Friday, March 7, 2014

My Conversation with Yvan Rodic, Facehunter

Yvan Rodic (second from left) at a book signing party for his second Facehunter book. Originally posted on Facehunter.org
This past New York Fashion Week, I finally got a chance to catch up with Yvan Rodic, better known as the blogger/photographer behind Facehunter. We took a brief respite from the cold and grabbed an orange juice at Chelsea Market before heading over to Pier 59 to shoot more images.Below is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

Brent: How would you describe what you do?

Yvan: What I do is document individual style around the world. It’s a mix between going to fashion events, to music events, and being on the street. I try to not just focus on the fashion world, because it has become a bubble that is less and less genuine. It still has interesting energy, and it is still something to capture, but for me it’s as important, and sometimes, more exciting to take pictures of kids in Jakarta or Montevideo. The generic word [for what I do] is street style” [or] “street snap,” but I think nowadays this whole phenomenon has, mostly for commercial reasons, become “fashion week style.” Economically, it just makes more sense to spend one week at a fashion week city, get hundreds of shots, sell them to magazines, and that’s a business. If you shoot very fashion-forward kids in Bangkok or Buenos Aires, no magazine will ever buy those pictures. I mean, you might publish a book, but, just for economical reasons the whole phenomenon [has become] very fashion week-oriented, and that’s why I think it’s very exceptional and exciting to do other things as well.
Brent: Do you feel a sense of obligation to be attending the fashion weeks as well, at this point?

Yvan: It’s not an obligation, but I have mixed reasons [for doing so]. I think you can still meet interesting characters if you don’t focus on the obvious ones. I think it’s a good way to network as well. I don’t feel obligated, but it’s kind of good for my business in some ways.
Brent: How has the glut of street-style photographers out on the streets of fashion week and various fashion events around the world affected what you do?

Yvan: It’s helped me to understand that style is not just outside a fashion show. I mean, I started to do this at art events, and then on the street, and then I went to fashion shows, and there were, like, very few people doing it, and then, a lot of people started to do the same thing. Then it became kind of a turn off, because then it became kind of a red carpet situation. And, along the way with that, the brands started to notice, and they started to dress their bloggers or celebrities to go to the shows, so it became just like red carpet, where you wear [a particular designer] head to toe for a show. There’s no style involved. That made me focus on outside the fashion week world as well. That’s my devotion [now].
Brent: Well, I’ve noticed, just seeing you around fashion week the last few days, and at previous seasons as well, that you have a different style of shooting than a lot of the other people who hang out near the entrance and the exit of the show, waiting for people to get out of the cabs, you seem to be in constant motion.

Yvan: I mean, most of the other people [out here] have more of a paparazzi aesthetic. It’s more like you stand somewhere, and you capture them like animals running into [a cage]. They often try to take more candid shots, but there’s something [about that] that is kind of a turnoff for me. I think it’s more interesting to capture people who are in between [shows] and have more time with them. I’m more interested in creating a connection than just being a machine to create images.
Brent: Fair enough. Do you think that you’re looking more for the people or more for the clothes that they’re wearing?

Yvan: I think it’s both. Fashion week is obviously an exaggeration, an extreme expression of genuine style, so at the end it’s a bit more forced [than everyday life], but in general I think it’s about the people. I usually like interesting people who happen to express themselves through style as well. But they’re not just fashionistas usually. Doing fashion week, it’s a bit more [fashionistas], but if there are other options I will go with the ones who are a bit more interesting of characters, not just the girls who wear an outfit for the show.
Brent: How long does it usually take you to identify whether or not you to shoot someone?

Yvan: A few seconds.

Brent: I’m sure you get asked all the time what it is that you’re looking for in people.

Yvan: I think it’s a global package. I don’t just think it’s one thing. I think it’s about finding a person who is more than just the clothes. It’s more a personality that feels to me a bit different, who does his thing his own way. Usually it’s like everything goes together, from their hair to the way they walk, and their style. I mean, I feel like it’s not just a fashionista who is wearing clothes to a show, but it’s someone who actually has something to say and does interesting things. Actually, I mean, it sounds really odd, because how can you tell after two seconds, but obviously it’s based on my intuition, and most of the time when I take [shots of] those people I realize they are actually interesting as well. So it’s this global feeling of uniqueness.
Brent:  Is there something that you think people you shoot all have in common with one another. Do you think they come from certain kinds of occupations, certain kinds of backgrounds?

Yvan: I guess they tend to be working in creative industries, but not necessarily. For example, in Scandinavia, where style is really something that everyone is interested in, you will meet someone who’s studying science, and they will still have a really awesome style. In many countries style is still limited to the fashion industry, but overall, I would say, the majority of people have some sort of connection with something creative. And I guess I would say too, [that they tend to be] middle-class. I guess I would say it’s some kind of middle-class phenomenon, because people who are too extremely poor or extremely wealthy tend to be stuck into stereotypes. I think that middle-class kids are more into reinventing themselves and being more like “I don’t have an obligation to one type.”
Brent: Looking at a lot of your, work it seems that you focus quite a bit on cities that have an emergent middle-class right now, places like Jakarta, like you were saying, or Buenos Aires,

Yvan: Mexico City, São Paulo.

Brent: Places that have developed a middle-class over the last few years, and those cities I would think are really focused on developing a creative brand, attempting to redefine their place in the world of industry and whatnot. Where are some of your favorite places to shoot right now?

Yvan: You have places such as New York and London that are all-time classics, because they are the most cosmopolitan places, so in some ways they’re always good, but in other ways they’re less exciting, because you somehow expect you’re going to find people here. People know that New York’s always got cool stuff, but it’s almost more exciting for me and my readers to explore less-known places. For example, I was in Mexico City recently, and I think people have a really limited knowledge of what Mexico is like. They know, obviously, the beaches. But Mexico City is still considered by foreigners to be really dangerous, when in fact it’s one of the safest cities in Latin America. And it’s a really booming creative place. For me it was very meaningful to show it as well. 
Mexico City. Photo by Yvan Rodic. Originally posted on Facehunter.org
I like those very up-and-coming cities like São Paulo.  Sydney as well. I like it. I mean, it’s known, but it’s known for surfing and beach culture, and people are surprised that it actually has a very interesting style. I would also say Scandinavia in general, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden. I really enjoy shooting in Johannesburg. It’s really one of the cultural capitols of Africa. The country [of South Africa] is known for Cape Town, so a lot of people go to Cape Town, and it’s kind of like Europe in Africa. They think Johannesburg is dangerous, but actually it’s not that dangerous. And it’s so happening. And it’s interesting because it’s this hub. I mean, it’s still Africa, and there’s like a lot of elements of African culture [there], but at the same time, it’s a global city. There are a lot of international elements too. So it’s become, like, kids mixing elements. It’s really inspiring and it’s still little known. 
Johannesburg. Photo by Yvan Rodic. Originally posted on Facehunter.org
So I like those less-known places that are actually gigantic cultural hubs that the whole world ignores. [Tourists] will just go to these places for the beach, and they don’t want to think it has culture as well, or [at least] contemporary culture. It’s kind of this colonial subculture thing, where you like to travel and you like to see “primitive culture” where it’s like “they’re poor, they’re so happy, it’s nice!”  But then, if you want to see culture, just go to New York. I like Los Angeles as well. It’s much more difficult to cover, and to get around. In New York, you can just go to a few spots, get everything, go on. LA really takes time. It could be one guy on one little street. I think there are a lot of gems in Los Angeles. I think it’s partly because it’s so spread out that people are less contaminated with each other. And you’re gonna find some more sort of extreme or genuinely unique style, because [people there] just do their thing. They don’t expect to meet so many people during the day, because it’s just how it is there. I think it’s quite cool. And I don’t think that internationally people think of LA as an interesting place for style.
Brent: Yeah, I think that’s true. Especially people in New York. They can’t imagine LA would be cool.

Yvan: It takes time, for sure. It’s not like in two minutes you’re going to find a lot.

Brent:  So you’re still on a schedule of a hundred-plus cities a year right now?

Yvan: It’s like, maybe 60 different cities. I counted last year. It was a bit more than 50 countries. I’ve been to more cities actually, but then some of them, I go to maybe two or three times a year.

Brent: Is that a pace that you want to keep up?

Yvan: For now, yes. I am enjoying it a lot. It’s a way of living and discovering the world and expanding my work. [But] I guess I wouldn’t mind considering living a slightly more stable life as well. Not because I hate what I do or because I’m tired, but just because I want to explore different things in life.
Brent: Does it take a lot of time to seek out sponsorships and people willing to pay your expenses getting from here to there?

Yvan: Not really. But I’ve been doing this for quite a few years, so my name is out there. Actually I get a lot of brands who are interested in working with me, offers in different parts of the world. And besides that I get invitations. People, sometimes they’re not even an actual company, but they just like my work, and they’re ready to fly me somewhere or take care of me.  It literally doesn’t stop. Almost every day I get one. “Hey, we want you to come to Bahrain, to Australia, to Brazil, to Russia, or to Kazakhstan?” So the thing is, I position myself as someone who goes to these less-well known places, so people who live in these less-known places will be like “Oh, but he went to Kazakhstan. He can come to my country.” And then they contact me, and they’re like “Oh, but actually I know someone and maybe we can find a sponsor, or blah, blah, blah,” and they’ll arrange [it for me].[For example], Panama, a year ago. It happened that I went to Peru in January, and then this girl is who a graphic designer and owns a boutique, and kind of knows my work, emailed me and she’s like, “Hey!” She told me afterwards it was because of Peru, because she was like, ok, he went to Latin America, so why not? Then she was like, “Hey. I like what you do. Have you considered coming to Panama?” And I was like, “Why not? I’ve never been there.” And then I was like, “What would be a good reason to go there?” And she said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a fashion week or there’s a festival,” and I said, “OK. Why not?” And she said, “Oh, but actually I can try to talk to…” She wasn’t a business, but she put everything together. She helped me to have an exhibition during this festival. Then she could find a sponsor for the flight, a sponsor for exhibiting the photos, and so she, just because she liked what I do, [arranged everything for me]. And actually a lot of people are enthusiastic [in this way].
Brent: Do they put pressure on you to shoot certain kinds of things when you go?

Yvan: No, not really. I mean, no. Usually if they know my work, they know that I like diversity, and they’re not going to force me to [shoot anything in particular]. They’re not going to make me shoot their wife or something.

Brent: Was it last year that you switched from Blogspot over to NowManifest [as the platform for your blog]?

Yvan: That was in September.   

Brent: That’s a Condé Nast company. Has that impacted what you do at all?

Yvan: It doesn’t change a lot. I mean, I shoot the same way. I think it’s just A) the platform looks better, because it’s a better design, and then B) I’ve got a higher quality of advertisers. But I have the same freedom to do the same thing. I’m not forced to go or not go anywhere, so I do what I want.
Brent: What camera are you using now?

Yvan: So now it’s a Sony RX 1. It’s a compact, full-frame camera.

Brent: Uh huh. A compact full-frame. I haven’t actually seen one of those before.

Yvan: The sensor is as large as a DSLR sensor, but it’s compact.

Brent: So that’s a considerable upgrade from what you were using [previously a Canon 9, then a Canon G10 when that one broke].

Yvan: No I had the Leica [before this one]. Pricewise it’s almost the same, it’s just that the Leica is a bigger name. The one I had was a limited edition by Paul Smith. That’s a magnificent piece, but I think that lens-wise and sensor-wise this is the next level.
Brent: Why do you prefer compact cameras [instead of DLSRs like most other street style photographers use]?

Yvan: Because they allow me to have a camera [with me] 24-hours.

Brent: So you just always have it on you at any given time?

Yvan: Yeah. I mean I’m going to party all night with a camera, and this is small enough to not feel like I’m going to work. If I had a big DSLR I would be like, “OK. At some point I have to leave it at home.” And with this one it’s just part of my daily kit.

Brent: When you’re walking around on a given day, what do you take with you?

Yvan: Phone, camera. That’s it.

Brent: That’s all you need.

Yvan: Yeah.
Brent: Do you consider yourself part of a community of other street style photographers, or do you see yourself as standing more apart?

Yvan: Well, I guess I’m slightly [apart], because most of the people here [at Fashion Week] are selling pictures to magazines, and my business is very different. I make my money from working with brands. So I’m making, like, lifestyle campaigns, or digital campaigns, and that’s for me kind of a bonus, but it’s not essential. The guys who come here, they shoot here, and then all year-long they use their images [from here], and that’s kind of the big thing for them. I mean, that’s how I see it. And I think for me, because I have other projects, this is just another project. I mean it’s kind of important, because people talk about it for sure, and it’s a big gathering, but I feel, I mean, because it has become more mainstream to shoot Fashion Week, so it’s important, but that somehow it’s [just as] exciting if I go to places where I’m the only one to go there, and I’m getting a shot that [no one else is getting]. It’s differently exciting, but it doesn’t get the hype. I don’t shoot for magazines, so I think it’s slightly different [for me]. I guess I don’t have the pressure to be at every show and run after this [or that]. I just do my own thing that I like.
Brent: Do you find yourself interacting with those guys out there much?

Yvan: Not so much. No. I mean, I know many of them, but I don’t need to be part of the group outside, being a brotherhood or something.

Brent: Can you tell me the backstory about how you got involved with street style photography in the first place?

Yvan: Yeah. I started in January of 2006, when I was a copywriter in advertising in Paris, and I was a freelance writer as well. I was writing stories about new things that we’d witnessed in Paris. And then, at that time, I received my first digital camera. I used to play with cameras a long time ago —with like film cameras, developing  and stuff — but at that time, I hadn’t have a camera for a long time, and I finally got my first digital, so I just started to snap away, mostly at art openings. It meant faces at the beginning, and I felt, ok I can share these images on the net, and then after a few days, I felt like I could shoot more than just the faces and maybe do style. And then, after a few weeks, when I realized, ok maybe the pictures would be higher quality if I shoot on the streets, not just at art openings where it’s dark and there’s bad light. And then it evolved [from there]. I started to work for some magazines in Denmark and Japan. And then after one year it became my main activity.
Brent: And you’ve been doing it since then.


Yvan: But it’s mostly the last four or five years that it has become more like a proper business, because now I have an agency that represents me, and brands are very aware of what it is to work with a blogger of that talent. Working with magazines I don’t really think is that interesting. They have no money, and they ask you so much. I think it’s not worth it, the time spent versus the outcome. I think it’s good for the image when you start out, but I think at some point you’d rather do your own thing. Like now, for example, I would have to run and send every night all these images, and they [the magazine] would be like, “Oh yeah, maybe one more of something Spring, and it’s like minus 15 here.” Even if it’s street style they are going to have this very magazine-like way of thinking where they want certain things and they don’t get them. And in the end they have very tiny budgets. So, I think it’s more comfortable to have big money projects with big brands, and then have more freedom to do what I want. 
One of Yvan Rodic's shots from the Esprit Denim Exhibition in Copehagen. Originally posted on Facehunter.org

2 comments:

  1. He had quite an amazing evolution as a street-style photographer, as he is now a global photographer, my admiration to him and this great interview!

    greetings from a fashion photographer from Romania http://ro-urbnstyle.blogspot.ro

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Amaria. I have a lot of admiration for him too. It was fun meeting him.

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