Thursday, October 16, 2014

Urban Fieldnotes X Goorin Bros

Next Thursday, October 23, 6-8pm is the grand opening of Goorin Bros Hat Shop at 1427 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. There will be live music (Drew Nugent & the Midnight Society), drinks (Bluecoat American Dry Gin), and a "guest appearance" from Philly-based celebrity chef Brian Duffy. There will also be a gallery of my photographs, which I shot outside the Goorin Bros shop last week. The pictures in this post are a few of them.

I've been in contact with Goorin Bros for a few months now. They emailed me over the summer to pick my brain about the local fashion scene and invited me to their soft opening a few weeks back, where they outfitted me with one of their Heritage Line fedoras, and introduced me to their current CEO, Ben Goorin, heir to the Goorin Bros legacy, and fourth-generation milliner. Ben and I discussed the possibility of me doing some shots for them to post in their shop in coordination with the opening. We later discussed it again on the phone. I was interested. The idea of having a permanent display of my work, in the very location where I most commonly shoot it, was appealing. The sticking point was that I would have to feature Goorin Bros hats in each photo. Nothing against their hats. I really like them. They are well-made and have that classic Americana feel. But the idea of either A) scouting people already wearing Goorin Bros hats on the streets of Philly or B) putting their hats on the people I found seemed daunting, and highly time-consuming. It can take me several days to even find a single person to shoot sometimes. Ben wanted 8-10 subjects. I wondered if it was even possible to find enough people in the week or so I had. And I was worried too that the people I stopped might object to having their images used for marketing materials. It's one thing to be asked to be on a blog. To be asked for your photo to be printed for a gallery, posted online, and then used for God knows what marketing purpose, is a different thing entirely.
Eventually I decided, fuck it, I want to know if I can pull it off. At the very least, this would yield interesting data. I gave Ben the thumbs up and parked myself outside their Walnut Street shop last Thursday afternoon for several hours after a dentist appointment. I waited for people I found intriguing to walk by, stopped them, asked for their photo for use in the Goorin Bros opening gallery and marketing materials, then one of Goorin Bros' staff members would (temporarily) outfit them with a hat. We would find a place to shoot nearby (I didn't want to take the hats far away from the shop), then they would sign a photo release form back at the shop and be on their way.

So what did I learn from the experience? Well, a few things. First, I learned that it just wasn't that hard to sit still on Walnut Street and find cool people to shoot. It took me just over 3 hours to find 11 people. That's way better than my average. This makes me question my whole approach to scouting street style. Am I moving around too much? Am I being too picky? Am I missing all sorts of cool people passing right in front of me? I'm thinking yes, that's exactly what's happening. Second, I learned that no one—not a single person—objected in any way to having their image used in marketing materials for Goorin Bros. The last guy I stopped was an attorney, and he altered the photo release form a bit, but he was still cool with the basic concept. With Facebook and Instagram exploiting our images on a regular basis, we are all over it already. People were flattered to be stopped and more than happy to have their picture up in the shop. It was no harder to stop people for this purpose than for the blog. Finally, I learned that there is absolutely no way to tell whether a street style image is "organic" or not, i.e., whether the person featured is entirely in their own clothes, chosen and arranged by them, or whether they have been styled by someone else for the purposes of the shot. The people I photographed for Goorin Bros looked so incredibly natural in the hats we put them in, it is almost surprising they weren't wearing them before. Of course, it helps that a couple of them (like the guy below) were on their way to buy a hat from Goorin Bros when I stopped them. How much of street style photography is staged? How much of it is "real"? Is there a hard and fast set of guidelines we might use to make that distinction? Makes you wonder. In any case, I'm really happy with how my Goorin Bros shoot turned out. You'll be seeing more of my images from it in the coming week. And you can see the whole gallery of my work, printed and framed, at Goorin Bros Hat Shop starting October 23.

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