Dear friend,

You are a unique human being — with a unique and beautiful perspective on the world.

You are certainly not your stuff.

I. How do you define yourself?

The sad thing in today’s consumerist culture — we define ourselves by the shit we own, and the stuff we buy.

For example, if I own a Leica camera, I might identify as a ‘Leica’ photographer. If I shoot with an iPhone, I might call myself an ‘iPhone photographer.’ If I shoot with a Fujifilm, I might call myself a ‘Fuji photographer.’

If I drive a BMW, I associate myself with the BMW brand — I am the pilot of the ‘ultimate driving machine.’ If I drive a Prius, I am eco-conscious. If I drive a Tesla, I’m rich and eco-conscious. If I drive a Subaru, I love the outdoors and camping. If I drive a Toyota, I care about my family (safety first).

If I wear a SUPREME t-shirt, I am part of the ‘cool kids club’ for ‘streetwear.’ If I wear a Louie-Vuitton bag, I feel sophisticated. If I wear a Hugo Boss suit, I feel like a boss. If I have an iPhone, I feel creative and sexy. If I wear NIKE I feel stronger and faster. If I wear Under-Armor, I feel like a beast.

But why do we associate ourselves with brands and the stuff we own?

II. We want to belong part to a group

As humans, we have a need to feel part of a group or a community. We want to belong. Because if we didn’t belong to a group, we would have died a long time ago.

But in the past, we had communities, families, villages, and neighborhoods. In the West, we are trapped in our little condos and we are estranged from other real human beings. Rather than finding meaning in meeting real life people and making communities based on love, sacrifice, and passion — we have made communities that are linked by brand-names.

For example, if I drive a Porsche, I join a Porsche-club. I feel cool, but above all — I feel insecure. I just want to be part of a club.

If I own a Leica, I join a Leica user club. I feel cool and important, and can ‘network’ with rich people. I can show off my cameras and exotic lenses.

III. We want to be different

We want to be different. I wear ADIDAS because I don’t want to be associated with NIKE. I use an Android smartphone because I am anti-Apple. I use a PC because Macs are dumb. I am a Republican because Democrats are idiots. I am a Liberal because Conservatives are Nazi’s.

We want to be different — and we want a common enemy or to differentiate ourselves from the ‘OTHER.’

But the funny thing — we are becoming polarized into two groups. And these groups are more similar than dissimilar.

Think about it — and how it has fucked up humanity.

White folks killing black folks. Christians killing Muslims. South Koreans killing North Koreans. West vs East Coast. There is no end to savagery and death — because we think our race/culture is the ‘best.’

IV. We think buying a certain tool will empower us

As humans, we are tool-making organisms. The reason we have been able to dominate the world is that we can make tools. We made the wheel, we made the computer, and the internet, and modern farming tools.

We want to seek control of the universe through our tools, intellect, and power.

I know for me, I always think if I bought a more expensive camera, I would be more ‘creative.’ In reality — having a shittier camera often encourages more creativity in me.

I feel that if I bought a NIKE shoe — I will be able to get a 6-pack, run faster, and jump higher. Imagine all the poor kids who buy Jordan basketball shoes, to ‘Be like Mike.’

We buy Leica cameras because we want to be like Henri Cartier-Bresson.

We watch Top Gear and lust after exotic sports cars, because we equate owning that material possession (car) with freedom and adventure.

V: You are more than the brand you use

Never define yourself based on the stuff you own, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, or the tools you use.

I even remember in the earlier days when Leica helped me a lot — I hated being called a ‘Leica’ photographer. The same with Fujifilm trying to get me to be a ‘Fuji-X’ photographer. I don’t like to be associated with a brand (#RICOHMAFIA) but I am still a slave to brands.

I love wearing Nike shoes — because I could never afford them as a kid (I wore ADIDAS and K-SWISS instead). I love using my MacBook computer (partly I genuinely feel it is the best laptop, but also part of it is to feel like Steve Jobs). I lust one day to own a TESLA, and feel like Elon Musk.

But what I suggest is we go opposite. Disassociate yourself with any brands.

I remember when I first got into modding my car (1991 Sentra SE-R) it was cool to ‘de-badge’ your car. I took away all the Nissan badges on my car. To look more ‘stealth’ and ‘sleeper’ (as my coach LOWE told me) — is way cooler.

Even now, I hate brand shit. I cover up brands with black gaffers tape. I wear UNIQLO clothes because they are cheap and have no flashy advertisements on them. I am still looking for an all-black pair of shoes that I like to not flash that big swoosh.

I would people rather admire me for my intellect, my curiosity, my wisdom, my photos, my art, and my soul than the stuff I own.

VI: How to give a middle-finger to brands

If you want to be more you, some things that have worked for me:

  1. Debadge: Put black gaffers tape over any brand-named stuff you own
  2. Buy clothes with no branding: GAP, UNIQLO, or whatever.
  3. Cover your logos on your camera with black gaffers tape
  4. Take off the emblems and badges of your car.
  5. Don’t ever tell people what camera you use, what car you drive, or clothes you wear.

And above, remember — there is nothing worthy for others to admire than your soul.

Be strong, Eric

Learn more: PHILOSOPHY >