Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Street Style Flâneur amidst the Fashion Week Circus: My Conversation with Gunnar Hämmerle of Style Clicker



Gunnar Hämmerle was part of the first generation of street style bloggers, a select few amateur documentarians of urban hip, who survived the initial wave of excitement for street style blogs back in the mid-'00s as well as its inevitable backlash. His Munich-based blog Style Clicker helped launch his career as a commercial photographer and made Gunnar part of an international blogging elite, jet-setting from fashion week to fashion week, photographing many of the biggest names in fashion, and partnering with a wide variety of brands. Now, Gunnar is attempting to reclaim some of the original mission of his blog. He has taken it "back to its roots," shooting for the first time in a long time in Munich itself, and focusing on "real" people on the streets, rather than pre-established style icons at fashion shows. Last week we talked via Skype about his passions as a photographer, his quest for street style authenticity, and his thoughts about what street style blogging has become. Here is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.   

Brent: I’ve noticed that your blog, Style Clicker, has undergone a major renovation recently. Your photos are now in black and white. They are portrait shots that you have to click through in order to see the full body shot. And you no longer do advertisements or post sponsored content. Can you tell me about your motivations behind the relaunch?

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
Gunnar: First of all, I felt that it was time to do something new. I had been doing the blog for almost six years, and it just felt like I needed a change somehow. I felt a lack of motivation to go on as I did before. And so there were different possibilities. I thought either of stopping the blog altogether or maybe giving it away or selling it, or, alternatively, of changing something about it so that I would have fun with it again. It was also at that time that I tried converting some of the old photos to black and white, and I found out that I really liked the effect. It was a different angle, or a different point of view for looking at fashion. In black and white, time and location is not so important. And it’s no so much about fashion anymore. It’s more about the people. I then enhanced the focus on people by posting the portrait shots first and making it so that, in order to see the full dress, you have to click on the portrait shot.

I think that for me this was a natural development. When I started the blog, I was mainly interested in the people I was photographing. I did not come from fashion. Fashion was simply the running thread of the blog, a theme that I figured many people would be interested in, and it was a way of narrowing down my focus when choosing people to shoot. Plus, it was a good excuse to shoot people I did not know in the street. So that was good.

But it was not so much that I was deeply into fashion when I started. It was through the blog that I had the opportunity to step into that world. But I saw myself with one foot in the fashion world and the other out. I was an insider, but I was also an outsider at the same time.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
Brent: And over time has that become a more difficult position to occupy?

Gunnar: Yeah. Because the competition is quite thick now. I don’t want to talk about “the good old times,” but I think that back then those blogs that really became big all had a unique way of looking at the whole topic. And they were of high quality. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been successful. I think that maybe many people these days just start street style blogs without caring so much about the quality of their pictures or the quality of who they pick. They just want to be a part of the hype. And it’s a bit strange, for example, in Paris at the runway shows now. There’s more photographers than people to shoot. It’s almost like paparazzo. Or like a war almost. And it’s not so much fun for me anymore.
However, next week I will go to Paris Fashion Week again, and try it out again, because I have not been for a while, as I was fed up with the whole situation. But now I think it might be interesting to me again because of the whole black and white thing. I don’t know if it will work or not, but I’ll see. 

Brent: And now that you have taken this new approach to your blog, do you think you’re going to be photographing different types of people at Paris Fashion Week? Will it affect how you approach taking the picture in the first place?

Gunnar: Not so much actually, because I have always picked people for my photographs by just a gut feeling. Of course, when I went to fashion weeks, it was more of the fashion people that I would shoot, because that was who were hanging out there. It’s not like that authentic, shooting people on the street thing.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
I mean, the reason I shot these people at fashion week was mainly that it became my job to do so. And so, of course I knew that I could sell more pictures to the magazines, and I make my living through that, so it was easier at the fashion weeks. People dress up [at fashion week] because they want to be photographed by as many fashion bloggers as possible. So it’s not the authenticity that was once the strength of street style blogs. That sort of went away. And I want to try to get it back again.

That’s why I now take pictures here in Munich again, which I have not done so often during the last few years, because I traveled so much. When I was at home I just didn’t feel like going out there. Now it’s sort of like I’m going back to the roots.

Brent: So after shooting fashion weeks for such a long time, and after doing so much travel for major fashion events, where the dynamic is different for taking pictures, is it difficult to go from that — where you almost have people lining up to get their picture taken — to combing the streets of Munich, being patient, and looking for those individuals who stand out? Is it hard to transition from one type of street style to the other?

Gunnar: No. I don’t think so. I mean, I like it better strolling around on the streets. I’ve always called myself a professional walker, or a flâneur, like you say in French. That actually pretty much describes what it was, from the moment at least that I set myself free from extremely wanting a picture. Now if I go out for a walk and I get a picture it’s nice, and if not, I had a nice walk.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net 
Brent: Let’s step back to the very beginning, back to 2006 when you started. First of all, what inspired you to start the blog? And how did you go about starting it?

Gunnar: I was researching for another project. We wanted to do some sort of platform where people could load up pictures of themselves or friends, a bit like LookBook. But during that research, I came across some street style blogs. There weren’t that many. There were maybe ten or twenty. And I thought, well, that’s a nice idea. I thought, I will try that in Munich. Which is not a fashion city, but for me, like I said, it was not really about fashion, and I always like to talk more about style than fashion, anyway because fashion has a connotation for me of some trend or something that is just for one season and then gone again. And I think style is more timeless. And that is more what I’m interested in.
Brent: Sure. And what was it like going out your first time to do it?

Gunnar: It was quite hard actually. I mean, the first picture was of my wife, but it was not a typical picture for my blog. I shot it with a flash at home in the cellar, and just to have it on a card to give to the people I shoot, so that it was more official. I thought that it might be a bit difficult [to get people to pose for me] because back then when you came up to people and said you wanted to take a picture of them for the internet, they immediately thought it was for porn. They didn’t know about blogs or anything like that at that time. You had to explain more what it was all about. And probably also if you are a bit shy, and I am, it’s not always so easy to stop a stranger and ask them for a photo. It’s easier now for me. Although I still have the feeling that it always depends on if you’re having a good day or a bad day. If I’m in a good mood, it’s very easy to ask people, and they will all say "yes." And if I’m in a bad mood, probably the first one is going to say “no.” I now know that I shouldn’t go out shooting when I’m not feeling good.

Brent: Before you did the relaunch of your blog you had a relatively significant amount of sponsored and paid content, and I’m just curious what your feelings and thoughts are about sponsored content on blogs.

Gunnar:  Well, I think it’s okay as long as they are marked as sponsored content. I don’t like sponsored content that, as a reader, I cannot identify as sponsored content. Actually, that is not legal [either]. But I think it’s quite common. I think it’s no problem if it’s sponsored, so long as it is content readers are interested in, and that has been my experience. I also have sponsored posts, and these posts get many “like”s on Facebook. So it’s not that readers do not like sponsored content. It’s just that they don’t like to be fooled. And they want to have content that is valuable in a way. Sponsored content should also be good content.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
Brent: Are there particular photographers, or perhaps magazines or blogs that have really influenced the way you shoot your images?

Gunnar: Well, the blog that most interested me when I started was Hel Looks. It had to be. I really liked the static way they shot their pictures. And I also liked that they did not so much pick the fashion people, more like people with a unique style. I really loved that blog. It was a major influence on me. And other photographers I also very much like. [Turn-of-the-century German photographer of everyday people] August Sander, for example, but I found out about him after I started. I mean, I had heard about him before, but I was not consciously trying to take pictures as he did. It was more that I found out that certain aspects of formality are quite similar in his photos and in the photos I take. Also, Rineke Dijkstra. I like the pictures she’s doing. It’s always the stillness and the concentration on the subject that I like about pictures of those photographers.

Brent: How important do you think it is what kind of camera or equipment street style photographers use?

Gunnar: I think that it’s good to have a good camera. I started with a point and shoot and that worked out for the beginning, but at a certain point I switched to a full-frame SLR. It’s just much better quality, and you see this in the pictures. Now all the street style photographers have very good equipment, so it’s almost not possible anymore to go out there with a point and shoot and compete with the other ones. Actually, I have now downgraded, to a camera that is still high quality, but not full-frame, because full-frame is always so heavy, and I didn’t like to have it with me all the time. It’s a Fuji X-Pro 1, which is a very great camera in terms of image quality. It’s almost like a SLR.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
Brent: What kind of lens do you prefer to use?

Gunnar: For a 35mm camera, I prefer a 50mm lens, the normal focal length, which is most like the way the human eye perceives the world.

Brent: Do you use the same camera for both street style work and professional work?

Gunnar: No. For professional work I use a Nikon D800, and when it’s necessary, a medium format. The Fuji’s more for the streets.

Brent: Do you think people react to you differently when you’re using a smaller camera?

Gunnar: Yeah, I think so. Because the other camera is quite big, I think it’s better to have a smaller one [for street style]. It gives you a larger sense of intimacy. But maybe for jobs it’s the other way around. It has to be a certain size before people respect the professional work.

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net
Brent: So how did you get involved with commercial work? Did people contact you through the blog? Or were you seeking them out?

Gunnar: Usually it was through the blog. I would be contacted by PR agencies asking to do projects for their clients. It was a bit of a mixture of everything. Sometimes it was  exhibitions or it was photo shoots. All different kinds of things. And that was very good, because I didn’t have to acquire clients. They just came through the blog.

But it was also a major step [in a different direction] that I did a relaunch that makes the blog, let’s say, very uninteresting for the industry. There’s no space for advertising anymore. I just think that the peak of the whole blog thing is over. Now it’s more of an industry. There are many many people doing it, and of course it will not go away anymore. I’m sure about that. It’s just a different channel of communication for fashion. But it’s not avant garde anymore. I think it will be harder also for people doing blogs to make a living. And I think it’s good for the bloggers to be thinking  about what else they can do.

That was one of the reasons I did the relaunch. I took stock of my situation and thought, “Okay I will concentrate on my photography and use the blog mainly as part of my portfolio.” It’s not so much about having banners on the blog anymore. It’s simply not that much money you make through banners. I mean, unless you’re very very big. You have to be The Sartorialist to get rich through that.
Brent: How long was it before you were able to quit your day job and make photography your full-time occupation?

Gunnar: I think when I started it was about one and a half years before it really became a job. And I was quite lucky. First of all, there was not so many competitors out there, and then I had a collaboration with Condé Nast for their digital formats in Germany, and I supplied them with pictures for GQ and Glamour and Vogue. That made it possible for me to travel so much. I had a fixed stipend every month and could go to different cities, and through that it became a job in a way.

Brent: So what do you see the future of street style photography being? Or is there a future, after what you said?
Gunnar: Well, I think it’s much more commercial. And that’s okay. I think the fashion industry took the right steps to gain control over the fashion bloggers. When it all started it was something that was of out of the control of the industry, and I think now they are back in control. That’s why I think that it’s not so free anymore, and it’s not so authentic as it was in the beginning.

Nonetheless, I still love the possibilities that blogging gives you. And I think it’s just a great thing. You can reach the whole world with your work. You don’t need any big investment or anything like that. You can just start something, and blog about something that you are passionate about. That is a great thing. Most of the succesful bloggers, they started out of passion. Now a lot of the younger bloggers just want to have fame, and that’s their main preoccupation. I don’t think that will work. So, yeah, blogging is great, but it should be passionate.  

Image by Gunnar Hämmerle. Posted originally on Styleclicker.net

1 comment:

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