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Interview with Amin Sabet, Founder of Mu-43.com

Discussion in 'Member Interviews' started by GaryAyala, Jun 30, 2012.

  1. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Top o' the Morn Amin. It is a pleasure ... and an honor ... to interview you on behalf of the µ4/3 community.

    As the creator and father of MU-43.COM, what do you feel when you log onto µ4/3 and see people, photographers from around the world sharing images, offering suggestions, discussing the community's collective passion for photography?
     
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  2. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Hi Gary, thanks for asking me to interview! It's an honor to be interviewed by you.

    How do I feel when I login to Mu-43.com? Very happy and appreciative.

    I started out participating in photography forums about a decade ago and have always enjoyed them. Along the way, I've spent time at DPReview, Canon POTN, Fred Miranda, Rangefinder Forum, the Leica User Forum, GetDPI, and others. Along the way I had thoughts about the kind of place where I'd like to share photography, techniques, a gear/tech talk. Most of the places I frequented had one or more differences from my personal "ideal" forum, so a few years ago I got the idea to start a place of my own. The first attempt was called the "Camera Work" or camwk forum. I invited a bunch of friends, and it got off to a good start but fizzled out after a while.

    At the same time, I had been blogging my interest in smaller cameras on a blog initially called AminPhoto and subsequently renamed SeriousCompacts (that old blog can now be found at seriouscompacts.blogspot.com). When the Micro 4/3 system came out, it seemed like it might be the system I had been waiting for. Once I got the Panasonic 20mm lens, that was confirmed. My excitement with the new system, combined with a desire to make the kind of forum I would most enjoy, led to the creation of this place.

    Looking back now 2 1/2 years later, this community is much more than I ever thought it could be. I'm proud to have started a forum that so many people enjoy every day and amazed when I think about how so many people have found friends and even mentors here.

    Of course I don't take credit for what Mu-43.com has become. I launched the site back in December 2009. Since then, there have been a long list of volunteer staff and leading members who have done as much as I have to bring us to where we are today. There were some rough points where I almost left the site. I'm glad I didn't, because we have an incredible community here.
     
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  3. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I love the international flavor of µ4/3. Did you expect such widespread, global participation? Does SeriousCompacts have such world-wide involvement? I noticed the temperament of µ4/3 IS much more harmonious, accommodating and more helpful than other photo forums. Why ... Why is µ4/3 like family and other forums so hostile, where photogs are seemingly extremely defensive with chips on their shoulders?
     
  4. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I love it too that Mu-43 is so international. I don't know why it is, except perhaps that adoption of Micro 4/3 (MFT) cameras has been higher in many other countries, particularly those in Asia and Europe, than in the US. We have a lot of wonderful members from Canada and Australia as well. SeriousCompacts is international too, like Mu-43 but smaller.

    As for the friendliness and helpfulness of the Mu-43 community, I think there are a several reasons for that. One is that from the outset, being nice has literally been a rule for participation. There are other forums where this is the case, like POTN (for Canon users) and GetDPI, and they too have developed into friendly communities. Having a rule and active moderation is probably necessary but not sufficient. Leading by example is even more important, and we were fortunate to have moderators and leading members who from the beginning set the bar for friendly, welcoming, and helpful behavior: Brian Mosley, Streetshooter, BBW, Alan Roseman, Luckypenguin, dixeyk, and too many members to name.

    I think the fact that this site is specifically for MFT users also helps to keep things friendly. On a large site with forums for many brands and systems, there are those who have little interest in MFT and only drop by the MFT forum to stir the pot. There much less of that here since the effort required to join tends to keep away those who aren't genuinely interest in MFT. We still get a few people who come in on the offensive or defensive with regards to MFT or other systems, many of whom are accustomed to some more contentious outside forum, but for the most part we don't have too much of that.

    I sometimes wonder whether there is something about the MFT system itself that attracts more friendly people to use it, but that's probably reaching. POTN seems to have a great, friendly community of Canon users despite being enormous and very active. I guess every site just has its own character.
     
  5. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Let's speak of your character Amin, or rather Dr. Sabet, endocrinologist. You are very academically successful, Howard University College of Medicine, internship/residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Instructor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins and now a Instructor of Medicine at Harvard. Pretty tall cotton Amin.

    Just a pause for everyone to reread and digest a very simple and quick resume. Howard, Johns Hopkins and Harvard ... extremely impressive.

    So, Amin, as a father of two children, a physician and appointed as an Instructor to Harvard Medical ... why would you think of and desire to create an international internet photo forum site? Why would you desire to create a "sister" photo forum site with Serious Compacts? Now, you are hosting podcasts from Serious Compacts. What ever has possessed you ... Haven't you heard of sleep?
     
  6. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I've always had a thing for technology and gadgets, whether it was Windows CE/Palm 14 years ago or speech recognition now. After my first son was born in 2003, I became very interested in photography for the purpose of documenting my family life, which remains my primary interest in photography. At the same time, I was very interested in the technology/gear side of things and started blogging about it at Serious Compacts in around 2007.

    I don't work 120-hour weeks any longer like I did 10 or 11 years ago, but I still work a lot. There are many times when I am working really hard, and I have to pick between forums/blogging and family time. When those periods occur, the choice isn't hard, and you don't see me around here much at all. I'll stop in briefly to make sure nothing needs fixing, but it's just putting out fires and keeping it moving.

    When I first came to Boston three years ago for a new job doing mostly clinical medicine and teaching, I didn't have time for blogging at all. I let Serious Compacts (S.C.) wither away from a couple thousand visits a day to close to zero. After being here for a while, I started Mu-43.com, and with help from Brian Mosley, Streetshooter, and BBW, I found that maintaining the forum was doable without having to personally invest a lot of hours per week. If you have a blog and stop blogging for a few weeks, people stop visiting. If you have a forum and stop participating much for a few weeks, no problem, as long as others are still participating. S.C. was always a labor of love for me, so I hated seeing it pass from existence. Once I saw that Mu-43 was doing well, I brought Serious Compacts back as a forum-based site.

    Sleep is in short supply for me at this time. I often wish there were more hours in the day. I also sometimes worry whether this site is outgrowing my technical ability to maintain it. I've messed up a couple server moves but no real disasters yet, knock on wood. I keep redundant frequent backups of the site with our host, on a second host, and locally, but I've learned all of this stuff on the fly and sometimes wonder whether I need professional help on the technical side of things.
     
  7. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    How are things going at Serious Compacts?
     
  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    It really depends on who you ask, and the same goes for Mu-43.com. There are a lot of things to balance in both cases:

    -Having lots of new members leads to stimulating content and a variety of perspectives, but some people value a more intimate setting.

    -A lack of moderation promotes free interchange of ideas, but some peopl.e will be mean or abusive.

    -Sites like these don't exist without interest in gear, but people vary in what they consider to be a desirable balance between emphasis on gear and emphasis on photography. When new exciting gear comes out, there are always those members who feel like the site isn't what it used to be. Then it seems that we go through another part of the cycle where there is less gear emphasis and more interest in the photography. Sometimes moderators or leading members will take initiative in leading photography initiatives, which is great.

    From one point of view, having a forum where we all use the same gear (Micro 4/3) puts a lot of emphasis on the gear. On the other hand, I think it helps us get beyond the gear issue in some ways. When you look at a multi-system board like S.C. or GetDPI, there are waves of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) when a new system becomes the hot ticket and it seems like half the regulars are buying in and having more fun. Those times are less frequent here at Mu-43 since we're just dealing with one system, although as the OM-D E-M5 showed, we're not immune to this type of thing (fun on the one hand, too gear-oriented from another).

    My personal feeling is that both sites are doing well. S.C. is more at risk of fizzling out, because it doesn't have as obvious a reason to exist, ie a particular brand or system shared by its members, and because it has fewer members and less activity to begin with. If you look at the stats (visitors, registrations, etc) on Mu-43, they go in one direction: up and to the right. S.C. is much more variable and tends to plateau at times. On the other hand, there are quite a few amazing members there, and I know that a lot of the members there treasure the community we've built together.

    I put some active effort into both sites because I enjoy and believe in them. On the other hand, I can live without them. This comes up sometimes; for example, someone will say that we're holding a site back from it's potential because of moderation or a decision to exclude political discussion. I try to take it all in and discuss with other moderators, but at the end of the day, I'd rather have a site that fizzles out of existence than a very "successful" one that isn't the kind of community I and others set out to create and enjoy. All of this is done for enjoyment, not business.

    On the topic of how things are going, some here feel that Mu-43 has had a less friendly or more aggressive vibe of late. What do you think about that, Gary?
     
  9. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I agree. I sense a big influx of many many new photogs who are using the site. I think it takes a while for the "pecking order" to be established and for people to get to know one another. With a bunch of new people comes a bunch of new personalities and most of those personalities have picked up good and bad habits from other forums. Unfortunately, a bad apple sticks out like a sore thumb and effects the other apples around it.

    A smaller group is more cozy than a large crowd.

    Back to the interview.
     
  10. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Tell us of your passion for photography. When did you realize that photography is more than taking snaps on vacation? Is there a particular photographic discipline or a photographer(s) which peaks your passion? What was your first "real" camera?
     
  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Here's where I get self-conscious in the interview, because several other members who have interviewed are much more talented and accomplished photographers than I will ever be.

    I'm not sure that much of my personal photography is much more than taking snaps on vacation. There are snaps on vacation for preserving memories, which are usually not that special. There are times though when a snap that was taken without much thought on vacation or while out with family turn out very special to me and still other times when I try to be more thoughtful while doing photography.

    I first became attracted to photography because my dad loved it. I have very early childhood memories of my father's manual focus film Nikons and setting up the carousel slide projector for the four of us (mom, dad, brother, me) to look at his photos together. I didn't really do much photography of my own until I became a dad myself. At that point, I felt compelled to try and document our lives as best as I could. Like lots of parents, I've taken countless pictures of my kids, and like lots of parents, even the images which are most successful to me are probably not of great interest to others. Still, those few that are successful to me make the whole thing worthwhile.

    The first "real" camera that I used a lot, and the one which helped me to learn about exposure, depth of field, etc, was the original Canon Digital Rebel (300D). I started out with the 18-55 lens and used the heck out of that for months, then adding the 50/1.8 and eventually getting a normal prime (28mm). That's probably all the kit I'd ever need, but want and need are of course different. One of the first photos that really meant something to me was taken with that Rebel and my dad's 70-200 zoom. He was visiting for the weekend and went for a walk with my then 17-month-old son Oliver. They had a very special relationship and I think Oliver's love and admiration looking at my dad comes across in this shot that I took from quite a distance away:

    7554326390_99864e6e61_o.


    Even when my family aren't the only subjects of my photography, I often try to work them into the photograph, for example in this attempt at doing some street photography on New York's 5th Ave, the two heads with the caps in the foreground are my boys, Oliver and Philip, who I thought fit in well with the other couples further off:

    7554347526_652fd65b1b_o.


    But honestly, a lot of my personal favorites are just family snapshots like these, which I don't expect to mean much to anyone besides my wife and me... and maybe someday our boys:

    3949623059_e137514265_o.

    3950404560_081b062cb0_o.

    743447603_8c0d8dcb82_b.


    Other than documenting our family life, I enjoy doing many types of photography - street, wildlife, travel, portrait, landscape, event - but I don't really set out with projects or themes in mind. If I am lucky enough to get a few minutes or a few hours to take a walk or go somewhere to try and do some thoughtful photography, it's a blessing, and I do my best to take advantage of whatever presents itself.

    As for particular photographers who peak my passion, there are too many to name who I've enjoyed, whether we're talking about people whose work I've come to know at Mu-43/Serious Compacts or well known photographers I've come to know through galleries, museums, and books. I'm not sure that I can single out one or two that have affected me the most. Same with genres/disciplines - I appreciate many and can't say that one in particular has been my focus.
     
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  12. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I really really like your "snapshots". They are candids, they are meaningful, they tell a story and they are well done. Your photos made me smile, made me think of my kids and they make me wish I had more family photos. (I have a ton but there were so many times I saw photographs but didn't have a camera ... btw- the last image is tilting to the left a bit - lol.)

    Amin, if you had more time in your day ... and if the God of Time only allowed you 'photography related time', how would you spend that time?
     
  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Thanks, Gary :smile:. As for the tilting one, I was about to get run over (hence the big smiles), so I was lucky to get away with just a tilt!

    There are so many things I'd love to do with that kind of time:
    ... go to any active part of Boston and look for interesting developments on the street
    ... hike with an eye out for local nature/wildlife
    ... or maybe shoot some portraits of colleagues at work. I like getting candids of my coworkers doing their work. Probably a lot of folks work for decades and have little record of what they looked like doing it. Here's one of my friend Ling from when I was doing basic research in a lab at Hopkins, taken with my trusty OM-2n and 40mm f/2 loaded with Portra 400 NC (I started with digital but have enjoyed some time with film cameras as well):

    2190966488_51f75ecffe_b.
    94190011.jpg by Amin Sabet, on Flickr

    I still love to just go with what my kids want to do and photograph as the opportunities present themselves. However, even having the camera out prevents me from engaging enough with them at times, so I like having a camera small enough to be completely out of the way (ideally in a coat pocket rather than a bag) so I can focus on the family time with brief photography interludes rather than the other way around. It seems like my boys are learning to enjoy photography as well, so it may just be a matter of time before we can take photo walks together:

    7586686788_e74c00f87c_c.
    3376407641_86f326a253_o by Amin Sabet, on Flickr
     
  14. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Amin, I understand you tend to lean towards NY teams. As you are living in Boston, a big big sport town ... don't you feel that your life is in jeopardy, this is blasphemy to the highest degree ... a NY fan in Boston? Hell, Amin, it's not like LA where we're all pretty laid back, live-and-let-live type of place. Bostonians are real serious sports fans. Have you taken your family to Fenway or Foxborough? How can any sane person prefer the Knickerbockers over the Celtics?
     
  15. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    LOL. Boston is crazy about sports. When we first got here, my older brother invited us to hang at his town pool out in the suburbs, and it was Red Sox Day at the pool! They had all kinds of trivia contests, and it was amazing how much even the little kids knew about the Red Sox. You can see why people love their teams here so much though. For a city that isn't even all that big or heavily populated, Boston has enjoyed a huge amount of success in all of the major US sports.

    I grew up a Yankees fan back in the Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles days. The only two class trips I remember from elementary school were the Bronx zoo and bat day at Yankee stadium. However, after age 8 or 9 I stopped caring about baseball, so at this time I honestly don't mind cheering for the Red Sox since that's what my wife and older son are about. The problem is, my little guy decided to side with his grandparents and uncle, so that leaves him as the lone Yankee fan in our house:

    7531834594_b3f90ebd19_z.

    7531848884_c52f2238de_z.

    I've only taken them to two games at Fenway so far, and I was expecting Philip to get heckled a bit for the Jeter shirt, but I underestimated how many Yankees fans there would be there. I don't know if NY just has that many fans everywhere or whether these people just hit the road and follow the Yankees all over the place. At times it felt like we were in the Bronx :biggrin:.

    7531830736_6c40c23b71_z.
    P7070249 by Amin Sabet, on Flickr

    With regards to hockey, I grew up a Rangers fan but don't mind turning my back on them either. No strong allegiance.

    My football team is the Giants, and that isn't going to change. I was the only one in the house who enjoyed the last Super Bowl, and I was a bit reserved in my celebration, but I celebrated :biggrin:.

    Now while the Giants have given me something to celebrate, being a Knicks fan is perpetual suffering. The best they've given me is a team that went down competing hard in the Ewing era. They've spent enough money, that's for sure, but there seems to be come kind of curse. I like some of the other teams - especially the Celtics and OKC - but when the Knicks are playing, I'm rooting for them. The whole Jeremy Lin phenomenon was a lot of fun, and so was watching the emergence of Steve Novak.

    The now pervasive reports that the Knicks won't be retaining Lin are bumming me out. I'm convinced Lin has more upside than Raymond Felton. Jeffries, Shumpert, Novak, Chandler, Fields - all played better with Lin on the court. I guess it doesn't really matter because I can't see this Knicks team with or without Lin making it past the Heat, OKC, San Antonio, Boston, the Lakers, or a Bulls team with Rose healthy. Still, Linsanity was the most excitement Knicks fans have had in a long while. Seems premature to let him go.

    Interesting your being in LA. The Clippers are finally getting some legitimacy as the other team in LA at around the same time that the Nets are making big moves literally (to Brooklyn) and figuratively with the acquisition of Joe Johnson and resigning of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez. I can easily see the Nets overtaking the Knicks as the best team in NY.

    Getting back on track though, I think most people in Boston are tolerant of the fact that I am a Knicks fan and a Giants fan. The really sacred team around here is the Red Sox.
     
  16. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    The Clippers are finally getting some respect. I remember a few years ago the Clippers were marketing their season tickets under the theme of ... wanna see the Lakers, the Bulls, the Celtics? Buy a Clipper season ticket and you'll get to see all the great teams play. lol The Angels were similar as the Clippers. At one point the Angels played in Dodger Stadium and the Dodgers even pocketed the parking revenue generated by the Angels games...
     
  17. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Love the images of the family divided, great stuff. Why did you select 'physician' as a career?
     
  18. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Thanks, Gary. Kind of a long and convoluted story. Both of my parents are physicians, but I didn't grow up thinking I'd be one. My older brother majored in computer science and became a venture capitalist. I majored in English and generally saw myself trying to make a career out of teaching and education after grad school in English lit. Somewhere along the way I realized that wasn't really my thing, added a second major in biology, and took the premed courses as sort of a backup plan.

    After college, I spent a couple years in NY as a molecular biology research technician and intended to do grad school in the biological sciences and pursue a PhD. The MD in the lab made an impression on me though, and the PhD who worked with him felt that getting an MD would give me some additional opportunities, so I applied to med school and then one thing led to another.
     
  19. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I'm going to move this out to the interview forum, now. Please all feel free to comment or ask questions.

    For anyone who hasn't yet seen Brady's interview of Gary, it's fantastic: https://www.mu-43.com/f70/interview-gary-ayala-21996/

    Gary, thanks again for asking me to do this interview. It's been a real pleasure.
     
  20. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Okay, Amin, I'll start this off. I've always wondered about people's childhoods. So indulge me a bit, tell me of Amin as a child and son of a two physician family. Do you have siblings? You seem to be a late bloomer ... I think that as your family grows up and leaves the nest you may just dive into a new career in a big way. It's karma Amin, I think that presently you're in a holding pattern, your creative juices are building and building only contained by the pressure of fatherhood. But when that pressure eases up ... your photography will explode across the internet creating a kaleidoscope of exceptional images ... the Ansel Adams of digital photography. What say you?

    Gary

    PS- The pleasure has been all mine. I've meet all sorts of people in my life. Presidents, Queens, Senators, a Prince or two, Olympic Gold Medal winners, Superbowl Champs, Oscar recipients ... all manner of distinguish and special people and you are one of those individuals.
    G

    PPS- Everybody out there feel free to jump in and join the conversation with the founder of Mu-43.
    G
     
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