Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Does the Fashion World Still Have an Outside? — My Conversation with Yael Sloma of The Streets Walker





Yael Sloma is an Israeli journalist and photographer and the blogger behind The Streets Walker, a street fashion blog documenting the everyday looks of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem's most stylish residents. She's been doing street fashion blogging since 2007, several decades in blogging years, and long enough to have seen some pretty significant changes in the street style blogosphere. We spoke about these changes, and her experiences blogging, via Skype last week. The following is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Brent: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about how and why you started The Streets Walker.

Yael: It’s a good question, since it’s been such a long time that I’ve been running this blog. I was traveling to London for a few weeks, and I remember the feeling of how surprised I was to see such amazing clothing, so unique and creative, that everyone was wearing. I had been living all my life in Tel Aviv, and when it is close to you, you cannot see it. So, I went to London, and suddenly I saw all of these amazing, creative, interesting people, and I took my camera. I had never taken photographs before, actually. It wasn’t a thing I do. I was writing in a newspaper as a journalist. I was not taking photographs. Anyway, I took my tourist camera, a really simple pocket camera, and I started taking pictures secretly of these people in the street that I was interested in. And it was just as an inspiration for me. I didn’t publish these photos.

When I came back to Israel I decided I would like to do the same sort of thing in the place I live, taking pictures of people that I find interesting or inspiring for me. I understood, however, that I cannot do it secretly anymore, behind the wall, or behind a trash can and stuff like this, and when I did it properly, when I asked people to take their photos, I thought, “Oh yeah, I can publish that, like in a blog or something.” It was casual. I just [started] it one day, and it was like, “Oh shoot! I need a name for the blog. So okay, I walk in the street. It would be funny to call it ‘street walker.’” I didn’t think about it a lot. It was really spontaneous. And I didn’t get the impact street fashion or street fashion blogs might have.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: When was it that you started the blog?

Yael: That was about five and a half years ago in March, 2007. I remember that after I started my blog, my partner said to me, “Oh I wonder how many people have visited this blog,” and I turned to him and said, “Just me and you.” I didn’t even think about it. Then, one week after, I discovered that there were around 150 people a day looking at the blog. Which today, of course, is nothing, but one week after I started the blog it was for me quite a lot. And I was wondering, “Why would people want to see what I’m doing? Why are they interested in it?” It was quite shocking.

Brent: And what struck you as unique or different about fashion in Tel Aviv, as opposed to London?

Yael: I feel that Tel Aviv is much more easy going, much more natural. Putting a lot of effort into your clothing or make up or whatever — at least in a way that people can see — is not a good thing there, and that contradicts the way they feel about fashion in Paris or London or New York. You won’t see girls in high heels or girls wearing a lot of make up in Tel Aviv. It is not common there, and actually I really like it [that way]. I think it is a much more reasonable way of thinking about fashion.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: Do you think that street styles have changed a lot since then, or at least, the kinds of blogs that document them have changed a lot since then?

Yael: Yes, both of them.

Brent: In what sense?

Yael: Let’s take it in two parts. First of all, the blogs. For a long time, photographers have been interested in the people in the street. For example, August Sander was taking pictures of people by their occupation at the beginning of the 20th Century.It was part of the New Objectivity movement in photography. If you were to look at them today, you would still find it interesting to examine how different they are in what they wear. The chef was dressed quite differently than the shoemaker, etc, etc. Then later there were a number of photographers who were documenting people in the streets of New York. It’s only when we come to the last ten years or so, for example, with Fruits[in 2001] and Hel Looks [started in 2005], that it starts to be much more about unique people, creative things, crazy combinations, and colorful outfits.

And today, I think the most successful blogs have a completely different attitude towards street fashion. It is more about editors and fashion journalists, and models off duty, and what these kinds of people, who are connected to the industry, are wearing in their daily life.

Image by Yael Sloma.
Brent: Where do you feel that your own blog has gone in regards to that? Are you trying to stay true to the older model of street style or is it sort of joining in on the street fashion front?

Yael: I hope none of those, actually. My interest is in people in the streets. Not necessarily ones that are connected to the fashion industry. People that I find are dressed nicely, but not in too extravagant a way. Actually, I’m not interested in fashion, in that sense, but only in the kind that is really simple, like when they take a pair of black paints and a white T-shirt and make it good. When they have a unique posture, or something that is really simple but makes them a bit sharper. But I’m not interested in this hugely avant garde point of view about fashion.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: So kind of a documentary perspective on what people are actually wearing out there?

Yael: Yes, but the ones that I describe as good examples.

Brent: What do you hope your readers get out of looking at your blog?

Yael: Inspiration and confidence. Since I feel that nowadays the discussion about fashion is not actually about fashion but about trends. It is about what is necessary to have this season, what is this season’s colors and fits and if this season is about this or about that, and then encouraging you to go out and buy those things. And in my opinion, this is not fashion. Fashion is the daily battle to be innovative with your quite small wardrobe. And I hope that I bring people to be satisfied with the clothing they have, to have a smart and small wardrobe that will be very useful, and to have their own specific individual taste, rather than chasing after this season’s trends.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: So when you are out on the streets looking for people to shoot, do you have in your mind a set of things that you’re looking for? How do you determine whether someone’s right for your blog?

Yael: I don’t know. I don’t determine these things [in advance]. It’s only when I see someone that I know he is right.  Only afterwards can I try to understand why I found him interesting.  Perhaps the clothes are quite classic, and they sit well, and there is a good combination of colors and fabrics, and a good fit, and it’s also about the atmosphere. How this person is walking. How he is looking. I really feel that fashion is just about how you represent yourself. And you don’t represent yourself only by clothing, but also by your body language.

Image by Yael Sloma 
Brent: Do you think you notice body language before you notice what people are wearing?

Yael: Many times I do. I find it many times that what people are wearing is okay, but the way they hold their body, the way they smoke their cigarette or drink their coffee, or just walk the street, or even stand at the traffic light, is so chic. And I take their photo, and it is about that.


Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: And how often would you say that people turn you down?

Yael: It depends on which city, or where inside a city. For example, until two months ago, I was living in Jerusalem, and over there, when I was taking photographs in the area where I study, almost no one, maybe one percent, would say no. But if I would ask it in the other neighborhoods of the city, like the city center, it would happen. Or here — I’m living in Frankfurt for a few months — more people turn me down, for example, than they do in Berlin. In Berlin I don’t think anyone has ever said no.

Brent: Have you noticed any change since you’ve been doing this in people turning you down? I mean, I imagine in 2007 fewer people were aware of what a street style blog was, right?

Yael: Yes. And now maybe they are too aware. People are more aware of the fact that they might be documented, not only by street fashion photographers, but also for Facebook, as if it were the proof that they are alive and having fun or whatever. So people expect that more, and prepare for that more.

Image by Yael Sloma.
Brent: So is it getting more difficult to get candid pictures of people then?

Yael: I feel maybe it is less real. But it might only be my disappointment at the way things have developed. I am disappointed. I won’t tell you that I’m not. I had so many hopes that things would develop differently. And not in a manner of my work or my career, in the manner of my ideology, and the way I thought about street fashion in the beginning.

Brent: So how are you feeling about street fashion these days?

Yael: Just another part of the fashion industry. When I began the blog I thought that it would give another point of view about fashion, a more relaxed and more reasonable one, in my opinion, and a more positive one, and in the end, I don’t feel that it happened, not in the way I hoped it would. Street fashion is now just a part of magazines and the industry.  There are good aspects of it. I won’t say there aren’t. But it is completely inside of it now. We don’t have the outside point of view anymore.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: And do you feel that you too have become part of the fashion industry through this?

Yael: Yes and no. I’ve been working for fashion magazines, and yes I’ve been to fashion shows and presentations, but I do hope to stay somehow out of it. I hope to have a bit of an outsider look on how people are dressed. I don’t think it would be healthy for my blog to have more of an insider point of view.

Brent: Do you think that outsider point of view that you represent is in fact appealing to the fashion industry itself? Is that part of the appeal of street style bloggers?

Yael: Of course, and because of that they became insiders. Therefore, it is self-problematic.

Brent: That exact issue is one at the crux of my research, this navigating of the insider-outsider position.

Yael: Yeah, it is just part of the old capitalistic world. We have no chance to rebel anymore, since any rebellion will be so sexy that someone will just appropriate it. So this is what happened also here.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: Speaking of capitalism, what are your policies about potential sponsors or advertisers on your blog.

Yael: Basically, it is really clear in my opinion. If there is advertisement, it shouldn’t be part of the content. There is no way I would write a sponsored post. If it is an advertisement, it is in the right column or in between the post in a way that it will be clear that this is advertisement and this is not. Just as it is in newspapers. I am, after all, still a journalist.

Brent: Do you think blogging impacted your career as a journalist in any way?

Yael: Yes. I was a reporter more of news, politics, army, and stuff like that. I was Editor in the news section of the website of the newspaper Maariv, so I was really into news and politics, and well, my blog is quite a different subject. So suddenly in addition to my work as an editor of news, I started writing about fashion and taking photographs of people, and afterwards I continued writing about design and culture, so it’s a bit shifted my interest when it comes to journalism, and also, in addition to the fact that I write, I started taking photos.

Image by Yael Sloma. 
Brent: What kind of camera are you using these days?

Yael: Canon Eos 5D Mark II.

Brent: Is there a preferred lens you tend to use?

Yael: 50mm fix.

Brent: Seems like that’s a relatively common combination. A good one.

Yael: Yeah, I think it’s the most objective [one]. 50mm fixed gives you the closest perspective to the way you see in reality. And when it comes to street fashion, one of the purposes is to look objective, like it’s happened. It was. It was not a fashion production, an editorial in Vogue or something. Everything is real. And maybe the 50mm allows this kind of feeling, that it is real. It is in reality.

Image by Yael Sloma.

1 comment:

  1. I just had to comment because I enjoyed this interview so much! I really liked Yael's focus on real life fashion and trying to remain objective and outside of the industry of the subjective. I also loved her photos. They seem almost to glow with life.

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