Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cute is back. Lest you thought it went anywhere — Helen, Walnut St.

Helen is an interior designer and describes her style as "European, urban, and feminine." Also, she notes, she digs flowers, hence the hat. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Flowers and Faux Fur - Megan, 18th St

Friday, April 27, 2012

Interview with Lisa Warninger of Urban Weeds

Below is a condensed and edited version of my conversation with Lisa Warninger, the blogger and photographer behind the popular Portland-based street style blog Urban Weeds. We spoke via Skype on 4/20/2012.

Brent: Let’s start with the real basic stuff: When and why did you start Urban Weeds?

Lisa: Urban Weeds started in 2009, [when] a girl named Chelsea Fuss, a professional blogger, who does Frolic Blog, approached me [about starting one]. We had worked together before on several projects, and she saw a need for a street style blog here in Portland. So, I said, “Yes,” and we started a day or two later. She came up with the name, and she got the blog off the ground, since she is a professional blogger. Then after a while, there didn’t really need to be both of us [working on it]. [Eventually] she moved to Sweden and passed the blog to me.

B: You describe Chelsea as a professional blogger. Would you consider yourself a professional blogger these days as well?

L: Since it’s not my main profession [or main source of income], I don’t. But I wouldn’t categorize myself as an amateur blogger [either].

B: Is the line between professional and amateur an easy one to even navigate these days?

L: I don’t think it is easy to tell [the difference] anymore. It seems like every day there are dozens and dozens of new blogs, and a lot [of them] are started with the sole purpose of generating money. [But] there are [also ones] generated just as personal blogs. Then, finally, there [are] blogs like my blog, [that weren’t started] to make money, [but nonetheless generate some income]. We started [this blog], because we love it. But since I spend so much time on it, it has to generate some income in order to make sense to continue it. So, it’s somewhere in the middle.

B: What sources of income do you have through the blog?

L: Well, it’s a great marketing tool. I do receive a lot of work from the people who find me through Urban Weeds.

B: You work as a commercial photographer?

L: Yeah. Street style is very popular right now, and pretty much every publication has [a] street style [section]. Since I’m the only one doing that here in Portland, any of those publications that want content from Portland hire me to create it for them.

B: You’re the Portland street style go-to person.

L: [That’s] right. Yeah.

B: Have you noticed other Portland street style blogs popping up every once in a while, or are you the only one out there who seems to be doing this?

L: They come and they go. About a year after Urban Weeds started, some of the local publications started sending their photographers out to do street style too. I don’t know if I inspired them to do that, or if street style’s just a popular thing to have on sites. But there are other sources of street style now here in Portland. They tend to come up and die out pretty quickly.

B: Yeah, I’ve noticed that with Philly too. If you type “Philadelphia street style blogger” it will come up with 5 or 6 sites, but almost none of them are still active.

L: How long have you been doing your blog?

B: This is three weeks now.

L: As you know, it’s a little more difficult to find and create content [than people might expect]. And to do that consistently can be a challenge when you have a full time job. I [myself] don’t actually have a lot of time to work on Urban Weeds. I used to post 5 times a week, and lately it seems like I’m lucky to get out posts [at all]. I always have the goal of posting five times a week, but it’s hard for me to get to it. Primarily I’m a full time commercial photographer.

B: So what is your blogging routine like?

L: Well, first I typically finish up everything I need to do for my real clients. And then it’s always on my [to-do] list for the day. If I can finish things up enough, I’ll add a post to the blog. Shooting and posting I have to do separately. I typically plan shoot days where I’ll go out, and I’ll spend a full day shooting for Urban Weeds, and gather a whole bunch of content that I can later post. But since I do the black and white portrait as well as full length—and those are both fully retouched and professionally edited—the actual posting of the content takes me a long time as well. Typically, for each post, it takes me about an hour to shoot, or to find someone to shoot and photograph them.
B: An hour per person, you mean?

L: Yeah. Here in Portland there are a lot of stylish people, but when you’re on the street walking around, trying to find somebody, it’s like “[Hey], where did they go?”

B: So, do you end up revisiting a lot of the same spots?

L: I do. I usually go back to the spots that I find people in. There are certain areas around town that have more interesting styles than others. Typically designers and artists tend to dress really well, and typically they are going to be the ones who are out and about at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. And a lot of times they are out and about at coffee houses, so I tend to go around to those places and find people there. [As a result], there tend to be a disproportionate number of artists and designers [on the blog].

B: I notice that as I go out and really pay attention to what people are wearing, it [has begun to affect] the way that I look at how people dress and present themselves in general. I find it really hard to turn that assessing peoples’ outfits thing off.

L: Oh, if you continue it, you never stop that. It’s constant! I’m constantly looking at people and thinking about what they’re wearing. That never goes away.

B: That’s sort of what I suspected. So, do you have your camera with you most of the time?

L: No. I don’t actually. When I’m not on duty for shooting Urban Weeds I like to put the camera away and give myself a break.

B: Are you still shooting in your head?

L: Yeah. I am. And then I wish I had the camera there, and I’m like, “No! I need to stop!”

B: So you’ve been doing this for three years now. Do you find yourself [shooting] a lot of the same people [over and over again]?

L:  I actually have never reposted the same person.

B: Is that intentional, or did it just work out that way?

L: That is intentional, actually. I wanted to see how long I could go without repeating somebody. So far so good. But Portland’s not that big, so eventually it’s going to have to come back around.

B: [So, a few days ago] I posted about how you always do this black and white shot with a square frame, and then you do a full-length shot in color beneath it. For me it seems like the black and white [portrait] is more about the person and the full-length shot is more about the situation they’re in. [And] it’s more about the clothes themselves. Something different is expressed in the two images. I’m curious about your idea behind that.

L:  Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m a photographer primarily, and what threw me into the love of photography is people. So I want people to see the black and white portrait first and then scroll down and see what they’re wearing. And I thought it would be kind of fun for people too, to wonder what they’re wearing and scroll down and find out.

B: So, what kinds of opportunities has this blog opened up for you?

L: It certainly has helped me connect with a lot of other bloggers. I [also] spoke at a blogging convention last year, and that was really fun. It was Alt Summit, a blogging conference in Salt Lake City [that is primarily focused on] style and design blogs. Urban Weeds has a weird position, because it’s not like other high-end style and design blogs, like some of the blogs that come out of New York. Portland will never be anything like New York, and I can only get what people in Portland are wearing. That tends to be a lot more low-key [than what people are wearing in New York], and [for] a lot of people who are strictly looking for fashion, Urban Weeds isn’t going to be the blog for them. But [other people, for example,] artists and designers that are living across the country, who don’t have a designer wardrobe, they love the blog, and find it to be really inspiring for the way they dress. Have you heard of Street Style News?

B: Sure.

L: Whenever I do post [an image], it typically hits the number one [position] for a while [on Street Style News’ “Daily Most Popular” list], and it’s not infrequent that it’s one of the top ten posts of the day. [This] really surprises me a lot, because [the rest of the top posts will be in places] like New York, Paris, and Tokyo, and [then there’s] the little Portland post.

B: Maybe people are looking for something a little bit different from that.

L: Yeah. It’s definitely a little bit different.

B: Do you mind me asking you how many pageviews you get?

L: Well, typically I get around 100,000 per month. And then that number keeps climbing.

B:  Does it matter to you if people are looking at it?

L: Well it does now, actually, because it take[s] so much of my time to do it. I’m at a point where I’m not going to quit doing Urban Weeds, but I need to either figure out a way where I can dedicate more time to it and have it pay me more somehow, or maybe figure out a way to scale it back and be content with that. I’m not quite sure what to do yet.

B: So in terms of sponsorships on your web site and paid content, do you have any personal policies about what you’ll put up on there, or who you will allow to advertise through you?

L: Well, yeah. It really depends on what they’re asking me to do. I always consider any opportunity for the blog to make some money, just because it needs to bring in some money. And if you are dedicating your time to something you need to have it pay you, especially with how much time it takes over the years. So any request I get, I typically do consider it, but as the blog grows I get a lot more unreasonable requests from companies that don’t seem legitimate.

B: What kind of thing would constitute an unreasonable request?

L: Like doing a sponsored post in the content of Urban Weeds, and then including five links to their products, and then they’re going to pay me by sending me a bottle of shampoo. Um, no. I’m not going to do that. And then I get requests from a lot of places that say, “We want you to send us pictures of you in different outfits,” and [I say] “No, that’s not what I’m doing.” There [are] a lot of requests for stuff that just isn’t going to happen. But [then] there are [things] link link exchanges from different companies, which I [have] decided to go ahead and do, and they [have been] great. They [are] always super professional and [pay] me right away, and [in accordance with my actual] sponsorship rate. So I’m happy with that.

B: Do you have any problems with people stealing your images or reposting your content without giving any kind of credit to you?

L: As a photographer, that’s a constant issue. I used to be very pro-crediting. I still am. And it used to really upset me when I’d see my images, that I worked so hard to create, just on some random blog with no credit [given], especially if it’s a blog where the blogger is actually making money off that content. Then it really bothers me. A lot of people repost the outfits on their style blogs, and there’s this whole group of young girls [who] post their outfits and write about their day. They’re more personal blogs, and they’re not sponsored. If they repost anything that doesn’t bother me. But when it’s an actual style blog that’s reposting without permission it does get to me sometimes. Not to mention it’s illegal.

B: So you mentioned before that you’ve met a lot of bloggers through Urban Weeds. Do you see street style or fashion blogging as a kind of community that you’re a part of?

L: Oh definitely. At least it’s a community [in the sense that] we all know each other. I haven’t really met anyone that is also a street style photographer, but some of them have been really really awesome, and we cheer [each other] on.  [Some bloggers, however,] are just too big to really connect with the smaller city street style bloggers, [and that’s fine]. I don’t think they even talk to each other.

B: That could be. Although, they must run into each other when they’re all outside New York Fashion Week or whatever.

L: Yeah.
B: Have you done any of those kinds of major fashion events?

L: No, I haven’t. I don’t think that’s really the soul of Urban Weeds. It’s definitely a weedy little town over here.

B: I like that about Portland.

L: It’s charming. I really enjoy it here.

B: I wonder, does shooting outside big fashion shows really count as street style [anyway]?

L: You know, I don’t know. It’s an interesting question, though, especially when [many of us] are [out] walking around looking for people. But at the same time, [I can understand why people would do that], because [street style photography] is [a] really hard [thing to do]. It’s a lot harder than I thought to find good people to show on your site. So if there’s an event here that I know is going to have a lot of stylish people then I’ll probably go stand outside that too.

B: Do you have a sort of personal criteria to determine a stylish person? Or is it instinct? How do you choose someone for your pictures?

L: I tend to just walk around and just look for something that catches my eye. There has to be something special about [an outfit]. It has to fit well. Or be styled in an interesting way, where I [think to myself] “That’s interesting!” And you don’t have a lot of time to decide whether to shoot them or not. You just have to go get them before they walk away. So I guess part of it is instinct. But then the worst is [when] you stop someone and [think] “Oh, never mind!”

B: Do you find yourself taking pictures of people that you end up not using fairly often?

L: It’s really rare. It’s such a small town, that I feel really bad if I don’t post somebody. So, I usually try to be sure that I can at least post that before I stop them. And certainly not every post is that great, but… I try to make sure that I don’t waste my time with something that just isn’t good.

B: What advice would you give to a budding street style blogger about how to get into this game?

L: Gosh, well it’s pretty easy. You just go out on the street with a camera, [and] post some pictures. It’s a really straightforward process. So, the advice I’d give to someone else is the same advice I’d give to myself: Be consistent. [And] be nice to people. I don’t think anyone benefits from a rude photographer. [Also] don’t be weird when you approach people.

B: What’s your approach?

L: I usually just stop them and I say, “Hey, I love what you’re wearing. And I shoot a street style blog here in Portland, and I would love to take your photo. Are you up for that?” And usually people are like, “You love what I’m wearing? That’s awesome! Sure I’ll be on your site.” It typically works out. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lauren - Rittenhouse Square

My stylistic homage to Lisa Warninger of Urban Weeds Blog. Now if only I took better pictures... My interview with Lisa, by the way, has at last been transcribed and will be up in the next couple of days.
I've been wondering again—as always—about what it is I look for in a photographic subject. I haven't come to any definitive conclusions. But what I can say is that it's not about fashion per se, it's about the person. Earlier I suggested that perhaps we are shooting our surrogate selves. That still resonates, but perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we are shooting people we relate to in some way, even if by virtue of their conceptual otherness. With Lauren, I recognize a quality of commonality, but can't tell you exactly what it is. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fashion Theory Geeks Eat Your Heart Out! My Interview with Ted Polhemus

Ted Polhemus is the original street style anthropologist. Trained at Temple and University College, London, he has gone on to write some of the most influential works on fashion, style, and subcultural (or post-subcultural) expression. He is author, co-author, or editor of some 12 books, including Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk, Style Surfing, Popstyles, The Customized Body, Hot Bodies Cool Styles, and The Body as Medium of Expression. His latest books, Boom! and a new revised edition of Fashion & Anti-fashion: An Anthropology of Clothing & Adornment, are now available through and The following is our recent email interview. 

1. What is the difference between “fashion” and “style”? What about “fashion” and “anti-fashion?” What do we need to understand about these differences and why do they matter?

Throughout most of human history our ancestors used body decoration and 'Our Costume' to define 'Us' from 'Them', to visually encode worldview and to underline the 'timeless' nature of their own group and culture. I would call this 'tribal style'. 'Fashion' is radically different in that it projects a model of perpetual change and 'progress' - and as such it was the ultimate expression of modernism. For many of us in our post-modern age there is a yearning for stability and a rejection of that singularity - 'the direction'; 'the new look' - which saw everyone racing towards the same (presumably wonderful) future. This new approach to the presentation of self might be termed 'Personal Style' - or Anti-fashion. This is explained more fully in the new edition of my book Fashion & Anti-fashion: Exploring adornment and dress from an anthropological perspective. It's interesting how, despite the significance of this shift, the 'fashion industry' has largely failed to come to terms with the revolution which has taken place.

2. Back in 1994, in your book Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk, you argued that fashion, since roughly the 1960s, began “bubbling up” from the streets, rather than “trickling down” from the upper classes. Suddenly designers like Yves Saint Laurent were borrowing their looks from the Beats, the mods, and the punks, instead of improvising on an elite sensibility. What does the Internet do to that dynamic? Does it further democratize fashion, as the Internet cheerleaders would have us believe? Or is there something perhaps more complicated going on here?

History may decide that the most important thing which happened in the 20th century was the unprecedented shift from High Culture to popular culture. This was not limited to appearance and is at least as striking in music - giving us not only Jazz, Tango, Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, Rock, etc. but, before the century was out, a new reverence and respect for such 'bubble up' musical forms. Yes, obviously the Internet further facilitates this process of the democratizing of 'fashion' (more precisely, the shift from dictatorial 'fashion' to personal 'style') but it is important to note that this tectonic shift of worldviews was well underway before the Internet was up and running. Where I think the Internet has really changed things is in the globalisation of style. Not that long ago Paris ruled supreme - now new styles crop up anywhere and everywhere and get seen anywhere and everywhere because of the global reach of the Internet.

3. You have famously referred to the contemporary fashion sensibilities of the Western world as a “supermarket of style.” Rather than identify too closely with one particular subcultural sensibility, young fashionistas these days mix and match, cut up and reassemble, construct their own remixed, refashioned look with no clear allegiance or affiliation. Of course, you wrote that in Style Surfing in 1996, the early days of the Internet. What, if anything, has changed since then?

I was born in 1947 the same year that Dior famously launched his 'New Look' - not only decreeing what was 'in' and 'out' for millions but also defining a 'total look' which from head to toe set down rules for what should be worn with what. And, this is the key point, almost everyone did as they were told. The 'Supermarket of Style' is as perfect a representation of the post-modern age as 'fashion' was a representation of modernism. Instead of the single direction of modernism we now have an infinity of alternative 'takes' - parallel universes - on a 'now' which is also, simultaneously, past, present and future all at once. Early expressions of this approach to appearance were found in the Punks who sampled & mixed explosive semiological combinations and Blade Runner which showed us a future which was retro. Again, this was all in place well before the Internet. 

4. Do you follow any street style blogs? And if so, which ones? What is your impression of these blogs?

I have spent the last couple of years trying to come to terms with what really happened in the late 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s and to set this down in my new book BOOM! - A Baby Boomer Memoir, 1947-2022 and this has given me less time to examine the present. I certainly don't follow any style blogs religiously but what has caught my eye is the extent to which exciting, unexpected, often creative style (actually styles - we are in a very pluralistic world(s) now) comes from the least expected places. There's a great style blog from Helsinki. I've seen others from Mexico City, Columbia, Zagreb even Tehran. My hunch is that, as happens I gather in subatomic physics, the act of observation changes what is being observed. London, NY, Paris, Tokyo - these places have been in the spotlight too long and withered under the glare.

5. No doubt many bloggers borrow their aesthetics from fashion magazines, particularly i-D, Nylon, and The Face. Do you see any innovation in the aesthetics of today’s bloggers? Or are we simply covering old ground?

The 'straight up' street photos which appeared in the early issues of i-D prefigured the explosion of street style blogging today. I know I was myself in an early issue. But then i-D went and threw their innovation away and reverted to models rather than 'real people'. My feeling is that some of the new style blogs are rediscovering that old i-D spirit. Note that not all these blogs have the same spirit and approach - in particular some are more democratic and open to one and all than others. But always there is the bottom line that blogger X decides who is and who isn't interesting/visually distinctive enough to include. If the process is more democratic than the old fashion world it is because there are a heck of a lot of these style bloggers and they tend to have differing views on what is and what isn't interesting to photograph. And, crucially, that they derive from all over the globe.

6. One of the things that fascinates me about street style bloggers, and fashion bloggers more generally, is the way they blur personal expression with brand promotion. As a number of anthropologists have argued, it may in fact be characteristic of our neoliberal, late capitalist era to manage the self as if it were a business. What is your take on this debate? Have self and sales pitch merged? Is there still anything about self and style that isn’t for sale?

Appearance has always been a marketing exercise - a branding if you will. Throughout most of human history what you were pitching was your tribe and/or your place within it. For a couple of hundred years constantly changing fashions pitched the modernist worldview of change and progress. These days, increasingly, we construct our presentation of self as an advertisement for how interesting/successful/creative/self-constructed/authentic we are as individuals. We use style and brands as the vocabulary of this presentation. We will each try to emphasise different brand values but one fairly consistent message today is that we are not easily boxed into a category and instead that we are multifaceted individuals who defy categorisation. Sampling & mixing is the perfect technique for projecting this multifaceted message. 

7. As you well know, issues of “authenticity” have long been critical to the way various style tribes define themselves and set themselves apart from everyone else. However, it seems to me that in the era of self-branding and self-promotion, older ideas of “selling out,” “posing,” or even being fake or inauthentic sound increasingly old-fashioned. Does authenticity still have a place in contemporary style? Or have we moved on to something else?

Authenticity remains the most precious and sought after substance in the world today. At least for those who come from or who have achieved a reasonable standard of living. We are perceived as more authentic if we creatively sample & mix our own appearance (rather than being some pathetic fashion victim), if we have put more than just money into this process (e.g. getting a tattoo or piercing where pain as well as cost is involved), if we choose styles and brands which semiotically convey a message of authenticity. Of course, in this mad scramble for personal authenticity we more often than not end up in a themepark of fake authenticity - brand new jeans which have been distressed to look like they and we have been sleeping in boxcars with Woody Gutherie, brands with cleverly/cynically constructed and completely fictitious back stories, retro time warping into past eras which fit our yearnings rather than historical realities - but however mythologized the past is inevitably seen as more authentic than the present. The irony is that the more we seek authenticity the more we make it an endangered species. Was it Baudrillard who commented that our key problem today in the post-modern age is to know when we have in fact left the themepark? 

8. You have written about Diesel Industries as an example of anti-fashion fashion, manipulating their insider-outsider status in a self-conscious, postmodern play on old-fashioned branding. What fashion brands do you see taking up that mantle these days? And have the strategies of anti-fashion fashion branding changed at all since you wrote that? 

It was never that I saw Diesel as 'anti-fashion fashion' (even less so today than when I wrote that little book) but that when they said 'we don't make jeans, we make communication' they clearly were on to something. From the consumers point of view we don't need a new pair of jeans, we need succinct and powerful signifiers to tell the world where we as individuals are 'at'. A brand logo can pack a heck of a lot of signification into a tiny signifier. Like the main character in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, I am myself sort of allergic to brand labels but as an anthropologist I have to see this increasing love affair with upmarket brands as a response to our communication crisis - the difficulties of explaining/showing 'I am this kind of person'. It used to be that one's identity was largely determined by your birth and was fairly easy to signify - for my parents it was 'Methodist'. Now identity is largely self-constructed and inevitably complex. Brands are like icebergs with that huge bulk of meaning lurking under the water, the brand logo sticking out on top. Or, to put it another way, brands are visions of what heaven should be like. If your brand allows me to signifier what kind of heaven I'm aiming at (which is to say, what my values and dreams are) then paying a few bucks more is a bargain.

9. You have written quite a bit about body modification and customization, particularly in the form of tattoos and piercings. It doesn’t take the insight of an anthropologist to notice that tattoos have reached a new height of popularity, becoming so commonplace as to have become, perhaps, the new normal. Piercings too, after losing some ground among counter-cultural types in the early ‘00s, seem to be back with a vengeance. Is there a connection, do you think, between the increasingly digital and virtual nature of our everyday lives and the growing popularity of tattoos and piercings? Are we compensating in some way for living our lives so detached from physicality?

Certainly one of the most astounding changes since I was young in the 50s and early 60s is the extent to which tattooing and piercing have gone from obscure, eyebrow raising minority status to mainstream, even de rigour. As I mentioned above I think our search for authenticity has something to do with it - this isn't just something you buy, you have to suffer a bit and risk being cut out of your grandmother's will. But I also suspect it has something to do with creating a rite of passage where none existed previously. Or marking any significant change in our life history. There's also the post-modern search for stability and the 'timeless'. I've long championed tats and piercings and argued that they can aspire to art. But I also have to wonder at the wisdom of getting something when you are young and then regretting it later. When I was a Hippy studying anthropology at Temple in Philly I might have got a peace sign or something as a tattoo. Which I might have been unhappy with as a Punk in London in the 70s. Maybe we should only permit tattoos for the over 65s. (BTW, there is quite a bit of stuff about Temple and Philly in the late 60s in the 'Sex', 'Drugs' and 'Rock 'N' Roll' chps of my new book BOOM! And while on the subject of Temple in the 60s I should like to pay homage to the inspiring teachers I had there - Ken Kensinger, John Szwed, Elmer Miller, Jay Ruby - who first got me addicted to anthropology.)

10. You have spent your career as something of an outsider anthropologist, working apart from academic institutions and now even publishing books on your own, without the mediation or input of established publishers. How has your independent status shaped your practice as an anthropologist? What doors has it opened or closed for you?

In fact it was absurd folly to try to forge a career as a writer and lecturer which was neither within the bounds or academia nor as an insider within a media organisation. Yet, despite the huge overdraft (buy my book or my cat gets it) and sleepless nights I really wouldn't have had it any other way. My mind delights in crossing disciplines and resisting established models. And I can never tell in advance (for example, in a project proposal) where I'm going to end up. But it gets increasingly more difficult - not only for me: publishers are focused on mega celeb blockbusters while even the dear BBC now thinks more about the celeb potential of its presenters than the content of its documentaries. Self-publishing offers fantastic opportunities yes but also underlines the extent to which you then have to dedicate yourself night and day to doing something on the Internet or Twitter which will (fingers crossed) go viral and make you a phenomenon and rich. If Shakespeare had lived today he would have written one play and then spent the rest of his life promoting it. And what happens when every human being has at least one blog and is so busy with blogging and twittering that no one has time for anyone else's blogs or tweets and so there ends the communication age?

11. What does anthropology have to bring to the study of fashion and style that other disciplines are perhaps less equipped to do?

Anthropology is a way of seeing - a constant awareness (as if coming from another planet) that in another age or another culture almost everything could and might be different (even, The Social Construction of Reality). I have a feeling that this 'could be different' perspective is more needed than ever. Is it just me or is it the case that, without anyone really nailing the truth of this, we have seen a worldview shift towards the presumption that all human difference beyond certain prescribed boundaries is the product of faulty genes? It seems like while I was out to lunch or something it was decided that everything from being Gay to not suffering fools gladly is down to one's genes. Is Cultural Anthropology making its voice heard in the midst of this paradigm shift? What so thrilled me at Temple and then at University College London was the extraordinary diversity of human behaviour and the extent to which culture, history and circumstance can and do shape human behaviour. And for me the other great thrill that my particular area of anthropology has always generated is appreciating just how complex and semiological dextrous is our human visual interaction. Two strangers pass in the street: just think how much data and interpretation of data occurs in this presentation of self and this 'checking out' of the other.

Specifically, as regards appearance, I don't think that I would have grasped the difference between 'style' and 'fashion' (and the respective social facts which generate them) without a background in anthropology. I'd heard an anthropology professor refer to tribal body decoration as 'fashion' and then, later in the 70s, someone asked me to write a magazine piece about 'Punk fashion' and from then on I couldn't get it out of my mind that these words were not simply synonyms. But while I may have the outsider's occasional flash of insight what would be splendid would be if some within anthropology could carry analysis further and deeper to see what holds water and what doesn't. For example, for many in my Boomer generation, age - being 'youth' even if, in time we were not - was the primary divide between 'us' and 'them'. 'Never trust anyone over 35' we said. Most models of 'youth culture' seem to presume that this is also true today but is it? My suspicion is that lifestyle choice and ability trumps age. If you're 18 and into skateboarding and this 30 year old comes along and he is a very good skateboarder does it matter that s/he isn't 'youth'? Also, as I explore to a point (but still only hunches) in the final chapters of the new edition of my book Streetstyle, do subcultures still exist? Clearly they do in places like South America but how about in the US and Britain which were historically such fertile ground in the development of subcultural streetstyle? Yes, there are lots of people in marketing and journalism who love spotting and describing some new 'tribe' but I find it hard going finding people who say 'I'm an Emo' (Hipster, Chav, etc.) My suspicion is that we are both post-fashion and post-subcultural - with our striving for individualism limiting our willingness to accept the conformity which either of these systems imposes. Would be interesting to put this to the test. For example, it's something you could do on this blog: when you photograph people ask them if they would say that they belonged to some 'tribe'.

12. Your latest book, Boom!, is a personal memoir exploring the cultural contributions and legacy of the Baby Boomer generation and contrasting them with the youth of today. What inspired you to write this book now, and what do you think the story of your generation has to tell us about “kids these days?”

Not having had any children of my own and after a lifetime of going to clubs and gigs and so forth and then discovering the delights of sitting, glass of wine in hand, in front of the telly and watching a good documentary about subatomic particles or lemurs (anything but streetstyle, please) I can't claim to actually know much about 'kids these days'. I wrote BOOM! because it amazed and horrified me that even just a handful of decades on the past seems so misunderstood and misrepresented. And it's important not just as a point of history: so many of our basic models (youth culture, generational identity, subcultures) are rooted in the post-war decades and, one suspects, have yet to be re-evaluated for their accuracy and usefulness in the 21st century. Did the Baby Boomers change the world and did 'everything' happen in the 60s? Turns out it was really the seemingly boring 50s which changed the world - the 60s just broadcasting to a wider demographic what the 50s had pioneered. Which is to say, the real changes were brought about by Pre-Boomers born during or before the war. Even 'youth culture' predated the teen years of the Boomers. We were just the audience and the consumers of the Pre-Boomer pioneers. At least until Boomers like Bowie and Springsteen took over in the 70s. So, anyway, I have a pretty good memory of what happened within the lifecycle of the Boomers but need more youthful minds to see how that compares with 'kids these days'.   

13. And, finally, what are you working on now, Ted?

I'm thinking that I'd like to be a stand up comic when I grow up. Meanwhile I'm cleaning the kitchen. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Talk on Indonesian DIY Fashion at Parsons Next Week

Fashioning DIY and Craft Revivalism

Alison - Hip Mom in Clark Park

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day in Clark Park

After talking with Lisa Warninger of Portland's Urban Weeds Blog a couple nights ago, it finally dawned on me: I don't have to go out shooting 5 times a week in order to post five times a week. For the sake of my sanity, and having a life besides, this is an important realization. So stay tuned for more photos from Earth Day in Clark Park over the next couple of days. Also, look out for my interview with Lisa. It will be up soon.

Zoe Einbinder is a jewelry designer and owner of Real Fruit Jewelry. And yes, those awesome earrings are, in fact, made out of real oranges. Check out more of her work at or

Here are some of her necklaces.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Siobhan & Anders - Clark Park, West Philadelphia

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Denim on Denim - Steph, 43rd St, West Philly

When I asked Steph to take her photo, following after her quickly—but not so quickly as to freak her out—on 43rd St, she said, "Today?! But I don't even think I look that good. I'm not even wearing make-up!"
On NPR's "All Songs Considered" podcast a few weeks back, Robin Hilton (I think) suggested that 2012 was the year of reclaiming and making cool again once maligned musical elements from the 1980s, like saxophone solos and mushy piano melodies. Denim on denim is street fashion's new saxophone solo. 
I've been practicing the flat, blurred background with popping out model effect a la Sartorialist, 21Arrondissement, etc. My aperture is set to 1.7 in aperture priority mode. I like the effect but clearly lost a bit of clarity, as the sky was quite grey, and the shutter speed no doubt had to compensate. Should have set the ISO higher than 100. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Visually Branding Street Style Blogs

Since the PCA/ACA last week, I've been paying a lot of attention to how bloggers visually brand themselves, that is, create a stable visual identity across content and media. The most obvious way, of course, is through a logo. Whether consciously or not, most successful bloggers appear to follow the advice of blogger/writer/entrepreneur Yuli Ziv in her book Blogging Your Way to the Front Row, and use the same simple visual signifier, the logo, in all of their social media. Here are a few notable ones, from the simple and straightforward:

to the modestly stylized:

and the graphically elaborate:

I'm not sure whether these logos are self-designed, farmed out to a graphic design firm, or purchased cheaply from some logo design website. Bloggers, I'd be interested to hear where you got your logos from. As for my own logo:

I got it for free on Took me 10 minutes. It ain't fancy, but it's functional. Incidentally, I am providing links solely for the sake of giving credit where credit is due. If I am ever paid for a link I will let you know. And if dropping the names of businesses gets me sponsorship offers, I'll let you know that too. Frankly, I don't think I command enough attention for that at this point. 

Other forms of visual branding, however, are more subtle, and play out in the arrangement and style of images that appear on a blog itself. I find the visual brand of London based Shot by Shooter particularly striking. Photographer David McLean does close up portraits of his subjects only from roughly the shoulders up. All are shot in vertical alignment and cascade in a straight line down the white surface of the web page. In Shot by Shooter, we are left the impression of diversity and individualism. The point-to-point comparison drives home what is unique about each person represented. Clothing, notice, is downplayed. Here are a couple of examples: 

Images by David McLean.

Lisa Warninger of Portland's Urban Weeds, similarly, always does a single, black and white head shot (square) followed by a full color image of the full body in context (rectangle), again in vertical alignment and moving in a straight line down the page. The page itself, as is typical of street style blogs, is left white. Here, the effect is also quite dramatic. The first image creates a sense of intimacy and personal connection. It is about the person, their internal life, and their essential character. The second image creates a sense of dynamism. It is about the personality, the external expression of the subject and its mediation through style. Here is an example. Notice how radically our reading of this person shifts as we move our eyes to the second image. 

Images by Lisa Warninger.
Finally, let's look at perhaps the best known visual brand in street style blogging, that of Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist. His is a bit more subtle. At first glance, there is no obvious visual consistency. Most images are in vertical alignment, but others are horizontal. Some are in close range, others more distant. Diverse images of diverse (though almost exclusively beautiful) individuals are presented in relatively diverse ways. But there are certain signature strokes. For one, Schuman tends to present his subjects in sharp focus, with backgrounds blurred, even when the backgrounds make up a substantial portion of the image. This makes the subject pop out of the image. These pictures, the message reads, are about them. The streets, beaches, or buildings behind them are only a stage they stand on. For another, he more often than not employs the full body in the frame, shot, it appears, from some distance, while crouching, and using a telephoto lens to avoid a parallax effect (i.e., the lower part of the body appearing larger in relation to the upper part). It makes for beautiful images and lends them an interesting combination of naturalism and surrealism. These appear as scenes both happened upon and carefully staged.  Here are two examples. 

Images by Scott Schuman.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Impossibility of Distance

It took me exactly two weeks to go from being an anthropologist who uses his blog as a research instrument, to a blogger who uses anthropology as his justification for blogging. I've gotten caught up in the game. I obsess over stats (I now get between 80 and 200 pageviews a day—last Friday, 4/13, I got 313!). I obsess over my number of followers on Facebook (30 and steadily growing) and Twitter (8 and  steadily hemorrhaging—hence the move back to my existing account). I obsess over taking good pictures, polishing my craft, and enhancing my skills. I even obsess over the visual consistency of my online brand (a subject, by the way, discussed at length by Jenna Jacobson and Geoffrey Middlebrook at one of my favorite panels at the PCA/ACA conference last week). I genuinely want to be good at street style blogging. It's no longer enough to just come to a deeper understanding of the cultural drives of others bloggers. And in the process, going deeper and deeper into the auto-ethnographic rabbit hole, I've let my research concerns fall into the background. I have fallen off the wagon, and I am staging my own intervention. Time to bring anthropology back. Stay tuned for critical observations and inspiring interviews. And of course, plenty more street style photos. You didn't think I would let that go, did you? I'm not going cold turkey. I'm just looking for more balance.

Here's what my stats for this week look like, by the way, according to Blogger.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Margael - Rittenhouse Square

Summer seems to have come early to Philadelphia. This afternoon I followed the hordes of urban sun worshippers to Rittenhouse Square. It paid off. Hundreds of people were lounging in the park, soaking up rays in their boldest and brightest colors. I liked Margael's breezy southern belle look. Today, I stopped looking for photographic subjects of a specific "type." I stopped looking for hipsters and scenesters, artsy '80s throwbacks, and retro-menswear revivalists. Instead, I followed Scott Schuman The Sartorialist's advice in this inspiring short documentary, and just let visually striking scenes present themselves to me. I think Margael on the park bench fits that description.

Mickey Finn "Rock'n'Rolla" - Rittenhouse Square

Mickey Finn is a DJ, artist, tattoo artist, and god knows what else. Check him out at He's wearing an Obey tank top, one of only two brands, he says, that he's willing to buy new. Otherwise, it's all about thrift stores and vintage. I like how the pattern on his tank blends seamlessly with the ink on his torso. 


I'm now using a different Twitter handle, BrentLuvaas. Follow me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ol' Timey Mustache in an Ol' Timey American City

Johnny, Boylston St, Boston. We share the status of the California to East Coast transplant. Boston, apparently, is  importing its hipsters.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fashion People are Fashionable

Cesar is a fashion photographer I ran into in front of the FCUK on Newbury St. in Boston this afternoon.  Roughly half the people I shoot turn out to work in fashion in some way. Figures, I guess.

Cesar, Newbury St, Boston. I appreciate, and relate to, the stylized hunch.