Monday, February 10, 2014

The Exploitation of Street Style Photographers: New York Fashion Week Day Five

Today I managed to do what I hadn't done the rest of Fashion Week so far: actually take care of myself a little. I ate lunch (a first for Fashion Week Fall 2014!), I went inside a couple of times when I just couldn't take the cold anymore — I figured last night's strange tingling in my hands was not a good sign — and I allowed myself to wander in and out of shows, not bothering to wait around for the exits. I experimented with a variety of photographic techniques, from straight ups, to motion shots, to candids, and I let go of any fear that I wouldn't get the right shots of the right people in the right settings. I didn't even bother shooting any of the editors. It was lovely.

Most other street style photographers, however, don't have that luxury. They have schedules to adhere to, editors to please, style guides to follow. Want to know the most common complaint I heard from photographers at this season's Fashion Week (besides the cold)? My editor has no artistic vision. She doesn't understand juxtaposition. She has no sense of irony. She doesn't appreciated a well-composed shot. In fact, she might even have taken it upon herself to crop some of my shots herself from time to time, ruining whatever artfully composed aesthetic I had painstakingly developed. Do you know how many people I had to shove out of my way to get that shot? Do you have any idea what state my knees are in from kneeling on asphalt? Can you tell me what this strange rash is that's set in on my back? I think it has something to do with the cold. 

There are some street style photographers out there who get into street style photography for its own sake. They love the genre and are excited to document style in their own hometown or around the world. I've interviewed a number of them on this blog. But fewer and fewer photographers go into it for that reason. Now, most photographers take on street style as a way to build their brand and their name, and hence, land better gigs in the future. Street style itself seldom pays the bills. Rumor has it that Tommy Ton gets more than $100 per image from At just 10 images a day, that's $30,000 per Fashion Month, twice a year, plus whatever advertising and sponsorship deals he scores for his blog. Tommy hasn't told me that himself, so I can't verify it, but it seems believable. And for a photographer, that's not bad. But Tommy is the exception. Other well-known street style photographers will get $20-$50 per image, or get paid a grand or two for the week. Many, if not most, give their images to magazines and websites for free. Why? Because it's a way to get their names out there, and if their name is out there enough, they might top 10,000 Instagram followers, and if they top 10,000 Instagram followers, well, then maybe they can get paying gigs in the future. Or maybe not. In the era of the fashion blog, there's always someone new coming along willing to give up their content for nothing but attribution. Makes it hard for the long-time photographers to charge enough to get by on. And this is for grueling, 10-hour days, out in the bitter cold, stopping style stars, who generally would rather not be stopped and seem to have already forgotten that their reputation was built on the work of street style photographers in the first place. 

One of the most amusing things to happen so far this fashion week was when my friend, a certain street style photographer (you know who you are), who will remain nameless, posted a photo of a certain style star, who will also remain nameless, on their Instagram page. Said style star then proceeded to regram the photo on their own account. No credit was given to my friend for the photo, a phenomenon that has occurred to my friend several times with this particular style star. Well, as it happens, one of the other photographers hanging out with us was not pleased. He (oops, I let his gender slip, but then that only rules out half the population) commented on said style star's regram saying something like "My friend X took that picture and would appreciate credit." Said style star, a couple hours later, presumably recognizing their faux pas, commented on the regram with a chipper "Love this beautiful photo by the wonderful X," or something to that effect. So... the moral of the story is that street style photographers get no respect — from their editors, from the fashion industry, or from the people they photograph — unless they demand it. Such is life in the era of wageless creative labor. Damn you, Internet! Don't you realize there's no such thing as free content?

But not all street style stories are this bleak. Today I also got to hang out with — and do an interview with — a certain Yvan Rodic, AKA Facehunter. Cool guy. Looked low-key in an army coat and leather hat with earflaps. Was pretty chill to talk to. I bought him an orange juice and we chatted in the Chelsea Market. Rodic's business is based on brand-partnerships and advertising. As such, he doesn't have to sell his images and is able to take whatever he wants, work whenever he wants, and travel all over the world (50-something countries last year) on someone else's dime. Not a bad life. Plus, when he's at fashion weeks, he has no obligation to shoot anyone in particular. He wanders here and there, pulls the occasional girl aside, and does what he does, most days of the year. But jesus, does it sound exhausting! Look out for my interview with Rodic on the blog in the next couple of weeks. 


  1. It's great reading your accompanying text to the tale of the days efforts. Many people solely rely on photos to tell the story, which it often does, but with only visuals often a great deal gets lost. Also, it's reassuring to see that you think about the whole scene on a far more intellectual level than most...all hope is not lost.


    1. Thanks, Keith. Perhaps all those years of grad school amounted to something after all!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Brent,

      This post hits the nail on the head, I mean about editors cropping things, leaving not enough head room, etc. Sometimes I feel a lot of street fashion photographers aren't aware of the backgrounds they choose, composition, framing and too caught up in just catching the "style." Sometimes it's all just about the charm of someone too...

      here's some of what I do over here in Taipei! hope you like:

    2. Thanks for your comments, Sean. I checked out your site. It's good stuff. Keep on keepin' on!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.