Monday, September 2, 2013

Notes from the Field: The Tables are Turned

This past Friday, after a meeting on campus, I walked into Center City, stopped at La Colombe for a cup of coffee, and headed over to Walnut Street to shoot some street style. I was lingering somewhere near the Burberry store, coffee in one hand, camera in the other, when a woman with long brown hair and a floral dress walked up to me. "Excuse me," she said, as I braced myself for an activist, panhandler, or missionary, my mouth about to reflexively release the word "no." "Are you shooting street style?" Whoa! I wasn't expecting that! How did she know? Was it the full-frame Nikon DLSR with 85mm lens slapped on? Was it the plaid Ben Sherman shirt with skinny black tie? The accompanying skinny jeans and Doc Marten boots? Was it my trim professor beard and new streamlined haircut, side-parted and slicked back with Brylcreem? Or maybe the way I was leaning against the wall, scanning passersby from behind my knock-off Ray-bans? 

"Yes," I got out, finally. 

"We are too," she told me, gesturing to her partner just behind her, a man with short dark hair, a week's worth of stubble, and a black T-shirt. He was cradling a camera in his arms. 

We introduced ourselves and compared notes. It turns out they shoot the street style section of the "Style Stories Blog" for Ebay Fashion. They were in town from San Francisco for a meeting and thought they'd hit the streets for a while. They always work in a pair, I found out, with her approaching subjects, asking permission, and getting signed photo releases, and him shooting the images. They figured it must be difficult to do the "one-man act" thing that I was doing. I assured them it wasn't, though it sometimes means balancing coffee and camera in some precarious poses.

The photographer asked me how I choose my subjects. I told him that I rely on gut instinct, not trying to over-think who I'm looking for, echoing the typical response I get from other street style photographers when I ask that question, but that in general I choose people who defy type. They told me they're looking for summer styles at the moment, though they're beginning to look for fall. Since they do the "Style Stories" blog, they try to find people whose outfits "tell a complete story." That's why they stopped me. They thought I looked "sharp" with a defined look. They usually shoot women, so it's good to find a well-put-together man every once in a while. 

I accepted the compliment and was flattered in spite of myself. I've spent a fair amount of time around other street style photographers and seldom, if ever, am I asked for my photograph. But I've been wondering since then exactly what it means for one's outfit to "tell a complete story." I've heard this kind of statement before, especially from designers and merchandisers. The contestants on Project Runway are always being asked what the stories behind their outfits are. It usually amounts to something like this: "The woman I'm designing for is sassy and smart, and today she's boarding a private jet to go to the beach." Is that a complete story? Or just a couple of adjectives and a verb clause? Clearly the fashion industry's version of a complete story is different from that of a novelist. I'm guessing it means something along the lines of: her outfit sends no mixed signals. Its individual components compliment each other in a recognizable way. One can imagine her doing interesting things in such a getup and going to exciting places. 

So what kind of story does my outfit tell? I'm going to go with: Pre-tenured professor takes to the streets to find out what it's like to be a street style blogger, dresses accordingly. 

Finally, we got down to business. I signed a photo release form, and then the photographer had me stand at an angle facing him. He crouched near the curb, got off several shots in rapid succession (continuous shutter in full effect), and we were done.   


  1. @chaucee still waiting to see it myself. I'll post a link if it ever goes up on their site.

  2. oooh, plot twist! hope they post the photo.


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