I still remember something along the lines of (the main actor) wanted adventure because he didn’t want to die without having lived.That is really what I am looking for, LIFE. Some DVD copywriter opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to die without having lived. Thailand is probably the best place I’ve lived so far and there is a lot of life there. Thailand has closed its borders very early and while it was on lockdown for a month, the result was that the spread was contained early, therefore life is pretty normal save the need to wear a mask and signing in. I’ve met some people who came from the States and they told me the last time They really went out was March of last year.  That is why I am staying there for a while!

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

I like to think that these exotic places are like candy stores for street photographers. Having lived abroad many places, is the grass always greener somewhere else? I have a friend that lives in Paris (E.C) and tells me she can’t take pictures there, inconceivable !

That reminds me of the story of two farmers. Yes, I like stories. It goes like this: Two farmers were neighbors and everyday each would wake up and see the other farmer’s land greener as theirs. After a while of this they had the great idea to switch their farms with one another.

Ecstatic they signed their land to each other and took possession of their respective land and went to sleep. The two farmers woke up, took in the landscape in front of them…and looked at their neighbors land, only to realize that the other land was greener than theirs. I’ve always wondered why this grass in always greener things happens to photographers and I’ve found the answer. Your brain takes in 25% of your bodily resources. That is why some chess players can burn thousands of calories in one game! It takes a lot of energy to make the brain work. Consider that when you go to any new place, your brain is working really hard taking in the landscape. But because the brain is resource extensive, once it figured out the new area, it pushes all of that to the subconscious. This is the brain’s way to conserve resources, and also to keep you from being overwhelmed. Imagine if you have to think about blinking, breathing 24/7 and being aware of everything, like every single person or every single detail. The result would be too many calories burned, and overwhelm.That is precisely what happens when you go abroad. The brain takes in what is new, but that honeymoon period only lasts for about 10 days in my experience. Afterwards everything is normal.Because everything new becomes “figured out” eventually and will lose the magical spark. The brain just won’t want to put in all the effort needed for full awareness. This is the mechanism behind the hedonic treadmill. You see something, it’s all great for a while, then it becomes boring. That’s why the “OMG ! This is the best camera ever !” feeling never lasts.

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

The danger for newbies is to think that new cameras will change the game for them. The danger for those who are photographers is to think that the location will change the game for them. So yes, somewhat the grass is always greener somewhere else. But as I showed above, it’s the way the brain works that makes it so, and since its the brain, it is only a perception. The trick is to force your brain to go from automatic to manual transmission and be aware of your surroundings. If you do not do that, this is a never ending cycle. Take any dreamy location you can think of like New York, Paris or London and it will end up boring, that is a guarantee. Plus there’s another thing at play: Responsibilities. It is a very different ballgame going somewhere to visit and shoot vs having responsibilities and shooting. When stuff like rent and bills are in your mind, it takes a mental toll and your ability to see is diminished because, well you have other things to think about! So what your friend feels is absolutely natural. Anyone who goes to Paris for more than a few weeks will end up saying the same thing. If one is to be a street photographer, never let your brain go on automatic mode, keep your antennas up and your trigger finger ready.

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

 

Before COVID I went to a few big cities like Bristol, Rome or Paris. I shot some great pictures but I consider them travel photos. You who travel often, have you never had this feeling ? I feel like I need to be part of the city to do something meaningful.

Yes I know the feeling very well. Here’s the mechanism behind it: Everything is a system, like you reading this is a collection of systems (respiratory, visual, nervous system, etc) and if we divided photography we would have what in the photography course we call the eye, heart and mind. Photography hinges on the composition, emotional and technical. Technical and composition are superficial, and while they can make for visually stunning photos, what’s missing is the emotional connection. When you visit somewhere, there is usually very little emotional connection, and more visual stimulation because your brain takes in the newness of it all. So that is why you tend to see them as travel photos. It is because you are aware that the connection wasn’t there, but made the shot anyways. That is why the most rewarding images you can make is on well threaded streets, not only can you anticipate where some good spots are, but you will have to work harder to make deeper photographs (vs the superficial ones any tourist can do), resulting in more compelling images. We were talking about the grass being greener…this is one of the very rare cases where the grass is objectively greener! That’s why the “grass is always greener” discussion is always a bit tricky, on one hand you have yourself that tells you that that new thing will be a game changer, and probably won’t change anything, and on the other hand you have the possibility of something being indeed a game changer. It takes wisdom to rightly judge!

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

 

Besides, on Inspired Eye, you manage with Don SPRINGER, are there any new things available? 

Well, Inspired Eye is in a complete redesign and while nothing changes on the front (actually things might look a bit weird!) the core is being worked on actively. The main course that teaches how to make outstanding street photography is still available, and the plan is for a new one for making your own photobooks and marketing your images. But those are for later down the road as the site structure pretty much has to be changed. It is no use adding things when the fundamentals are not in place. A lesson I learned years ago when I piled on cameras and had no clue of the fundamentals of photography !

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

For those who are interested they can always get the newsletter, this is pretty much where I share my best stuff. This interview will be shared there for example, and the myriad of articles that I am writing now.

 

Olivier DUONG ©

 

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2 thoughts on “Street insights with Olivier DUONG

  • John Harper

    Although it might sound as though Olivier has just read “How to psychoanalyse your psychoanalyst” 😉… he does make extremely salient points regarding Street Photography and ones I think most would fully agree with. Currently there’s no grass here, of any colour. When there is and we’re actually allowed back out again to shoot some street I’ll be torn between Bristol or Bath, the grass is pretty green in both. My other trips are purely for entertainment purposes, I never get close to producing any Street of note with them, just document the time.
    Insightful, very interesting interview and interviewee. Well done Jeff and Olivier.

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      It is said that every psychoanalyst must be psychoanalyse by another therapist. That’s the case here 😉. With this covid thing, street photographers should get use to document their own streets instead of flying to exotic countries or cities to get their street shots. I like pretty much the guys portrait in this selection. I ‘m not good at that even if when I look at it it seems simple.