Street style photography has been a hotly debated topic as of late — it’s authenticity has been intensely questioned, as well as it’s over saturation and circus-like tendencies. In lieu of this, we decided to hear what street style photographers had to say, firsthand.
Adam Katz Sinding , whose photos you can see on W and Elle.com and the eye behind Le-21eme.com, and Liam Goslett, the young gun who created the dizzying still photography mash-ups of various fashion weeks on his site Liam Saw This, as well as a street style photographer for the likes of GQ and Four-Pins, weigh in on how they feel about the street style industry, how they choose to shoot someone, the street style photographer community, and the future of the practice.
See what Adam and Liam had to say here:
Are there particular personalities you look for each season? Flavors of the month?
Adam: “Never. Always open minded. If you go in looking for ‘something’ you miss the reality.”
Liam: “There’s always people that are fun to shoot. There’s certain people you only see in a specific city, or only at one show, so there’s a kick that comes along with that. There’s certain people who are dressed well 100% of the time, and above that, a lot of them are friends. I love shooting my friends so I always get a kick out of putting up good photos of people I know. In terms of specific people, right now, some of my favourite people to shoot are Ursina Gysi and Dominick Haydn Rawle. They’re by far the coolest couple on the planet and photograph really well. David Thielebeule too – that dude is always dressed impeccably and I think it’s impossible to get a bad photo of him.”
And on that, is it more about the clothes or the person? For instance, Anna Dello Russo, or a really amazing jacket — hypothetically, which is better?
Adam: “Person. Not ’it’ people. Just real people. Sure, the editors often look great, etc. But it’s about some ability to show who you are. Showing your inner-self through your outward appearance.”
Liam: “I think the focus should be about the clothes. A lot of the time, the best-dressed cats are some of the more highly esteemed people, which works out nicely, but at the end of the day it shouldn’t matter. The way I try to keep myself in check is by going, ‘If that wasn’t X, if they weren’t who they are, and it was some no-name cat wearing this, would the photo still be interesting?’ and the answer should be yes. Sometimes that’s not how it works out and that’s just one of the bullets we have to bite, but that, for me at least, should always be the underlying goal.”
What are some things you look for while shooting? What is good style or fashion?
Adam: “This is a question I cannot answer. It’s too ‘personal.’ I look for people who I don’t have to hesitate. If I see someone I always end up breaking down the outfit, the look, making excuses not to take a photo. It’s when I see people where it’s just automatic, there is no time for hesitation. I’m already taking a photo. My brain didn’t have the time to process.”
Liam: “It’s hard to say exactly what I look for when I shoot. Anything from details, to interesting combinations, to small touches, to things I haven’t seen before. But it’s more than that. A lot of the time you see someone and there’s a spark and there’s no real logic or reason about it, it’s just good. There’s some sort of intangible quality – energy – that’s just it.
I think good style is individualism – it’s confidence, and a reflection of your personality. But it’s also about having fun and not taking everything so damn seriously. There needs to be spontaneity. You can tell when someone has put immense deliberation into what they’re wearing, to the point where they look stiff. The pocket square that’s been just-so stuffed in the pocket or that ‘I spent 3 hours making my hair look like I just woke up’ vibe. They could be the best-dressed guy on the street but that’s not style to me, it’s rehearsal.”
Is the scene different in different cities? How?
Adam: “Very. I’m in London at the moment. The models exit, and they are not rushed. The people outside of the shows are relaxed, cool, friendly. Paris is insane. New York…well, the weather just sucks. This is my first time doing Milan, so I’ll let you know. I don’t like Milan as a city, so I’ll try to not let my preconcieved opinions get in the way!”
Liam: “For me, what’s interesting is how different cities interpret or reject trend. With menswear specifically, I find cities are driven much more by heritage and culture than they are by trend, so watching those two aspects play off each other is what makes it all fun.”
The burning question: If you’re a “no name blogger” how do you get your photo taken on the street?
Adam: ”Be an individual. But be yourself. It’s so important. But don’t overdo it. I mean, if you ‘overdo it’ you’ll get attention, but this isn’t comicon. Every photographer has a different eye. I know what catches my eye, and I know what results in a cool photo.”
Liam: “I’d rather shoot a well-dressed no-name whatever than an averagely-dressed ‘Name’. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter. It should be about the clothes and the attitude. When you start shooting people based on who they are rather than what they’re wearing, that begins to border on a much different beast.”
“Be an individual. But be yourself. It’s so important. But don’t overdo it.” – Adam Katz Sinding
If someone has great style, but is clearly posing or lurking around you to get their photo taken, will you still take their photo?
Liam: “I try not to as much as I can. It’s just not interesting to me, it’s not real. There’s no way to get a natural action out of it, and as soon as I lose that, I lose interest. I know guys who have started smoking just to get their photo taken, or said ‘I could wear that but only if I was smoking,’ and it’s just not good. It goes beyond just photography. It’s a moral issue. It just feels wrong, so it comes down to how flexible your morals are how badly you need a shot. That isn’t to say that everything we shoot is candid. From time to time, we do pull a ‘can you walk across the street again,’ in order to get a shot just right, but the dudes that are showing up outside shows with no intention of going in are in a league of their own. As a good friend once said to me, it ‘reinforces negative behavior patterns.’ I’m just trying to help cats make positive life decisions.”
Where do you see the future of street style photography going?
Adam: “Many say we’ve reached our zenith and it’s all downhill. So be it. I don’t do it for the money. I do it for fun, and it’s a cool coincidence that I can get paid. Let the trend end. People still rollerblade, don’t they?”
Liam: “What I can say for certain is that there’s a ton of talented, creative photographers out there on the street and every season someone finds a way to put a new spin on it. There’s hundreds of thousands of photos taken every NYFW, and the cream always seems to rise to the top. Apart from that, I don’t think any prediction I could make would be as accurate as me telling you I simply don’t know. It’s success or failure, I’m sure, will be largely dictated by how it’s used commercially, going forward. In fact, I think the question has to be broken down into two subsections, which is the current state of streetstyle, and the actual idea and essence of street style.
Currently, it’s becoming a commodity, because the idea of it is (was) so natural that it’s instantly appealing to anybody trying to sell or promote anything. Here’s someone who looks great, and they’re wearing this. EVERYONE wants street style now, and that street style look, which it’s beginning to detract from the idea of street style itself. Not to say I’m denouncing its commercial use, but it’s something to consider. How far can you push that ideal, at what point does it lose its essence? I’m not sure. There are only so many faux-streetstyle editorials or photos of cats smoking and sneering that can come out before people lose interest or want something new, and you can only put so much air into a balloon.
“Street style itself, though, it’s future lies in the wills of the photographers.” – Liam Goslett
Look at Bill Cunningham –he’s been shooting for decades and for that I respect him immensely. What he’s done goes beyond streetstyle. He’s been able to document almost half a century of culture, and life in New York City. He’s encapsulated an entire sect of culture and in a very large way I think he’s done for fashion what Robert Franks’ ‘The Americans’ did for photography. And that’s the dream. Trends and styles and faces will change but from a journalistic perspective, the people will always be the most interesting part.”
Do you see other photographers as competition or as a community?
Adam: “50/50. I am very friendly and love chatting with Candice Lake, Vanessa Jackman, Tommy Ton, Phil Oh, and many others. YoungJun Koo is my best friend, and honestly one of the best out there. But many others are very aggressive, with some anti-social tendencies. I steer clear. I hang mostly with Koo, or my Japanese photographer friends Shimpei, Ryosuke, and Wataru. They are ‘real’ and I appreciate their company.”
Liam: “There’s competition in that we all work in the same field, but it’s not like we’re trying to take each other’s jobs. Its just motivation to take better photos and work harder…There’s no animosity. I always see photographers show up who have that ‘I want to be famous so I’m going to be really cut-throat and everyone is my direct competition so don’t talk to me’ vibe and it’s disappointing to see people look at it that way. They want to be the next Tommy or Nam or Phil and the funny thing is, none of those guys are like that. This past season, the first night in Paris there was a snafu with my hotel and I didn’t have a place to stay for the night. Tommy put me up at his place, no questions asked. It’s not about competition. It’s just good people, doing good work.”