World famous street photographer Eric Kim with his trusty Leica and t-shirt which he wears all the time as the names are those of renowned photographers of an earlier generation.
Eric Kim from Los Angeles but of Korean descent looks scrawny but he shows me his arms with bulging, rock solid biceps! I even felt his muscles and was quite impressed and asked if they were more solid than you-know-what and he said 'Yes, my biceps are harder than my penis'. What a cool dude!
DUE TO JESUS'S BLESSINGS AND PERSONAL INTERVENTION, I HAD A GREAT AFTERNOON JUST NOW AT 4PM WITH ERIC KIM, ONE OF THE WORLD'S FINEST STREET PHOTOGRAPHERS. WE MET AT LEICA STORE AT AVENUE K IN KL AND ADJOURNED TO SECRET RECIPE FOR TEA AND CHAT ABOUT HIS WORK AND SEX LIFE WHICH SEEMS TO ME TO BE DEADLY DULL AND UNINTERESTING AS ERIC KIM IS A GOOD CATHOLIC AND APPARENTLY HAS SEX ONLY WITH HIS GF CINDY NGUYEN.
ERIC KIM IS RATHER GOOD LOOKING AND MANY GIRLS AND BOYS WOULD LIKE TO JUMP INTO BED WITH HIM BUT HE SAYS HE WAS RAISED AS A CATHOLIC AND REMAINS SO. "I HAVE SLEPT WITH ONLY ONE GIRL AND THAT IS MY GIRL FRIEND," HE SAYS STOICALLY. FANCY THAT. WHAT A SAINTLY CREATURE! WHO IS LOYAL THESE DARK DAYS?
I WAS GOING TO ASK IF HE WAS EVER ABUSED BY ANY PRIEST AS WE HAVE READ ABOUT SUCH SHENADIGANS IN THE MEDIA BUT THOUGHT THIS MIGHT MAKE ME APPEAR TO BE A BUSYBODY WHICH I AM OF COURSE BUT THIS IS ANOTHER ISSUE.
Jazz Hands by Eric Kim
Grin by Eric Kim
Just Dance by Eric Kim
I Love KK!
Choosing and processing the photos after a shoot
Shannel Woo, retail manager of Leica Store Kuala Lumpur
HERE ARE MORE STUNNERS TAKEN BY ERIC KIM WHO IS QUITE A SEXY STUNNER HIMSELF TOO, COME TO THINK OF IT
Time for a breather
Cool Gucci boy
Oh no what have I done
Any port in a storm
It's heavy and it's not even my brother
In a puff and huff
I shoo-ed away Shannel Woo, GM of Leica Store Malaysia so I could have a guy talk with the ever affable, smiling and jolly Eric Kim with anyone eavesdropping. However I did remind Shannel to come back an hour or so later so pay Secret Recipe's bills. So it was not as if I ignored the poor girl altogether.
Despite his fame among the street photographers community where he is considered a demi-god, Eric Kim is down to earth, easy going and laughs loudly and a lot. He is not the diva type though it makes no difference as I out-diva any diva anytime.
I ask how he became so famous so fast as he is only 24.
"Luck," he says matter of factly. Very true. I was unknown at 24 which is 10 years ago.
At 24, he is even younger than me, I point out.
"It's OK. I won't hold it against you," he says charmingly. I like this guy instantly.
His real name is John Kim as in John Eric Kim so this is a secret only I know and now you do too. But everyone calls him Eric and he prefers Eric so that's that.
Born near San Francisco, California, he grew up in the Bay area. Of course since he looks so chinky with slitty eyes he is not white but Korean since I think all Koreans are either Kim or Park.
He studied at UCLA and graduated in Sociology since he is so sociable . "At first I studied Biology as you know, Asian parents expect their kids to be doctors, architects, lawyers, engineers or accountants. I did Biology with hope of becoming a doctor or work in the medical field which lasted a quarter as I hated it. So I checked what else was available and as I am a social person, I chose Sociology!"
When he mentioned to his parents, they freaked out. "They said I would be homeless! Yup, they were upset but now that I am jetsetting the world doing what I love, they are happy and proud of me."
As he globe trots so much, he just shares a room in Los Angeles with his younger, 22 year old sister. As I am so old fashioned and religious, I accuse him of incest. "We sleep on different beds," he quips without blinking an eye."
His parents are separated and live in the Bay area some 350 miles away from LA so he cannot live rent-free with either Mum or Dad.
He has been knee-deep in street photography for the last 5 years. "I started at 18 when I was in High School and got a point and shoot Canon Power Shot SD600. I was so crazy over photography I took like a 1,000 photos a day for a month! I swear it's true. Actually I have a terrible memory and used photos to create memories."
I remind him he owes me US$ 10,000 as his memory is so bad he might have forgotten. True enough, he has.
"I took pictures of everyone and everything as I was unsure which area I should focus on. I was trying to find my forte. I had to discover what I liked and what I was good in as I firmly believe a photographer should specialise and not be too general. So I took photographs of landscape, duits, flowers, weddings, HDR, you name it, I have shot it. Early on I realise I like people and love candid shots so I knew my focus would involve people, like weddings, portraits, sports or children.So I began taking photos of people. At work, at play, at ease, whatever. I don't like posed photos. Even if I ask someone to pose, I will take casual shots rather than stiff, formal, grinning ones."
His revelation came in LA when he was 19 at a bus stop.
"There was this guy with horn glasses reading a book seated at a bus stop," he recalls. "It was a very ordinary moment come to think of it but it was this ordinary moment that made it so extraordinary! It was such a peaceful scene as we lead such hectic lives we hardly have time for reading so I appreciated the sight of this guy reading. I was nervous and my heart beat fast. I wanted to take his picture but was unsure if I should ask permission but if I did, it would definitely kill the moment! As I was dithering and about to press the shutter, he looked up straight into my eyes. I was startled and agitated but my fingers instinctively pressed the shutter and I got the picture! He looked down and continued reading as if nothing happened.
"When I got home, I looked at the photo and said 'Wow'. I liked it so very much! I had taken my official, first street photograph and I didn't even know this genre existed!"
"A cathartic moment!" I beam as I have enjoyed many such cathartic moments and know one when I come across one.
Eric Kim's eyes light up at the word 'cathartic'. He says excitedly, "Catharsis. A cathartic moment! Yes, yes I like the phrase, you are a genius with words!" I smile and nod agreeably since I cannot argue with the Biblical truth. I tell him the next time he describes his moment of catharsis he must mention my name for being the first to describe the exact feeling that encapsulated the mother of all moments. He grins, "Yes, 'cathartic' is perfect as it also gives the impression of a bud in the process of blooming!"
At 19, he was as fresh, naive and innocent like a virgin like me.
"I didn't even know there was such a thing as street photography which is a new genre anyway compared to family portrait which was the first! I mean, who else are like me, taking photos of normal people who are strangers?"
Of course the dear boy soon discovered there were plenty of such people!
Being an IT person and tech-savvy, he went online and posted his picture and chatted with fellow pixmen who applauded his photo and commented what a wonderful street photo that was. "Street photography? What's that? I never heard of it!" he remembers. "But I knew street photography is what I love and to me, this is what photography is all about."
Of course he had a day job but photography was all pervasive. Then came another, shall we say cathartic moment?
He lost his job!
"I was working with an online social media marketing company and they were down-sizing since they were not making money. I was called into the office and told they had to let me go. That sounded better than sacking me I guess. But I was given severance pay. So I started wondering what to do with the money. Should I pay back my student loan, save the cash in Fixed Deposit or buy a Leica M9 which I had always wanted? Of course I bought the Leica!"
The Leica M9 cost him around US$ 10,000 but like all photographers of a certain calibre, he dreamed of a Leica the same way top students like me dreamed of getting a First Class degree from university which I did of course.
"Before buying the Leica M9, I was using a Canon 350 DSLR which is also a great camera but it was heavy, bulky and big. It really frightened most people when I used it to take their photos haha as it looked so professional. I wanted a smaller camera that was more discreet, manually operated and yes, even a bit old fashioned looking! Of course Leica fit the bill as it looked the same as the first model introduced in the 1950s. Now I have the Leica M9 which is digital and Leica M6 which uses film."
Yes, he still uses film, you know the long strips of negatives your dinosauric parents used to send to the photo shop which printed the images onto paper? Anyway Eric Kim took several photos of me since he announced I was the most fabulously dressed person he has ever met and he has met plenty in his career as street photographer! "But you will have to wait a month to see the photos which I will post to you from LA since films take time to process using my special methods," he says and adds triumphantly, "I only use black and white films for VERY special people so you should feel honoured. When I go shooting using film, I only use a maximum of 2 rolls since films are relatively expensive compared to digital SD cards!"
On a typical day's outing, he shoots about 300 images using his digital Leica M9 of which he insists only 1 0r 2 are considered good enough! "Yes, I am very selective and fussy these days. I am not bluffing when I say out of 300 images, I usually find only 1 or 2 which I feel are good enough for me. The rest I keep in my archive as I never delete the images and I do go bcak to them often. With my Leica M6, I use 2 rolls which produce 72 images but I seldom use films as I reserve the M6 for special occasions."
Speaking of austerity, I note he is wearing the same Cartier Bresson t-shirt seen in many of his photos. I ask how many such t-shirts he owns. "Only 1," he replies and noticing the disdain on my gorgeous face, he hastily adds, "But I wash it a lot!"
As it is, he left LA with the clothes on his back as he left his suitcase at home! "I slept at 1am and woke at 3am to drive to the airport. I had my backpack on and when I arrived at the airport, I opened the trunk to find it empty! Then I realised in my haste and drowsiness, I left my suitcase in the hall!"
After buying the Leica M9, he was of two minds about searching for another day job. His girlfriend Cindy Nyugen encouraged him to be a fulltime street photographer. Still, a street photographer taking random shots of strangers who have no intention of paying him is not like a wedding or portrait photographer who can charge recklessly to record important occasions. "Around 90% of my income is from giving workshops and teaching people how to be a good street photographer," he admits. He is readying for the day when local authorities like City Halls commission him to take vignettes of street life as he sees it. "Now this would be marvellous and they can use my photos to publish a book, hold an exhibition or print them as publicity materials. Street photography capture the essence and lifeforce of a city as they are spontaneous and real, not posed or stylised."
Street photography empowers people though you cannot make a living out of it per se. But most already hold day jobs and treat it as a hobby.
His first foray into our fair land was in December last year when a photo club in Sabah invited him to hold a workshop in Kota Kinabalu. "I said 'Yes' and then started searching for Sabah! Most Americans are ignorant of the rest of the world! Then nothing came of it but a photographer in the street photography community heard about it and offered me his studio to conduct my workshop. There were 10 participants which was ideal as I don't have more than 20 as I insist on personal attention."
Shannel Woo of Leica Store Malaysia emailed him to do the same in Kuala Lumpur. He says, "I flew to KL from KK and sorted it out with Shannel and Sean Yap. I was stunned by KL as I didn't know what to expect. KK was great as the food was so cheap and delicious. I love KK a lot as the people are so friendly and not very touristy so I find the place to be very authentic. There were 10 participants with half from Singapore who flew to Kota Kinabalu.
"In KL I was amazed at the number of Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes! You have such a sophisticated society and everyone seems so prosperous. I have a wonderful time here and hope to return for more workshops."
He also googled to see Leica Store. He laughs loudly, "I saw your photographs at Leica's opening wearing pants with your face painted on your groin! I was stunned speechless and asked Shannel about you. She said you famous writer and fashionista but not sure which comes first haha! I said I must meet you and take your photos."
And he did! At the Leica party he snapped photos of me wearing my signature shirt and pants painted with my faces and my crocodile skull bag. Today he snapped me clutching my wolf bag and again wearing my face outfits. Well, people say I am a walking tourist attraction!
Eric Kim's workshop in KL was on 3 and 4 March and he took the 8 participants to Central Market and Bukit Bintang for the shoots. He has conducted workshops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and tomorrow he leaves for London for the same purpose.
I wonder if he has been beaten up or punched in the mouth by irate models.
"Once I took a photo of a grand dame in Beverly Hills. I knew she was Spanish as I understand Spanish. I took her photo and she asked in English why I did that. I replied in Spanish because she was so beautiful. She was pleased and said 'Really? So nice of you' and came to me and kissed me on the cheek!"
The other two encounters were less pleasant.
One called the police! "The policeman came and merely said 'So what if he took your photos. By law, anyone can take photos in an open area or public space and there is nothing you or I can do if anyone wants to take your photographs'. Legally anyone can take photos of anything and anyone without asking permission in a public space like roads, parks, beaches or malls.
"Once in Tokyo I took a photo of a guy wearing a mask but pulled down as he was smoking. He looked very serious. I was walking away after saying 'Thank you' like I always do when he came running behind me and kicked me while shouting like he was crazed! He was big guy, around 190 cm and I am not small either at 182cm. He kicked so hard my flash flew and smashed into a wall. Since he was yelling like mad I saw no reason to argue so I went off to avoid an argument or physical fight."
He grins, "I must have taken about a million photos and only had 3 encounters! I tell my participants more people die from crossing the road than being yelled at from taking photos. So what if people yelled at me. In my old job I get yelled at more often!"