Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Shooting Street Style in Sacramento

My first time out shooting street style in Sacramento was a comedy of errors. I had little idea of where to go and even less idea of what I was looking for. I parked on P St, between 14th and 15th and headed into Midtown, a neighborhood that has undergone quite a lot of development (some might say "gentrification") since I last lived here, some 18 years back. It was Labor Day, and a lot of people were out. There was a sidewalk art festival happening in Fremont Park, a live band playing a reggae version of the Spice Girls "Wannabe," and a cluster of food trucks with vaguely Californian specialities — upscale tacos, veggie sandwiches and whatnot — and I perused the people there, before walking up 16th to where a number of trendy bars and restaurants are located. I patrolled the streets between 15th and 21st, S and J, all to no avail. Or rather, I should say, I saw several people I considered taking pictures of but didn't. Something stopped me each time, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes probably not. I saw two cool(ish) looking women standing in front of Faces, Sacramento's longest running gay nightclub, but when I got close I noticed that one of them was crying. I saw a couple of scrawny hipsters, a newly plentiful resource in Midtown Sacramento, lounging on a concrete wall on 20th. Yeah, I thought, they look cool enough. I just couldn't bring myself to care. I texted my wife not long after with the following message: "Does relatively cool for Sacramento count? Or must they genuinely be cool? That's my dilemma." She responded, quite correctly, with "Can't answer that." 

I had a different position on that subject at various points throughout the evening. My long time policy has been that I don't take anyone's picture unless I feel no ambivalence whatsoever about doing so. It must be automatic. It must be instinctual. When I over-think it and talk myself into taking a picture of someone I'm simply not sure about, I tend to regret it later. But after unsuccessfully chasing some girl in a long black dress on a vintage bicycle past two stoplights, I developed a more relaxed stance. Cool is contextual, I decided. I have to take Sacramento on its own terms. Which led, of course, to my first photo disaster of the evening. I saw some dude with a  ZZ Top beard sitting at a table outside a coffee shop with the words "Coffee Shop" emblazoned in neon on the glass above him. He didn't exactly look stylish, but I have a fondness for long beards and literal signs. I thought it could make for an iconic image. So I asked to take his photo. He agreed, and I did. A few distance shots, a few close ups. Showing him the photos afterwards he told me, voice perfectly laconic, poker face in full effect, "I'm ok with you using these ones," meaning the distance shots, "but the close ups didn't turn out too good." "Yeah," I agreed, horrified by the rather amateurish pictures I had taken, "I'm not going to use these." I promptly deleted every image and walked away, glad I never mentioned the name of my website. 

From there, I walked past R St, where several bars have outdoor patios, and a line of teenagers and twenty-somethings in black t-shirts and studded jackets waited to gain entry to the Against Me! show at Ace of Spades. Should I take their pictures? I wondered. They looked so textbook punk rock. In fact, they looked more or less precisely like the people I hung out with in high school, only with more tattoos. I just couldn't do it. It didn't feel fresh. It didn't feel like the mood I've been carefully cultivating for Urban Fieldnotes. It didn't feel like my brand. But it would have been so easy! And then I would have been done for the evening.   

I had more or less given up and started to walk back to my car when I spotted Jessi and Natalie, the subjects of last Tuesday's post. Punk but not textbook. A cool queer edge thrown into the mix. After taking their photos I got that rush of adrenaline that comes from a good interaction and a break in a photo dry spell. I headed back to R St, determined to get more pics. The ones above are a result of that adrenaline rush, a couple "pirate punks" drinking beer on the patio outside Ace of Spades. They weren't super comfortable with the shoot and squirmed a bit, but I think this shot turned out. The rest I screwed up too badly to show you. I was determined, however, not to sink into a post-photographic depression. I had to find someone else to shoot, and shoot right, and that's when I spotted Casey, the subject of last Wednesday's post, sitting at a table on the patio of the bar next door to Ace of Spades. I rudely interrupted her conversation, and got some pictures I'm proud of. Thanks, Casey, for making an off night turn out well after all. 

I have a new faith in Sacramento. There are cool people here. And there are friendly people here. It's not just an act, East Coasters, despite what you've been brought up to think. Being rude is not the same as being authentic. I will shoot here again. 

In the meantime, tomorrow I head back to Philadelphia. Look out for fresh Philly street style pics in a few days.

1 comment:

  1. Just catching up on some UFN. I really love this post Brent. Your honesty is a breath of fresh air. I have been in this very situation many many times and it can be such a rollercoaster of emotion. Your encounter with the ZZ Top man really got me. Ugh, that terrible feeling of realizing, as your are shooting someone, that you should not have done so. I have done that very same move... not saying the name of my blog then immediately deleting the photos and pretending that the event never even occured. Too funny.

    I went on an almost 3hr walk yesterday through downtown and Capitol Hill and didn't get one photo. Isn't it funny how it goes in waves?

    Keep up the good work!


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