Friday, February 10, 2017

New Project on Street Photography

I am no longer updating this blog. After 5 years, a book, and who knows how many thousands of pictures, this project has come to an end. Follow my new project, on street photography in the digital age, on Instagram:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

More shots from Jakarta Fashion Week

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Outside Singapore Fashion Week

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Steps outside Rebecca Minkoff, New York Fashion Week

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Naomi Samara, Jakarta Fashion Week

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wisnu Genu, Senayan City, Jakarta Fashion Week

I have been, I admit, kinda reluctant to post to the blog lately. After several weeks in "the field" (i.e., Singapore, Bandung, and Jakarta), shooting pictures, taking field notes, conducting interviews, and being a good little anthropologist, blogging just sorta felt like it was getting in the way. My purpose in doing it was no longer clear to me either. Am I still researching the phenomenon of street style? Or just trying to build my online brand? Am I expanding the parameters of fashion representation? Or just replicating the extant aesthetics of the industry? 

Plus, I've started a new research project on Instagram street photography (see my Instagram gallery @streetanthropology). It has taken up a good deal of my attention. Street style has become an afterthought.

However, at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association this past week in Minneapolis, I was reminded of just how powerful street style imagery can be. Blogs like Liisa Jokinen's Hel Looks (and more recently SF Looks), Javi Obando and Flora Grzetic's now defunct On the Corner, and Alkistis Tsitouri's Streetgeist, are not just fashion representation as usual, regurgitated in a populist format. They are a viable alternative to fashion representation, depicting a diversity of people and places that are largely invisible to the fashion industry. They celebrate the marginal and disenfranchised, the non-normative, the non-gender binary, the not-even-trying-to-fit-into-a-size-0-to-2. They represent, to me at least, the inclusive political potential of fashion. 

Showing a room full of anthropologists my images of stylish Philadelphians and New Yorkers, I couldn't help but feel like I had done something meaningful with my street style work, depicting a diversity of ethnicities, ages, body types, sexualities, gender orientations, religious affiliations, class backgrounds, and physical abilities, and doing so in a way that presents them with dignity, strength, and style. Has there ever been a more important time for doing so than in Trump's America?

I am hoping, going forward, that Urban Fieldnotes can become more than just a resource for stylistic inspiration. I am hoping it becomes a space for the active celebration of fashion difference at a time when American (and European) politics presents a vision that is increasingly exclusionary and regressive. I hope it becomes an alternative, not just to the fashion industry, but also to the white nationalism that is expanding like a cancer across the Western world. I know some of you are sick and tired of political posts on your social media feeds, and the last thing you might want is to see them pop up on street style blogs too! But in the age of Trump, there is no outside of politics, street style included. An apolitical street style blog has a politics too, a politics of omission, a politics of tacit consent. And it's not a politics I want to align myself with. 

So I am back to posting images on Urban Fieldnotes. For the next few weeks, they will largely be from Singapore and Jakarta, but eventually I will expand back into New York, Philly, and elsewhere. From now on, however, I want to be more conscious of who I post and why. I want this space to be inclusive. I want it to be welcoming. I want it to present a range of possibilities of what "cool," "fashionable," and "stylish" might mean. I want it, that is, to contribute to the expansion of cool, rather than uphold it as some exclusive attribute, attainable by an anointed few. I want to reclaim the political potential of street style. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fatima Herman, National Gallery, Singapore Fashion Week

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pavi Rafaela, National Gallery, Singapore Fashion Week

Singapore is one of the world centers of trade and commerce. Situated just below Malaysia and north of the Riau Islands of Indonesia, it is in a strategic position to serve as a kind of middleman for transactions between neighboring states, which is, in essence, what Singapore has been since Sir Stamford Raffles founded it as a hub of the East India Company in 1819. "Hub" feels like the right term for Singapore. It is a small city state, housed on a single island, with a diverse population. It is not rich in resources, doesn't have the land to grow its own food. It is not a manufacturing base, nor does it exploit its subterranean depths for minerals and metals. No, it is a hub. Stuff moves through here. Money circulates and congeals here. And skyscrapers rise from the red earth here.

Walking through the shopping Mecca of Singapore's Orchard Road — where multi-storied malls house international brands from H&M to Off White — you see all sorts of white backpackers in sweat-stained shirts and loose-fitting cotton pants, seeking out air-conditioned sanctuaries for their weary feet. They arrive in Singapore like refugees, having braved the more hectic, and far less affluent countries of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. And they head straight to the very temples of commerce they used to shun in their home countries. It is a moment of weakness for them. They know it, and they feel bad about it. They came to SE Asia on some sort of vague spiritual quest, hoping to experience ways of life that had long since passed out of existence in their respective countries. But they do it anyway, and I don't blame them. I do it too. In Singapore, you can eat western food that actually tastes like western food (if that's your thing). You can walk for hours indoors. You can pretend your not in a tropical country just above the Equator. Or, you can do meander through dense, outdoor arcades, where open-walled stores sell every variety of goods and foods you can imagine, the scent of durian and stir-fry permeating the air.  

So with all this said, I was fascinated to find out what Singapore Fashion Week would be like. In the days before coming, the picture possibilities at Jakarta Fashion Week were beginning to dry up. Many of the biggest fashion bloggers had already come to Singapore. Some, like Anastasia Siantar and Olivia Lazuardy had come as brand ambassadors for Swarovski. Others had just come for the spectacle. And it was a spectacle, though you'd have to be inside the venue to know it. As in Jakarta, there was no sidewalk circus at SFW, no street style photographers to speak of. There weren't even any billboards or signs announcing the event, just a couple of window displays outside the entrance to the shows. The venue itself, the National Gallery of Singapore, was stunning, with stone columns and a backdrop of the Singapore skyline. But to get shots there, you'd have to convince the dressed-to-the-nines guests to walk over there with you. Most were just dropped off by their cars or taxis right by the entrance. They went straight inside. Their eyes were focused on the door. The only people I could manage to stop for photos were those who meandered over to the more picturesque locations at the National Gallery to do photo shoots for their own blogs and Instagram galleries. Such was the case with Pavi Rafaela. She was the only person I even asked for a photo.     
As for the shows, well, I went to two of them, one for the homegrown fashion hero Ong Shunmugam, and another for the Singaporean heiress/socialite Arissa Cheo. They cost $92 each. Some of the shows are open to the paying public. Some are invite only. And as you can imagine, the paid shows are more opportunities for dressing up for a night on the town than they are serious business events for the local fashion industry. Sponsors Stella Artois and Absolute Elyx provided "free" drinks, and we sipped them on the balcony while waiting for the shows to start. I liked Ong Shunmugam's collection well-enough. It plays with the tropes of Asian femininity while instilling them with a modern silhouette. Arissa Cheo's, however, seemed like a vanity project to me, higher-end Forever 21 crop tops and cut-offs, pink starter jackets with cutesy slogans like "Hold my Heart" etched across them. In truth, Singapore has nothing on Jakarta, fashion-wise. Jakarta has way more designers, even some, like Peggy Hartanto, with international name recognition, while Singapore imports their biggest names for the events. This year it partnered with the CFDA to bring over Naeem Khan and Self-Portrait. Plus, Indonesia has a long artisan and craft tradition that reveals itself in the intricate batik, ikat, and lace that find their way into local collections. Singapore less so. This isn't, as I said before, a place that emphasizes making stuff. 

The whole experience wasn't fun exactly, but it was interesting, and I'm glad I did it. It provided a sort of a peak into the lives of Singapore's aristocracy. And it gave me a sense of what it means at the ground-level for a place like Singapore to try to shoulder its way into the global fashion market. I will go out again this afternoon to attempt more street style photos (don't hold your breath in anticipation for them, though! I might not get any). But I am done, thankfully, with shows for this season. After seeing eight in Jakarta and two here, I've done all the pre-show waiting room, iPhone-checking I care to do this year. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Shella Alaztha, Jakarta Fashion Week

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Valerie Samantha, Jakarta Fashion Week

Whenever I start to think that Jakarta Fashion Week is one thing, I see something — or someone — that shows me it's quite another. There is no doubt that Islamic fashion is a major part of JFW. Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, the government's efforts to suppress hardline Islam have subsided. A variety of Islamic organizations have risen to prominence, and public expressions of Islamic faith have become much more common, particularly in politics and clothing. When I first came to Indonesia in 1996, about 1 in 10 women in urban Java would wear hijab (jilbab in local parlance). Now it seems closer to 1 in 2, perhaps even 2 out of 3. This is equally true at JFW, where the majority of attendees are bedecked in long, flowing dresses, multiple layers, and some variety of headscarf. But not everyone. Valerie Samantha's look illustrates a very different trend. Streetwear is on the rise here, with brands like Vaya Con Dios, Monstore, Anye by Angez Mo, and Apparel After Dark attempting to redefine what it means to be young and urbane. The Goods Dept, a Jakarta-based youth clothing store at several prominent malls in Jakarta, has played an important role in promoting these brands. So has Brightspot Market, a multi-brand pop up shop that happens at least twice a year. Ok, so some of what they produce is derivative. The bomber jackets, bucket hats, and board shorts I saw at the Hype Street Fashion show at JFW the other day were a bit too aligned with what's going on in streetwear internationally. And the hip hop dancers bedecked in "Caution: Do Not Enter" tape didn't do much to elevate local street cred. But still, there's cool stuff happening — both in Islamic fashion and in more secular streetwear. Frankly, what I would like to see more of in Indonesia is Islamic streetwear. That's a niche market that Indonesia — the most populous majority Muslim nation on earth — is uniquely positioned to fill!