Michael Yamashita // Ep 104 // Season 2 // The Legend of National Geographic
Welcome to episode 104 // Season 2 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast. We are very excited to have Michael Yamashita on this week's episode.
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After graduating from Wesleyan University with a degree in Asian studies, photographer Michael Yamashita spent seven years in Asia, which became his photographic area of specialty. Upon returning to the US, Yamashita began shooting for the National Geographic as well as other American and international magazines and clients.
Combining his dual passions of photography and travel has culminated in a career spanning over 35 years, an Instagram following of more than 1.8 million, and most recently entered him into the world of NFTs. A frequent lecturer and teacher at universities and workshops around the world, Yamashita has received numerous industry awards, including those from the Pictures of the Year, Photo District News, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association. His work has been exhibited in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Yamashita’s most recent exhibitions, currently traveling the world, are focused on the theme of the Silk Road Journey following both the overland and maritime silk road routes.
In addition to Yamashita’s focus on Asia, his work has taken him to six continents. Yamashita’s particular specialty is in retracing the paths of famous travelers and historical routes resulting in stories on Marco Polo, the Chinese explorer Zheng He, Chamagudao – the Tea Horse Road, the Great Wall of China, the Mekong River from source to mouth.
Yamashita has published thirteen books, mostly inspired by his 30 National Geographic stories. His passion for the Tibetan world led him to shoot 4 stories for Natgeo: Our Man in China; Joseph Rock, The Forgotten Road, Tibetan Gold and Journey to Shangri-La photographed over a 6 year period, which resulted in the book, Shangri-La [along the tea road to Lhasa].
While not traveling, Michael Yamashita lives with his family in rural New Jersey, where he maintains a studio and is an active volunteer fireman.
Please check out our Patreon at @asianhustlenetwork. We want AHN to continue to be meaningful and give back to the Asian community. If you enjoy our podcast and would like to contribute to our future, we hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.
Please check out our Patreon at @asianhustlenetwork. We want AHN to continue to be meaningful and give back to the Asian community. If you enjoy our podcast and would like to contribute to our future, we hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.
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Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asiansto pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi everyone. Welcome to the. Well network podcast today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Michael Yamashita after graduating from Wesleyan university with a degree in Asian studies photographer, Michael spent seven years in Asia, which became his photographic area of specialty upon returning to the U S Michael began shooting for the national geographic as well as other American and international magazines and clients combining his dual passions of photography and travel has culminate.
In a career spanning over 35 years, an Instagram following of more than 1.8 million, and most recently entered him into the world of NFTs. Michael’s most recent exhibitions currently traveling in the world are focused on the theme of the silk road journey, following both the Overland and maritime silk road routes.
In addition to Michael’s focus on Asia, his work has taken him to six countries. Michael has also published 13 books, mostly inspired by his 30 national geographic stories while not traveling Michael lives with his family in rural New Jersey, where he maintains a studio and is an active volunteer fireman.
Michael, welcome to the.
Michael: (00:01:37) Thank you. I’m going to have to correct a few things. My name is Yamashta. That’s the best pronunciation that I silent. So, uh, and, uh, I have a, I’m working on 40 years of, uh, for the geographic and I have, uh, 15 books, two, or which are sitting idle somewhere in China because I left a lot on the table when I, uh, when the COVID, uh, shutdown happened.
And so actually I was on my way there in February of. 2020. And then suddenly of course, uh, my flight got canceled, trying to close the supporters and I haven’t traveled since. So, uh, anyways, so, uh, yeah, so anyway, where do I start,
Bryan: (00:02:28) man? We got, we want you to start from the very beginning, you know, like, well, is there. And how’d you develop such a passion for traveling photography, because obviously it shows throughout your entire work and you know, for a while, she, and some of your clips, videos earlier, and your S your knowledge is extensive, not in it’s technology that you use to photograph the images, but also the rich history of the location and city of the people, you know, it’s a word is passion. Come from.
Michael: (00:02:55) Okay, well, that’s what happens if you’ve been doing it for 40 years and concentrating on my area of interest and expertise, which is the far east. So obviously I’ve spent a lot of time while I used to have a life of. Six months a year on the road. And, uh, you know, I’ve now been home for a year and a half, so I’m in uncharted territory, actually here and, uh, learning how to live.
Uh, I live in one place and actually it’s been good for myself and the family and other things, but let’s start at the beginning where, uh, I grew up in, in, uh, Montclair, New Jersey and my father was a. Japanese a salary man for a Mitsubishi and, uh, had a regular upbringing except very few Asians, uh, living in Montclair in those days.
And when I, when we were called out for a group photo for the school that my brother and I were utilized, usually. You try to put out there with maybe the one black guy and it, you know, a very, uh, uh, situation in that we were real minority. So, but, uh, after Wesleyan where I studied Asian history, uh, I got my, uh, I went to Japan.
I got out of the. I won’t go into the detail, but a somehow escaped Vietnam and my graduation present was a one-way. Check it to Japan, where I bought a camera and just like most amateurs you send, you know, shoot pictures of what you’re experiencing saying and send them back to your friends and family, just to kind of show them what life is like.
And. I got really hooked into the camera and, uh, just kept going to the next level after the next level. And after living in, in, uh, Japan for years, I became, or I decided I would try to be a photographer. Great lifestyle would a scam. It would be if I could travel the world and take pictures and I did have my eye on the geographic.
And, uh, anyway, I honed my skills and, uh, Asia for another couple of years shooting mainly in Singapore. Uh, I got, uh, a major, uh, client at the time was Singapore airlines and I got that account and they sent me everywhere in Asia. Uh, to shoot pictures for their advertising catalogs. And anyway, after that, I had a portfolio worth looking at and I went to national geographic and this is in the late seventies and I was shooting starting and starting in 19 79, 19 80 was my first.
And of course the first assignment I had was in Hokkaido. Japan. So it took me back to my roots and I was a cocky guy, walked in there and said, I can do a better job than any. You were guys Finland, Japanese, and they speak the language and blah, blah, blah. And anyway, after one success, I never looked back.
Bryan: (00:06:28) Well, that’s, that’s, that’s amazing, you know, that’s, that’s, uh, definitely a life worth living. In my opinion, a lot of us kind of expire, aspire to be like that. And we also want to be like photographers and you want to travel. And the fact that I feel like what you’ve done is basically trailblazing the blade, the trophy.
You know, like that, I’m pretty sure at that time, your parents had different plans for you for your career. Right. They want to eat to have a stable job and everything. What was that process like telling them that, Hey, I’m going to move back to Japan and then I’m going to, you know, start photography, taking pictures around Asia, by what was their initial reaction we’ve already met.
And what was the industry like at that point? You know, like take us back to like 1979 or 1970s. What was the industry life? Asian American Institute, you sort of break into that field. That’s something that I want to hear more about too.
Michael: (00:07:15) Yeah. Well, first of all, my father, uh, was actually very supportive, of course, very supportive about sending me to Japan.
And, uh, I was able to get a visa, uh, learned, uh, via long-term visa, uh, through, uh, family, friends, and gave who, where my family is from. And, uh, so that was helpful. And then yes, he was. He was kind of at the end of his career with a Mitsubishi. And he was about to kind of, uh, get laid off and retirement and all that stuff.
And so he very much was, uh, supportive of me going into something that was maybe that wasn’t. What time he dreamed about. In fact, when I was in high school, he was the guy with a Nikon camera shooting pictures of me when I, while I played sports and he was a very avid amateur and he would always say, Mike, you know, I hope one day to see your big picture up and.
Time square. There was a big board over there on, I forgot a big display for Kodak. And so he used to pass that every day, while he was working in city. And so he, that was his dream for me was that I would have a photograph there. And actually I did find any. Okay. So that was, uh, the start. And, uh, of course I met a lot of good photographers, uh, in, in Asia.
And, uh, actually coming from the United States was an advantage because people wanted to hire me because they said, oh, we got this guy he’s from New York. You know, we would tell them, of course, yeah. Could come from New York and, you know, I had no experience, but you tell them whatever you need to. And, uh, yeah.
So, and I got plenty of work. So when I came back, uh, then I started taking my portfolio around and yes, I was a very, uh, I didn’t know any other, uh, Asian photographers, well, maybe one or two, but we were a very small minority and, um, especially getting into geographic. So, uh, as I was mentioning to you before, my, probably my, my most proudest achievement and without even having thought anything about it is.
Uh, it was pointing out, pointing out at the annual, um, geographic seminar, which is for the photographers in January, each year, uh, where we all get together and spend a week, uh, meeting with the editors and. Having parties and giving slide shows and all of that. And, uh, the editor Susan Goldberg, uh, was in one of the sessions who was saying that we have this year 40, this was 2019, the last seminar.
And she said, you know, we have, uh, 40%, uh, photographers or people of color. Writers or photographers and women now working for the magazine. Yeah. So she shows this chart and, and 2000 difference between 2019 and 2000, 2018. And 2008 is there was only one photographer of color or one, uh, contributor of color and writer or photography writing or photography.
And that was me. And, uh, it turns out going back further that, uh, I was the first full-time not full-time and I never was a staffer. I was a full first, uh, regular contributor, a photographer of color. For the, uh, the first and only for many, many years at the geographic, from when I entered in 80, 19 80, uh, pretty much right up, uh, and, uh, well now of course, Quite a few, a and many of my friends are Asian friends now working for the magazine, but yeah, I’m very proud to say that I indeed was a quiet ear and it was nice to be recognized at that as that, and, uh, Yeah, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but, uh, there was myself and one Asian picture editor, Elizabeth Chang, Chris who she and I collaborated on quite a few stories and we still always go, oh yeah, the old, the whole, the Asia team, you know, Because, yeah, it was a rarity and the other years that most of my stories were in Asia.
So it was a good combination.
Bryan: (00:12:11) That is awesome to hear, you know, and this good hearing what the, what the perspective was like back then. You know, see how far that we pre-dawn, although there’s still a long way to go before you get more people in the industry. I want to start by saying like, you know, thank you Mike, for all the work you’ve done.
Uh, as I mentioned before, the podcast that, you know, a lot of your work has impacted my childhood, you know, my parents, for some, whatever, whatever reason. It’s subscribed to a national geographic, even though they do not speak a lick of English. And I ended up reading national geographic history a lot, you know, so you really have profound impact on my upbringing and my childhood.
So I like to thank you for that. Um, the other question I had is like, you know, as you’re traveling, right. And you’re seeing like, all, like, especially with your work with China and mark and polo and like the silk road and everything. Have you extensively looked into the history of these places before you started taking pictures of the place, or was it vice versa that you started coming there first feeling that experience, feeling the history, taking pictures, then finding out the history.
I’m kind of curious. I, what was the thought process light behind your creative work? Because, you know, whenever, whenever I look at your portfolio, whenever I look at Instagram, it’s really clear to me that you really understand what you’re looking for in a particular city. Right? For example, Well, I think if your team sent me over a video of you photography, taking photography, pictures of the New York skyline, right with that is that I kind of noticed.
As you’re describing certain things, you’re like, oh, I want to capture the ripples, the shuttles, the time square situation, the history, the hustle, brussel, like, it’s very clear to me that you understand the culture of the city as well before you take the picture. So I want to understand what is the thought process as you’re going through these historical places?
What was the, was the chicken or the egg? Do you take pictures first or did you learn about history first or did you walk through it then? Stay there for a couple of weeks and it’d be like, okay, this is what I want to capture in the, in the national geographic picture or my own personal.
Michael: (00:14:06) Okay. Well, first of all, uh, there’s a lot of research that happens. And in my most successful stories, uh, have been the ones that I have proposed, which means even more research because in the proposal process, you, you got to know your subject and, uh, when you are making a proposal, those. Uh, that you would have to kind of show in words, a what we call a one pager, the photographic possibilities, because to your graphic being a photo magazine, they want to know, okay, well, what’s the story going to look like?
And, uh, so a lot of the research goes in at that stage. Um, also, I, you know, you become the expert because you work there all the time and I’ve done most of the China’s stories over the years for there for the yellow magazine. And, you know, I kinda knew what. Would be the next story because I, well, in my case, I ended up very methodically going through all the, kind of the icons of China from silk road.
And of course, Marco polo and, and they, uh, see silk road with and various great wall, a grand canal. I did them all in fact to the point where now I’m. I’m not even, I always ask my friends, Hey, is there any other story that I may have missed? Uh, because it’s been my, uh, I like doing cultural stories and, and shooting places and things that are fast disappearing.
Uh, if I have any legacy, it’s the fact that I have a large archive of, uh, photography that can’t be duplicated because so much of which what I photographed it no longer exists. So that has been a big part of my process. So, you know, I’m always looking for some kind of. A new story. And usually it’s a very remote, uh, haven’t done many city stories, uh, though of course in New York is, is across the river and spent an hour a little more than an hour from where I’m living here now in New Jersey.
And of course my base and somebody says, please go shoot in New York, uh, from, from the air and a helicopter, which is what I was doing, uh, last month, which is what I sent you. And the Saudi is. It was a big sponsor of mine and that’s what that was for. But yeah, it’s a, it’s a, a combination of, uh, and then of course, when you get on the ground, there’s other stuff that happens.
And my, uh, fixers, my, uh, the guys who are the women who put the subject in front of me, I say, are the unheralded, uh, the unsung heroes of journalism, because these people are. You depend on them to, uh, not only find you, the subjects that you have already kind of researched and are on your shoot list. Uh, that’s the point is I’m not wandering looking for something to shoot.
I am there. In the place that we are going to, because I know there’s a picture that exists there. And so we’re going to go make a picture of something. And so that, you know, working in Tibetan plateau, where I have been along for quite a while now, we met with. Knowing exactly. Okay. Well, there’s this great monastery here.
They have, you know, it’s at the top of a mountain who normally they are, which means you got to climb to get there. And there’s a lot of logistical stuff, but, uh, you know, I’m looking for something that, uh, is either in my mind’s eye because it’s important for the story or. There is something I’ve read about or, or heard about that.
I know it’s going to make a picture and that’s why I’m there.
Maggie: (00:18:21) I love that. I love that you, you think it through before you actually go to the location and learn about and research about the history of each and every single landmark and location, just becoming an expert in learning about the history and stories of these landmarks in your photographs.
I do want to know, you know, how have you seen your style change over the years, you know, from when you were, uh, shooting in Asia? Did you have one specific subject or thing that you just loved shooting? Um, and how has that changed over the years?
Michael: (00:18:52) Well, it’s, you know, making a living as a professional is often, it’s not your choice.
You’re, you’re looking for a subjects that somebody is interested in seeing to publish a photograph, or if it’s a commercial client there. Uh, reasons why they, they need a picture of that. So it’s, it’s not like I, uh, yeah, I have the time to, uh, well, I, you know, of course I do personally work as well, but most of it is, uh, especially in the early years was.
You know, I, uh, jump at whatever the job was, even if I didn’t know the place or didn’t even know how to shoot the picture, I would say yes. And then figure it all out later. So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s, uh, it works in, in many ways, but, uh, yeah, I, I, and you gotta be quick on your feet, you know, that’s journalism is, is actually a.
Uh, something that, uh, I don’t think he even needed to study said it’s quite a logical with, you know, what, what is necessary for a story, I think. And, um, anyway, I do create usually a shoot list and, and we work from that. And, uh, even though I’ve been very fortunate to work for the geographic who gives, used to, uh, I have to qualify cause it’s not the same now, but.
And it’s hay day. Uh, they would give you a lot of time and resources to do definitive work. And so Marco polo has spent like three years on. So. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of time. But when you go through a dozen countries, uh, it translates not quite so luxurious in terms of days. So, you know, you, you are moving fast.
It’s not like you’re waiting for the perfect sunset and every place, or, you know, you don’t have time for that here. You’re uh, making decisions to how you’re going to spend that time. And so it’s actually comes the time becomes quite tight.
Bryan: (00:21:14) Um, so thank you for sharing that, by the way. I mean, three years in market polo to us sounds like it’s quite a bit of time, but actually traveling that much. It’s like, it’s not that much time at all. Like wait a minute with all the time go. Um, so the next question I have is I really noticed that you’re a pretty avid user in social media.
And I find that I really liked that mentality, how you are adopting newer social media platforms, like clubhouse, really get your work out there and your info out there. Um, Has that something, has that always been something that you’ve been like integrating into your work as well, like leveraging social media to really get your work out there now, how did that, how did that whole process start for you?
Because I know like there’s a lot of famous photographers out there that say. Sometimes we refuse to use social media to like, get the work out there. Can I do more?
Michael: (00:22:07) Yeah. I think especially now with the demise of print and the lack of, uh, outlets to show to, uh, have your work displayed. Uh, you’ve got social media.
And so there’s, it’s been the best time for photographers to, to, uh, strut their stuff because you’ve got Instagram and you’ve got Facebook and they all are, uh, Picture oriented. So, um, you know, you can’t ignore it anymore and it becomes part of your portfolio. So I think it was back in 2013, the geographic was just getting into Instagram and nobody knew what that was.
And so they said to the photographers, could you please start posting? And so we did, and now they have 170 million followers and, you know, and it’s heyday, uh, the national geographic had 11 million subscription. Uh, and maybe a base of 40 million readers. And, uh, I can tell you right now, my Instagram is bigger than circulation and, uh, of the magazine in print, maybe it’s about one point.
I know, 1.5 million worldwide. The magazine itself, the actual physical paper magazine is quite diminished from those days. And. Uh, he can’t ignore these new, uh, any ways to, uh, display or your photography. And then, which is why I kind of got into the NFT space as well.
Bryan: (00:23:49) So new. I wouldn’t say we’re scared, but we don’t know enough about it. And just see like the wild prices mob, like artists selling, selling out their stuff for a million dollars in like 60 seconds. Right. How did you get into NFC and what, what about not that excites you about getting your work into NRTs?
Michael: (00:24:11) Okay, well, uh, you know, any kind of new visual media. You can ignore. And so I tell this to my, uh, all my friends and colleagues or we discuss it because, uh, well, the other thing I have to say is my full disclosures. I have family, my, my two nephews when. Paris and one in, uh, in Hong Kong, uh, are in the beds. I mean, one’s a minor in Paris and the other is, uh, uh, my, uh, nephew, uh, Alex in Hong Kong is in the marketing side.
And so they are. Bitcoin is, is what they’re dealing with and, and mining means, uh, blockchain and all of that stuff. So I knew something about it. And also my daughter is a big, uh, uh, cat lover. So she was in a crypto Katz, crypto, crypto kitties. And before I knew what a NFT was. So, uh, but I, uh, and the other thing.
Uh, there is a team of people behind me for that. And if you asked me to explain. In detail. Uh, what two of them to these two guys who are Harvard MBAs are, are doing in, uh, for me, uh, in, uh, taking care of most of the technical. I can’t, uh, they, they allow me to concentrate on the, uh, creative, which is what I want to do.
And, and as far as maintaining and, uh, doing auctions and all of that other stuff is. Uh, I would be very challenged. And so, and I also have a, uh, an FTE artists to knows the tools. And so she’s been very helpful in showing me what’s new with, uh, AI and, uh, what can be done for adding movement to. Uh, stills and, uh, I’ve never been, uh, interested in video.
My art has always been the still photograph and now I’m moving into a different, uh, kind of with the NFTs. Uh, one of the things you will notice immediately with, if you see a lot of the image, usually there’s some movement and, and sound. And so like video sounded motion, which as I say, Really found, uh, and you not well, because I’ve actually, I’ve done a couple of documentaries and I’ve been a presenter and I know many good videographers who I would not attempt to, to compete with.
So, uh, you know, I never got into it and now I’m working with sound and motion with NFTs and it’s, uh, it’s been, uh, eye-opening. The other thing is it’s very different group of people than. My one point almost 1.9 million. Now, a followers who are traditional, you know, photography, uh, enthusiasts. Um, they are different from the NFT crowd who, uh, is, you know, comes from a very different, uh, mindset and, and are used to looking at.
Different art then. Well then now of course, photographers entered this phase two and I intend to also point, uh, use or, or show a lot of still photography. So anyway, it’s, it’s all a work in progress. That’s just brand new. So if you asked me what the future is like sure. But, uh, I don’t think any of my other, well, there’s maybe one or two colleagues from geographic who are working on them, but it’s, it’s rare right now, but we all talk about it because there was people who made.
69 million or whatever. And so photography that gets photographers talk.
Bryan: (00:28:27) So, yeah. Oh, I don’t want to say first off a shout out to your team or supporting you and getting you on the team, you know, and seeing a transition from a legend, like yourself into not it’s it’s, it’s very awesome to see that yourself.
Did you hear something like that? You know, I, me transitioning from traditional photography to Instagram, social media is really scary enough, but now you’re a practically early adopter in this whole new world for entities where, you know, when you come into that world, you see a bunch of colorful pictures, word images.
You’re like, how does this relate back to like the stuff in history I like to do, you know, and the fact that he kept a very open mind. And I liked the fact that you were very proactive in getting to the NMT community as well. Like I do see. And for a reference for years listening, I got introduced to, uh, Mike from a NFT consulting person, whatever, you know, that’s how we connected.
Um, I really appreciate that open-mindedness to really get into this new world, because even for myself and for Maggie too, like, we still find a lot of fear of us getting in there because we just don’t know. Right. But a part of success is being able to identify new trends and getting there early enough in order to be the big whale and be, and make the big weight.
Right. And that’s what you demonstrate over. Is that your entire career, you’re always positioning yourself to make sure that you succeed. Right? You demonstrate with that with moving to Japan funding, part-time gigs, getting yourself on Instagram, get yourself to one point almost 1.9 million followers. And like the heyday and having more distribution currently right now than national geographic.
That’s awesome. And now you’re getting to NLT, which I’m pretty sure the next three to four years, you’re going to see a mainstream in Plex entities. Whereas basically normalized, if not already normalized already, you know, you’re seeing not art or. In times where you’re seeing that in bigger cities and you’re getting into quickly to the next question.
I know, I know you mentioned earlier, like, don’t ask you about the feature and let’s eat while blah, but I’m kind of hearing it’s delay. How have you been adapting your style in your work and conveying that vision to your team? And getting your work into the entity stuff. How have you been conveying that stylistic point of view to your team and really get that part moving well?
Michael: (00:30:45) That’s, uh, I struggled with that too in the beginning because I said, you know, how do I transfer trans transition from still photographies and, and, and, uh, This traditional photo journalism, which means photographs that are not manipulated. Uh, they are, uh, you know, I’m used to putting I’m a storyteller and those photographs, my, my style, if you want to talk about, as I like putting.
All the information, no single picture. I’m not used to doing a multi picture spreads. And, um, anyway, so to make that transition was, yeah, I had to, uh, uh, work it out in my mind how this, you know, LA again, would work. Moving from a traditional to, uh, something that I very unfamiliar. So, uh, my Zoe winters, my, my collaborator started showing me some stuff where she took a photograph of mine and put movement into it, taking me back.
To the moment when I actually took the picture. So the, probably the most iconic photograph is, is the one of a, I call it sea of monks. And, uh, it’s well known. I have a, it’s just maybe a hundred monks sitting in the snow. And, um, there, uh, before prayer they’re sitting around and you know, that fidgety period where you are waiting for anything to happen, you know, they’re looking around, I’m up on a hill, looking down at them.
I’ve got a long lens on and. The photographic process is when you are framing, you’re seeing, uh, through the lens that these faces and, and, uh, watching the body English. And I see the kid with a yellow scar fond and he’s moving and. Changing expression. And there’s a guy over on the left side. He was kind of giving me the evil eye.
Cause he doesn’t really want me to be up there taking a picture of him and there’s somebody else playing with the prayer beads. And so, and there’s all this stuff happening and I’m up there going click. Oh yeah. You know, this could, the kid’s moving, he stands up click and suddenly it was like a Eureka moment.
It was like, okay. This is exactly what it was like when I was really taking the picture. So then I, there was, I could, I could through AI, take the viewer back to the moment where I clicked the shutter. And so we got, uh, from one, we got one. Uh, the monks to move. And then we got all of them, not all of them, maybe half a dozen or more to, uh, move and do, uh, have expression.
And that is what I saw. And that is what now you can see with this NFT, which you would never be able to do before. Uh, there was another example with a window where there’s slight movement, which is what I would be doing when I’m framing. And then I had opened this window and the dust flew out and. Uh, so she was able to put in the dust and then the sun was coming up and she was, uh, through multiple frames, was able to show that, uh, as the sun came up, I only had about 10 minutes of good light.
And then once it’s up, then, you know, it’s all over, but it was coming up through the smoke of the, uh, local villagers fires. And it was just this nice moment. And so through AI, I can recreate that. And then it was like, okay, this is what, uh, it was like when I took the picture and that’s what I tried to achieve with the first NFTs that we had out.
There was indeed to take the viewer back to the moment of creation.
Bryan: (00:35:08) Well, that is really, really creative. That’s something I haven’t thought about too. Cause most entities I see it’s like digital art. Um, but that is a really good point of view. Like being able to capture the one moment where it’s like as your junior work, you know, that’s actually, I feel like this is just as important as producing great photography.
It’s like, how do you do it? What is it? And I feel like nowadays everything is trending towards how do you do it? How do you done that? You know, how did you capture that moment? Because I feel like I’m pretty sure you noticed this too, but you know, throughout history, like things sort of repeat itself over and over, you know, before it’s about beautiful photography.
And now it’s about the experience and any entity captures that really well. And shout out to Zoe winters as well. Like, I, I haven’t personally met her in person, but I met her and clubhouse. Uh, she’s definitely. When the person that you should definitely know in the NFC world, and I’m glad you guys are working together.
Michael: (00:36:03) No. Well, anyway, that’s why I needed a team and, uh, uh, actually they choose chose me. I, it was, it wasn’t like. I said, oh yeah, well, I want to get into this and started working at it. I, I really needed, uh, and I think any buddy who’s getting into it for the first time needs people who have that expertise, uh, who know this space and, and, and then know how to navigate through, uh, through the, you know, this, all this new jargon, just the vocabulary is daunting.
And, uh, yeah, NFTE people are different and you do need to, uh, uh, get to know the community. It’s not the same as this anonymous crowd that follows me on Instagram, which is, uh, you know, I’m very happy. Uh, and, uh, with Instagram because of the instant feedback and that itself has been a, a great thing that, you know, Shooting for the magazine years ago.
Oh, you have a 30, 40 page story. And, and, you know, couple of months after the story is published, you might get one or two letters that, uh, Frieders who asked questions about it. Uh, about the story and that’s the only feedback you got. Now, every time I post a photograph, you know, I get this flood of, of comments and, and I read every one, you know, it’s just, it’s part of it is, is the interaction between, uh, yourself and your, your, uh, your, your base, your followers.
So same thing with the NFT community. It’s not that different.
Maggie: (00:37:49) Absolutely. I definitely agree with what you said about, you know, interacting with your audience. And I love that you respond to each and every one of those comments, because that is really what makes the difference and, and reels people in to look at your work again and again and again, because you’re really building a community there.
Um, and I think it’s so beautiful how you mentioned that you’re not, you’re able to capture that specific moment and have the viewer of the photograph, see exactly what you were seeing at that exact moment. Um, See and a video, a Sony video of you mentioning, you know, you capture the eyes of the person who’s in that photograph.
Right. And that is really what is the gateway to their soul. The eyes are the person’s soul. Right. I want to know more about your photographic process, um, to someone maybe who’s like an amateur photographer. What do you do to make sure that your photograph is extremely powerful? Because Brian and I we’ve seen so many of your photographs and all of them are just so, so powerful and you can definitely see the power and the strength of the person’s eyes.
Um, talk about your photographic process in that sense.
Michael: (00:38:55) Uh, well there, you’re talking about portraits or people, and of course, a good stories, a mixture of both a sense of place, as well as the people and illustrating the culture and in my case, and most of my stories and, uh, There’s a funny, well, this is a business where you don’t fail and your, uh, because if you do, after somebody is, uh, spent a lot of resources on you and you’re out there and these stories are costly and you know, you come, don’t come back with a goods.
You’re really in trouble. So I am working with a picture editor and indication of the geographic, and there were training information in there. Uh, you know, pointing me in which direction. And then, uh, looking at the film in the old days or even digit, well digitally now we, we see everything immediately, but you’re looking to make, um, Photographs that have impact.
And I am looking for, you know, what makes a great photograph for any photograph, which is good and light and a, an interesting moment, uh, interesting subject, um, and colorful or a good composition. These are, these are standard. This is the standard. And, uh, You know, I obviously I need to have a photograph that somebody that relates to somebody and hopefully grabs them and bring some emotion.
So, you know, the way I look at it in the magazine is a, you know, it’s a big thick magazine and there’s many stories, uh, over a hundred pages or, and. You know, when you look at it, you’re flipping the page, right? So you’re flipping the pages and bingo up comes his photograph. That’s visually arresting to the point where that person, that viewer stops.
So your page stopping them and they might study the photograph and read the caption and. The hope is that maybe after reading the caption that maybe they’ll read the story. So that’s the way I see my photographs as a page stoppers, something that grabs the viewer and holds them, makes them want to. Uh, read more watch and get more out of that photograph and make some emotional connection.
So that’s what I’m looking for. And, uh, if you, you have to have a lot of success and of course you’re looking at photographs from 40 year career. So, uh, I’m not just putting up any photograph, but. Um, but at the same time, there’s a lot of new stuff. It’s not like they’re all old photographs that have been, you know, tried and true and published before.
Also when I’m in the field or anywhere I’m constantly taking photographs of new stuff. And that also comes up on the Instagram and. Yeah, you better hope your stuff is good. People are taking notice and, uh, you get there by studying a lot of great photography, good photography, and, and by practice and, uh, uh, you know, that’s the way every photographer, uh, learns and progresses and goes to the next level.
Bryan: (00:42:44) And really dive deep into your answer just now, too. It’s like, whenever you’re taking these pictures, right. You’re looking at someone’s eyes and you’re looking a new, the composition, the lighting and everything internally. How has that made you feel? And how has that made you grow as a person? Because when you’re looking into.
The eyes of so many people and their stories experienced in their hardships or successes, I’m pretty sure that has profound effects on how you view the world and how you view yourself. How does that make you feel about yourself as you’re learning more about how the world works and nearly more about internally how you work?
Because we personally feel by having so many guests on our podcast, You can, your business cannot, your business or creativity cannot outgrow you as a person. So it’s are for you to achieve hard, higher level. You have to continually take in what you learned in.
Michael: (00:43:44) Yeah, well, yeah, well, you grow with every story and, uh, you know, as I say, you become the expert on whatever it is you’re working on.
Uh, my, um, uh, how can I say this? This, this is, uh, this, you know, a lot of the subjects that I shoot, uh, I can. Communicate with it. Cause there is, you know, where I work. Uh they’re uh, you know, you need an interpreter. I don’t speak, uh, to Benton or Chinese. Uh, my Japanese is pretty good, but uh, often you are.
Shooting subjects that you can’t communicate with. You can’t, can you communicate with these people, but you are S you know, uh, experiencing living their lifestyle. And of course, uh, that is affects you. Uh, and, and is. Also one of the joys of the job is, uh, you, uh, you know, we, there was one guy he used to always go on, on assignment and he’d come back dressed somewhat in whatever the local, but I don’t go that far, but you get really involved.
And from now, for example, now my. Uh, kind of, my passion now has been a Tibet for the last half a dozen years. I’ve been making many trips there and trying to, uh, make pictures that have this very fast disappearing. Uh, culture and hopefully, uh, well, I, you know, it’s, it’s similar things that are happening, uh, obviously in St.
John. And, uh, it started much earlier in Tibet. And so I’m kind of in a race to, uh, capture this, uh, the lifestyle and culture of. And the religion religious practices of, of Tibetans. And so, yeah, I’m passionate about them and. Uh, of many of my submissions, as I say, I can’t communicate with them, uh, uh, directly because of the language barrier, but, you know, you’re, you’re living out there.
You’re, you’re living in the yurts and hanging out with these guys who are looking for the warm in the summertime with the magic warm, which, uh, has changed their lifestyle. That’s a whole nother story. No, we hit off track by then. Anyway, there’s, there is a changing culture there over how they make their living.
And of course they now have motorcycles and cars rather than, uh, you know, Campbell’s or donkeys or whatever else they used to. Uh, travel with and, um, horses ponies, of course. But anyway, it’s a privilege also to be, uh, in this position to spend major time, uh, When I go there, it’s, it’s not an easy place to get to.
And so when I’m there and spending a month or two at a time and totally immersing myself in that culture, and that’s, you know, it’s not like more of a one-to-one thing where I’m communicating, it’s more of a, you know, I’ve lived their lifestyle for, uh, a month or two ago.
Bryan: (00:47:09) Well, thanks for sharing that with us. And that’s such a powerful experience and being able to have the privilege to see other people’s cultures of their eyes and communicate with them and speaking the language, you know, Yeah, we, I think we all have the experience to you that how do you communicate with someone that can speak our language?
And we become more like connected and where we said, we try to find similarities in order to describe certain things. So I think that’s a wonderful, like you mentioned emotionally physical, spiritually journey that you went through. Um, so I guess as we’re running close to time, one might ask one or two questions left the first question.
You know, as far our listeners who are getting to industry or learning, if it’s a hardcore fee, how would you, do you have any tips and advice and how they can improve the early adopter mindset? Because I feel like clearly you have a strong, early adopter mindset, but it’s very crucial for any business and see what tips and advice do you have on fostering that mentality and seeking opportunities where other people can’t see?
Michael: (00:48:09) Well, I think it’s about passion. You really got to love. What you’re doing. I mean, to decide to be a photographer is difficult because the road to becoming successful is a very long and hard. And, uh, it’s. It’s tough. It’s a 1% or 1% of 1% job side of the job. It’s a lifestyle. So it’s your passion, your love for them for, for the medium and for what you’re doing, where you make a commitment in you eat, sleep, drink photography, uh, 24 7.
And that’s what it took for me. And if that’s what it’s going to take for anybody, uh, it’s just starting or anybody who’s in the business. Now I can guarantee you loves what they are doing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it because there’s not, it’s not about the money. Uh, there can be, but, uh, the rewards are different.
And, you know, I think in, in terms of, uh, you know, they had that, um, kind of a chart or a, uh, every once in a while you see the world smoke. Desirable undesirable jobs. I think photography is way down on the list because again, uh, the chances of making it as well, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of photography schools and you come out and you have all these skills and that is not where doesn’t matter.
You know, everybody. Have the skill, but it’s the eye, it’s a vision. And without that vision, you can translate to a bigger picture of, of, uh, of work or lifestyle or anything. You have to have vision, especially in photography. And without that, you have, you have to get above, you know, be able to rise above the pack and.
You can see it though. I was on a, uh, a clubhouse yesterday with, uh, a young geograph, a young photographer. Not that, not necessarily just geographic, but uh, you know, uh Tomsky and she is from the Ukraine and wow. She had some great stuff. And, uh, point is that when you see somebody who is really talented, Pops out and you just say, oh wow.
You know this, woman’s got it. And, um, that’s what you need. You need that. Uh, it’s never been easier to post pictures. So if you’re, you know, Instagram is probably the best. And so you’re going to start posting there and seeing again, reading what, how people react to those photographs. You can, you know, you don’t have a picture editor hanging over your head telling you what or whatnot is you can post or what is good or what is not good.
You can just see for yourself and see how people are reacting to your, your art. So it’s, it’s. Good opportunity, um, better than ever before, as far as showing your stuff, but it really has to be good and to rise up. Uh, can, you know, it’s a thought process, his vision, you know, you gotta be thinking all the time.
And as we were talking about in the beginning, I just didn’t want to be left behind or whatever that was new. I wanted to jump into just, uh, because, uh, who knew what stock photography was back way back when, and I jumped in full. Both feet and you know, paid off. And who knows what FDA says can tell Instagram, jumped in, you know, both feed and same thing.
You, you, people are starting to do it, then you better get into it. Cause, uh, again, uh, you gotta keep changing and, and, uh, you, you have to keep reinventing yourself. So
Bryan: (00:52:30) I absolutely agree. You’re right. It comes along with passion, not just passion. I want to add on more to that as well. It’s obsession in some ways,
Michael: (00:52:35) obsession. That’s a good word. You know, I am obsessed. I still am. And that’s what it takes.
Bryan: (00:52:41) Yep. Yeah. It’s not your ops session guys setting up sessions. Great thing is means they’re always constantly thinking about your business and how to improve your craft and your style and your vision.
Michael: (00:52:51) Right. Exactly. And you’re always, I mean, I look at pictures all the time in a, you know, still studying pictures by different photographers and yeah, that’s part of the game,
Maggie: (00:53:04) especially in can definitely be healthy as long as you’re constantly growing and growing. Well, how can our listeners find out more about you and your work on online?
Michael: (00:53:14) Oh, God. Well, I think Instagram is the place to go cause, uh, that’s my go-to place. I’m, I’m not as active as you think on Facebook. I, I’m not, uh, uh, not wanting to get very personal, but, uh, I’m posting always on Instagram. Whatever I’m working on.
Of course now with a scanning stand situation, I’ve been posting a lot of African photo Afghanistan photographs, and I was trying to stay current. So whatever’s happening in the news. I try net. Have some sort of, uh, uh, peg to, uh, what I’m posting according to what’s happening that day or that week, or, and I also made a decision to, uh, rather than be none.
Political and non-commercial, I decided finally to use this platform of Instagram to push, uh, various, uh, in the case of climate change, which has always been something, uh, that I, it comes with the territory of being a geographic photographer. I’ve been supporting a lot of my colleagues, as well as, uh, other, uh, people who are working towards.
Uh, uh, climate change and, or at least getting word out, um, when, uh, the, all the anti-Asian bias, uh, started happening. If you, you know, months ago, I started posting about that. So I’ve become much more, uh, environmentally conscious as well as socially conscious and deciding to, uh, actually use that Instagram.
Um, and the NFT thing, I must say, uh, uh, disclosed that, uh, I certainly met a lot of the posts are not, I’m not even in control of my guys or. My team is taken care of a lot of the promotion and PR when it comes to the NFTs. But yeah, you can get a good gist of what I’m all about. If you just follow mushed a photo at your Mazda photo and, you know, uh, Especially for a, uh, an Asian group.
That’s what I, you know, that’s what I do. And so I’m always posting and there’s, and I take the caption writing very seriously. And I like to give, uh, the kind of a historical perspective and, and not just throw it out a picture out there with a one-liner I, in fact, I spent a lot of time with those captions trying to educate.
So the ultimate, uh, east west connector, as I seem to always have been publishing stories from the east and having, um, uh, public or shooting in east and publishing stories in the west, it’s been my thing. And of course now I also have a big following in China. And my Silkroad, uh, east meets west, uh, exhibitions are going crazy over there.
So I think I had 24 in the last two years.
Bryan: (00:56:31) So much for sharing your story with us and your vision and every need done for the industry and for reputation and using your platform for social good as well. I mean, highly appreciate that. My thinking is so much for being on the podcast. We appreciate you.
Michael: (00:56:51) Well, I think you’re doing a great job too. It’s it’s nice to be recognized. And anyway, thanks a lot, guys. Catch you on the next one.
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