Episode 104

Michael Yamashita ·  The Legend of National Geographic

“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”

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.


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Podcast Transcript

Michael Yamashita

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 Asians to 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 Asian Hustle 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 US, 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 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. Michael’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 Michael’s focus on Asia, his work has taken him to six continents. 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 podcast.

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, the I is silent. I’ve been working for 40 years for the Geographic and I have 15 books, two of which are sitting idle somewhere in China because I left them on a table when the COVID shutdown happened. And so actually I was on my way there in February of 2020, and then suddenly my flight got canceled, trying to close the border and I haven’t traveled since. So anyway, where do I start?

Bryan: (00:02:28)    We want you to start from the very beginning. How’d you develop such a passion for traveling and photography? Because it shows throughout your entire work. We have been watching a few of your videos, your knowledge is extensive, not just in the technology that you use to photograph the images, but also the rich history of the location and city of the people. Where did your passion come from?

Michael: (00:02:55)  That’s what happens if you’ve been doing it for 40 years, concentrating on my area of interest and expertise, which is the far east. While I used to have a life of six months a year on the road, I’ve now been home for a year and a half, I’m in uncharted territory. Actually here, I am learning how to live in one place. It’s been good for myself and the family and other things. But let’s start at the beginning. I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, and my father was a Japanese salaryman for  Mitsubishi. He had a regular upbringing, except very few Asians living in Montclair in those days.

When we were called out for a group photo for the school, my brother and I were usually put out there with maybe one black guy. It’s a situation where we were a real minority. After Wesleyan where I studied Asian History, I went to Japan. I got out of the I won’t go into the detail but a somehow escaped Vietnam. My graduation present was a one-way ticket to Japan, where I bought a camera and just like most amateurs, shoot pictures of what you’re experiencing 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 just kept going to the next level after the next level. And after living in Japan for years, I decided I would try to be a photographer. A great lifestyle would it be if I could travel the world and take pictures. And I did have my eye on the Geographic. I honed my skills for another couple of years shooting mainly in Singapore. I got a major client, at the time was Singapore airlines, and they sent me everywhere in Asia to shoot pictures for their advertising catalogs. After that, I had a portfolio worth looking at, and I went to National Geographic. This is in the late seventies and I was shooting starting in 1979. 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 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 amazing, that’s definitely a life worth living. In my opinion, a lot of us kind of aspire to be like that. And we also want to be like photographers and to travel. And the fact that I feel like what you’ve done is basically trailblazing the blade for all of us. I’m pretty sure at that time, your parents had different plans for your career. They want you to have a stable job and everything. What was that process like telling them, Hey, I’m going to move back to Japan, and then I’m going to start photography, taking pictures around Asia. What was their initial reaction? What was the industry like at that point? Take us back to the1979 or 1970s. What was the industry like to Asian Americans to 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 was very supportive about sending me to Japan.

And I was able to get a long-term visa through family friends. He was at the end of his career with Mitsubishi, and he was about to get laid off, and retirement and all that stuff. So he very much was supportive of me going into something that he dreamed about. In fact, when I was in high school, he was the guy with a Nikon camera shooting pictures of me, while I played sports and he was a very avid amateur and he would always say, Mike, I hope one day to see your big picture up in Time Square. There was a big board over thereon, a big display for Kodak. He used to pass that every day, while he was working in the city. That was his dream for me, to have a photograph there. And actually, I did! So that was the start.  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. I had no experience, but you tell them whatever you need to. I got plenty of work and I started taking my portfolio. I didn’t know any other Asian photographers, well, maybe one or two, but we were a very small minority, especially in Geographic. So as I was mentioning to you before, my proudest achievement and without even having thought anything about it is, pointing out at the annual geographic seminar, which is for the photographers in January, each year where we all get together and spend a week meeting with the editors and having parties and giving slide shows. And the editor Susan Goldberg was in one of the sessions who was saying that we have 40% photographers of people of color in 2019. Writers or photographers and women now working for the magazine. She shows this chart and 2000 difference between 2019 and, 2018. In 2008, there was only one photographer of color or one contributor of color and writer or photography writing or photography. And that was me. And it turns out, going back further, I was the first regular contributor, a photographer of color. The first and only for many years at the Geographic, from when I entered in 1980. I’m very proud to say that I indeed was a pioneer and it was nice to be recognized as that. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but there was myself and one Asian picture editor, Elizabeth Chang, she and I collaborated on quite a few stories and we still always go with the Asia team, Because, yeah, it was a rarity and most of my stories were in Asia. So it was a good combination.

Bryan: (00:12:11)    That is awesome to hear, although there’s still a long way to go before you get more people in the industry. I want to start by saying, thank you, Mike, for all the work you’ve done.

As I mentioned before the podcast, a lot of your work has impacted my childhood. My parents, for some, reason, subscribed to National Geographic, even though they do not speak a lick of English. And I ended up reading national geographic history a lot, so you really have a profound impact on my upbringing and my childhood.

I like to thank you for that. The other question I had is, as you’re traveling, with your work with China and Marco Polo, 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 as to what was the thought process behind your creative work. Because, 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. For example, Well, I think if your team sent me over a video of your photography, taking pictures of the New York skyline. With that is that I kind of noticed, as you’re describing certain things, you’re saying, I want to capture the ripples, the shuttles, the time square situation, the history, the hustle, bustle. 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 chicken or the egg? Do you take pictures first or did you learn about history first or did you walk through it then? 

Michael: (00:14:06)   First of all, there’s a lot of research that happens. And my most successful stories have been the ones that I have proposed. This means even more research because in the proposal process, you got to know your subject and when you are making a proposal, you would have to kind of show in words what we call a one-pager the photographic possibilities, because your graphic being in a photo magazine, they will want to know what’s the story going to look like.

And so a lot of the research goes in at that stage. Also, you become the expert because you work there all the time. I’ve done most of China’s stories over the years for there for the yellow magazine. And, I kinda knew what the next story is because I ended up very methodically going through all the icons of China/; from the silk road, Marco polo, the Great Wall, and the grand canal. I did them all in fact to the point where now. I always ask my friends, Hey, is there any other story that I may have missed? Because I like doing cultural stories and shooting places and things that are fast disappearing. If I have any legacy, it’s the fact that I have a large archive of photography that can’t be duplicated because so much of what I photographed no longer exists. So that has been a big part of my process. I’m always looking for a new story. And usually, it’s very remote. I haven’t done many city stories, though of course in New York is across the river, and I spent more than an hour from where I’m living here now in New Jersey.

And of course, somebody says, please go shoot in New York from the air and a helicopter, which is what I was doing last month, and which is what I sent you. Sony is a big sponsor of mine, and that’s what that was for. But yeah, it’s a combination. And then of course, when you get on the ground, other stuff happens.

And my fixers, the team who put the subject in front of me, I say, are the unheralded the unsung heroes of journalism. Because you depend on them to find you the subjects that you have already kind of researched and are on your shoot list. 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. Working in the Tibetan plateau, where I have been for quite a while now, we met knowing exactly what will happen. There’s this great monastery here, it’s at the top of a mountain which means you got to climb to get there. And there’s a lot of logistical stuff, but 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 think it through before you actually go to the location and learn about and research the history of each and every single landmark and location. I do want to know, how have you seen your style change over the years, from when you were shooting in Asia? Did you have one specific subject or thing that you just loved shooting?  and how has that changed over the years?

Michael: (00:18:52)   Well, making a living as a professional is often, it’s not your choice. You’re, you’re looking for a subject that somebody is interested in seeing to publish a photograph, or if it’s a commercial client they request the picture they need. I do personally work as well, but most of it especially in the early years was I 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. It works in many ways, but you gotta be quick on your feet. Journalism is actually something that I don’t think one even needed to study, it’s quite logical to what is necessary for a story, I think. I do create usually a shoot list and we work from that. And even though I’ve been very fortunate to work for the Geographic who used to give you a lot of time and resources to do definitive work.  For Marco Polo, we spent like three years on it. That sounds like a lot of time, but when you go through a dozen countries it does not translate to luxury in terms of days. So you are moving fast. It’s not like you’re waiting for the perfect sunset. You’re making decisions about how you’re going to spend that time. And so it actually comes that time becomes quite tight.

Bryan: (00:21:14)      Thank you for sharing that. Three years in Marco Polo to us sounds like it’s quite a bit of time, but actually traveling that much, is not that much time at all. So the next question I have is, I really noticed that you’re a pretty avid user of social media. And I find that I really liked that mentality, how you are adopting newer social media platforms, you really get your work and info out there. Has that always been something that you’ve been integrating into your work as well, leveraging social media to get your work out there? How did that whole process start for you? Because I know there are a lot of famous photographers out there who refuse to use social media.

Michael: (00:22:07)    Yeah. I think, especially now with the demise of print, and the lack of outlets to have your work displayed. You’ve got social media. It’s the best time for photographers to strut their stuff because. you’ve got Instagram and Facebook. and they all are Picture oriented. You can’t ignore it anymore, and it becomes part of your portfolio. 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 I have 170 million followers, and in its heyday, National Geographic had 11 million subscriptions. And maybe a base of 40 million readers. And I can tell you right now, my Instagram is bigger than the circulation of the magazine in print. I know its1.5 million worldwide. The magazine itself, the actual physical paper magazine is quite diminished from those days. And we can’t ignore these new ways to display your photography. This 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 out their stuff for a million dollars in like 60 seconds. How did you get into NFT and what about is it that excites you about getting your work into NFTs?

Michael: (00:24:11)     Any kind of new visual media, you can’t ignore. I have two nephews, one in Paris and one in Hong Kong. Bitcoin is what they’re dealing with, and mining means blockchain and all of that stuff. So I knew something about it. And also my daughter is a big, cat lover. So she was in a crypto Katz, crypto kitties. And before I knew what an NFT was. But the other thing is, there is a team of people behind me for that. And if you asked me to explain in detail what two of these guys, who are Harvard MBAs, are doing for me in taking care of most of the technical I can’t they. They allow me to concentrate on the creative, which is what I want to do. And as far as maintaining and doing auctions and all of that other stuff. I would be very challenged. And so, and I also have an NFT artist who knows the tools. She’s been very helpful in showing me what’s new with AI and what can be done for adding movement to stills. I’ve never been interested in video, my art has always been the still photograph. Now I’m moving into a different kind with the NFTs. One of the things you will notice immediately with if you see a lot of the image, usually, there’s some movement and sound, like video sounded motion, which as I say, really found 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 compete with. So I never got into it and now I’m working with sound and motion with NFTs and it’s been eye-opening. The other thing is, it’s a very different group of people than my almost 1.9 million followers who are traditional photography enthusiasts.  They are different from the NFT crowd who comes from a very different mindset and are used to looking at different art ten. Now, photographers have entered this phase too and I intend to also show a lot of still photography. It’s all a work in progress. It’s brand new. So if you asked me what the future is like sure. But 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 were people who made 69 million or whatever. And so that gets photographers to 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, and seeing a transition from a legend like yourself into NFTs, it’s very awesome. Transitioning from traditional photography to Instagram social media is really scary enough, but now you’re practically an early adopter in this whole new world for NFT. The fact that you kept a very open mind. And I liked the fact that you were very proactive in getting to the NFT community as well as I do. See, for reference for those who are listening, I got introduced to Mike from an NFT consulting person. That’s how we connected. I really appreciate that open-mindedness to really get into this new world, because even for myself and for Maggie too,  we still find a lot of fear of us getting in there because we just don’t know. 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 a big weight. And that’s what you demonstrate over. Is that your entire career? You’re always positioning yourself to make sure that you succeed. You demonstrate that with moving to Japan funding, part-time gigs, getting yourself on Instagram, getting yourself to almost 1.9 million followers, having more distribution currently right now than national geographic. That’s awesome. And now you’re getting to NFT, which I’m pretty sure the next three to four years, you’re going to see a mainstream influx in NFTs, whereas it’s basically normalized. If not already normalized already, you’re seeing an NFT art in Times Square, you’re seeing that in bigger cities and you’re getting into it quickly. So the next question, I know, you mentioned earlier, to not ask you about the future of NFT, but I’m kind of curious, 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?

Michael: (00:30:45)     That’s I struggled with that too in the beginning because I said, how do I transfer transition from still photographies and this traditional photojournalism, which means photographs that are not manipulated. I’m a storyteller and those photographs, my style, as I like putting all the information in a single picture. I’m not used to doing multi-picture spreads. So to make that transition, I had to work it out in my mind how this would work. Moving from a traditional to something that I am very unfamiliar with. So Zoe Winters, 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. Probably the most iconic photograph is one I call it, Sea of Monks. And it’s well known. I have maybe a hundred monks sitting in the snow. Before the prayer, they’re sitting around. It’s that fidgety period where you are waiting for anything to happen, 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 through the lens that these faces and watching the body English. And I see the kid with a yellow scarf 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, the kid’s moving, he stands up, click, and suddenly it was like a Eureka moment. This is exactly what it was like when I was really taking the picture. Through AI, I could take the viewer back to the moment where I clicked the shutter. We got one of the monks to move, and then we got all maybe half a dozen or more, to move and do have expression, 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. 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 so she was able to put in the dust and then the sun was coming up and she was through multiple frames, was able to show that as the sun came up. I only had about 10 minutes of good light, and then once it’s up, it’s all over. But it was coming up through the smoke of the local villager’s fires. And it was just this nice moment. And so through A.I, I can recreate that. This is what 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. It was indeed to take the viewer back to the moment of creation.

Bryan: (00:35:08)      Well, that is creative. That’s something I haven’t thought about too. Cause most NFTs I see are digital art. 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, that’s actually, I feel like this is just as important as producing great photography. How do you do it? What is your technique? And I feel like nowadays everything is trending towards how do you do it? How do you do that? How did you capture that moment? Because I feel like I’m pretty sure you noticed this too, but throughout history, things sort of repeat itself over and over before it’s about beautiful photography. And now it’s about the experience and NFT captures that really well. And shout out to Zoe Winters as well.  We haven’t personally met her, but she’s definitely the person that you should know in the NFT world, and I’m glad you guys are working together.

Michael: (00:36:03)     No. Well, that’s why I needed a team and, actually, they chose me. It wasn’t like I said, oh yeah, well, I want to get into this and started working at it.  I really needed and I think anybody who’s getting into it for the first time needs people who have that expertise, who know this space and then know how to navigate through all this new jargon. Just the vocabulary is daunting. And yeah, NFT people are different and you do need to get to know the community. It’s not the same as this anonymous crowd that follows me on Instagram. I’m very happy with Instagram because of the instant feedback and that itself has been a great thing. Shooting for the magazine years ago you have a 30 40  page story, and a couple of months after the story is published, you might get one or two letters from readers who asked questions about the story and that’s the only feedback you got. Now, every time I post a photograph, I get this flood of comments and I read every one. It’s part of the interaction between yourself and your followers. So it’s the same thing with the NFT community. It’s not that different.

Maggie: (00:37:49)    Absolutely. I definitely agree with what you said about, 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 reels people in to look at your work again and again and again. Because you’re really building a community there. It’s so beautiful how you mentioned that 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. We saw a Sony video of you mentioning, you capture the eyes of the person who’s in that photograph.  And that is really what is the gateway to their soul. The eyes are the person’s soul. I want to know more about your photographic process to someone maybe who’s like an amateur photographer. What do you do to make sure that your photograph is extremely powerful? Because Bryan and I,  we’ve seen so many of your photographs, and all of them are just so powerful and you can definitely see the power and the strength of the person’s eyes. Talk about your photographic process in that sense.

Michael: (00:38:55)     Well, you’re talking about portraits or people, and of course,  good stories. A mixture of both the sense of place, as well as the people, and illustrating the culture, in my case, and most of my stories. This is a business where you don’t fail because if you do, after somebody is spent a lot of resources on you, and you’re out there, and these stories are costly. And if you don’t come back with the goods, you’re really in trouble. So I am working with a picture editor,  in the case of the geographic, and there was trading information in there, pointing me in which direction. And then looking at the film in the old days, well digitally now we see everything immediately, but you’re looking to make photographs that have impact. What makes a great photograph is a good light, an interesting moment, an interesting subject, and colorful or a good composition. These are the standards. And, I need to have a photograph that somebody relates to, something that hopefully grabs them and brings some emotion. So, the way I look at it in the magazine is, it’s a big thick magazine and there are many stories over a hundred pages and when you look at it, you’re flipping the page, right? So you’re flipping the pages and bingo, up comes a photograph that’s visually arresting to the point where that viewer stops. So your page is stopping them, and they might study the photograph, and read the caption. The hope is that maybe after reading the caption, maybe they’ll read the story. So that’s the way I see my photographs, as page stoppers, something that grabs the viewer and holds them, makes them want to read more, watch and get more out of that photograph and make some emotional connection. So that’s what I’m looking for. You have to have a lot of success, of course, you’re looking at photographs from a 40-year career. So I’m not just putting up any photograph, but at the same time, there’s a lot of new stuff. It’s not like they’re all old photographs that have been, tried, 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 Instagram, and you hope your stuff is good. People are taking notice and you get there by studying a lot of good photography, and by practice, and that’s the way every photographer learns and progresses and goes to the next level.

Bryan: (00:42:44)      Let’s dive deep into your answer just now, too. Whenever you’re taking these pictures, right. You’re looking at someone’s eyes and you’re looking at a new 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, your business or creativity cannot outgrow you as a person. So it’s up to you to achieve a higher level. You have to continually take in what you learned and grow.

Michael: (00:43:44)     You grow with every story and, as I say, you become the expert on whatever it is you’re working on. How can I say this? A lot of the subjects that I shoot I can communicate with it. Cause where I work, you need an interpreter. I don’t speak Tibetan or Chinese. My Japanese is pretty good, but often, you are shooting subjects that you can’t communicate with. You can’t communicate with these people, but you are experiencing living their lifestyle. And of course, that affects you. There was one guy,  he used to always go on an assignment and he’d come back dressed somewhat in whatever the local is. I don’t go that far, but you get really involved.

My kind of my passion now has been Tibet for the last half a dozen years, I’ve been making many trips there, and trying to make pictures that have this very fast disappearing culture. Similar things are happening obviously in Xinjiang. And it started much earlier in Tibet. And so I’m kind of in a race to capture this lifestyle and culture and the religious practices of Tibetans. And so, yeah, I’m passionate about them. Many of my submissions, as I say, I can’t communicate with them, directly because of the language barrier, but you’re living out there. 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 has changed their lifestyle. That’s a whole other 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 camels or donkeys or whatever else they used to travel with. And horses ponies, of course. But anyway, it’s a privilege also to be in this position to spend major time When I go there, 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, it’s not like more of a one-to-one thing where I’m communicating, it’s more of a, I’ve lived their lifestyle for 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,  I think we all have the experience, communicating with someone who speaks our language, we try to find similarities to describe certain things. So I think that’s wonderful, the emotional, physical, and spiritual journey that you went through. As we’re running close to time, one might ask one or two questions left. The first question, as for our listeners who are getting to industry or learning photography, 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 any business must see the tips and advice 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 got to love what you’re doing. To decide to be a photographer is difficult because the road to becoming successful is very long and hard. And it’s tough. It’s a 1%  job. It’s a lifestyle. So it’s your passion, your love for the medium, and for what you’re doing, where you make a commitment. You eat, sleep, and drink photography 24/7. That’s what it took for me and that’s what it’s going to take for anybody just starting. Anybody who’s in the business now, I can guarantee you, love what they are doing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it because it’s not about the money. There can be, but the rewards are different.

They had that kind of a chart and ever once in a while, you see the world’s most undesirable jobs. I think photography is way down on the list because again the chances of making it rare. There are a lot of photography schools, and you come out and you have all these skills, and that is not what matters. Everybody can have the skill, but it’s the eye, it’s a vision. And without that vision, you can translate to a bigger picture of work or lifestyle or anything. You have to have vision, especially in photography. And without that, you have to get above, be able to rise above the pack. You can see it though, I was in a clubhouse yesterday with a young photographer. Tomsky, she is from Ukraine, and wow. She had some great stuff. And point is that you see somebody who is really talented pop out, and you just say, oh wow, this woman got it. And that’s what you need. It’s never been easier to post pictures. Instagram is probably the best. And so you’re going to start posting there and seeing again, reading how people react to those photographs. You can, 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 art. So it’s a good opportunity. Better than ever before, as far as showing your stuff, but it really has to be good and to rise up, it’s a thought process, this vision, 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 because who knew what stock photography was way back when I jumped in full, and it paid off.  Who knows what NFTs, Instagram, just jump in. When people are starting to do it, then you better get into it. Cause again you gotta keep changing and you have to keep reinventing yourself. 

Bryan: (00:52:30)   I absolutely agree. You’re right. It comes along with passion, not just passion. I want to add more to that as well. It’s an obsession in some ways.

Michael: (00:52:35)      Obsession.  That’s a good word. I am obsessed. I still am. And that’s what it takes.     

Bryan: (00:52:41)   Yep. Yeah. It’s not unhealthy obsession guys, obsessions can be a great thing, it means you’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. I look at pictures all the time. I am still studying pictures by different photographers. That’s part of the game.


Maggie: (00:53:04)    Absolutely, obsession 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 online?

Michael: (00:53:14)      Oh, God. Well, I think Instagram is the place to go cause that’s my go-to place. I’m not as active as you think on Facebook, not wanting to get very personal, but I’m posting always on Instagram, whatever I’m working on. Of course now Afghanistan situation, I’ve been posting a lot of Afghanistan photographs, and I was trying to stay current. So whatever’s happening in the news. I try to. have some sort of peg to what I’m posting according to what’s happening that day or that week, and I also made a decision to rather than be none political and non-commercial, I decided finally to use this platform of Instagram to push various in the case of climate change, which has always been something that comes with the territory of being a geographic photographer. I’ve been supporting a lot of my colleagues, as well as other people who are working towards climate change and, or at least getting word out when the anti-Asian bias started happening. Months ago, I started posting about that. So I’ve become much more environmentally conscious, as well as socially conscious, and decided to actually use Instagram. And the NFT thing, I must say, I disclosed that I certainly met a lot of the posts are not, I’m not even in control. My team has 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 @yamshitaphoto, especially for an Asian group, that’s what I do. And so I’m always posting and I take the caption writing very seriously. And I like to give the kind of a historical perspective, and not just throw a picture out there with a one-liner. In fact, I spent a lot of time with those captions trying to educate. So the ultimate east-west connector, as I seem to always have been publishing stories from the 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 East Meets West Exhibitions are going crazy over there. So I think I had 24 in the last two years.

Bryan: (00:56:31)       Thank you 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 nice to be recognized. And anyway, thanks a lot, guys. Catch you on the next one.

Outro: [00:57:00] Hey, guys, we hope you enjoy this episode! Please subscribe to the show. We would like to get to the top 10 on iTunes so be sure to leave us a five-star review. We release an episode every single Wednesday. So, stay tuned. Thank you, guys, so much!