Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Philadelphia Street Style: Richie, Sansom St

How do you recognize that someone is stylish? Is it an objective characteristic, observable by a diverse audience? Or it is a purely subjective characterization, assigned by the onlooker? Is street style a catalog of a city's diverse looks, or a highly selective representation, based on the individual tastes and idiosyncrasies of a specific photographer? And if it is the latter - and, let's face it, it almost certainly is - how does a photographer even know who fits their tastes and idiosyncrasies? What does it mean for a photographer to isolate an individual as someone who represents who they are as a photographer? 

Those were questions on my mind while out shooting on Monday. I hadn't been out in a while. I've had conferences to attend and papers to write. And I found myself over-thinking who belongs on Urban Fieldnotes and who doesn't. Over-thinking, any street style photographer will tell you, is the kiss of death. You miss shots. You second-guess yourself. You get frozen with indecision. Style radars work best on instinct. You have to let your mind go and let them do their thing.

But when they are doing their thing effectively, what exactly are they doing? Are they calculating all sorts of aspects of who a person is below our conscious attention? Are they weighing the relative risk involved with approaching a person? Are they picking up on all sorts of subtle bodily cues about what kind of person stands before us? Or are they operating with far less logic than that, seeking out some palpable but ineffable quality that connects a photographer with their subject in some indescribable way? I don't know. But every street style photographer I've talked to has told me they know who they want to shoot in an instant. It takes, they claim, only a fraction of a second. Knowing someone is stylish in just the right way is experienced as an immediate sensation. 

So what is it about Richie that led me to pick him out on Monday, after two hours of wandering around Center City, trying to talk myself into shooting various people? I can't say for sure. I know I wanted some edge back in my shots. I know I tend to be drawn to tattoos. I know I liked his patchwork tanktop and caesar haircut. But I didn't calculate any of those things. It took two hours, but I finally — more or less — let my mind go, and this is who my style radar picked out when I did. Is he Urban Fieldnotes material? Well, all I can tell you is that he is today. 


  1. i think he's so striking! also chilly haha.

    as someone who is still trying to define my own personal style and quantify what i'm drawn to, i feel the questions you pose are similar to those i ask myself. (especially when buying my 99th striped shirt. oy.)

    the two sides of a coin: the wearer, ideally feeling comfortable/awesome in what they have chosen, and the viewer, who ideally reinforces those feelings.

    1. sorry, that sounds egotistical. i mean to say the viewer hopefully enjoys the outfit like the wearer- that it provides a similar 'lift'


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