Friday, August 14, 2015

Old School Philly Street Style: Jovan, 16th St

Shooting street style at the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men's last month, I found myself thinking about how innovations in digital photographic technology have impacted the aesthetics of street style photography. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the standard convention for street style photography was what i-D Magazine founder Terry Jones dubbed "the straight up": a single figure stood centered in the frame, a minimum of space above and below her, arms resting limply at her sides, and no discernible expression on her face. The photos were like mug shots, or perhaps more accurately, early anthropological field photos. There was a documentary impulse behind these photos. But there was also an economic incentive. Film was expensive, and straight-ups were easy to take without wasting too many frames. Photographer Steve Johnston, the man behind the lens of i-D's earliest images, was on the dole. He had little money for film and used no more than two frames for each subject he shot.

Street style photographers today face no such limitations.Armed with high-end full frame DSLRs like the Nikon D4 and Canon EOS 1D, they shoot off 12 frames per second without accruing any additional costs. Street style photography has become a compendium of candid action shots of fashion industry moguls exiting runway shows. Photographers run ahead of their subjects, kneel down on the pavement before them, and shoot off as many frames as their cameras will allow. Street style photography has become a competitive sport, a fitting result perhaps of so many photographers shooting with cameras designed for sports journalists.When I am at Fashion Week, I shoot largely the same way: rapid-fire candids of style icons in motion. Only, my camera maxes out at 5 frames per second, so I lose a lot of the shots others get. It gets frustrating. And also a little boring.

I have gotten sick of the machine-gun pace of fashion week street photography, and I have decided to experiment with a different tack: slow street style photography. I want to teach myself to shoot the way old school street style photographers like Amy Arbus and Steve Johnston did, with a film SLR, taking just a few frames for each person. The idea is to take the time to compose and correctly expose each shot, to get the image I want in camera, rather than having to mess with it afterwards. 
So a couple of weeks back, I picked up an old Nikon F4 film camera off eBay and a few roles of Kodak Tri-X black and white film from B&H. I haven't shot with film in years, but it's been fun taking it on again. It has slowed my whole process down. Now that each shot is a limited resource, I have to make sure each one counts. And I don't get to see what I've got until the film gets developed! No more making adjustments to the exposure until I get a shot right. I'm just gonna have to know my shit right from the start. I'm memorizing exposure charts. I'm going as manual as it gets. I'll report back to you about how it all goes. In the meantime, here is a low-resolution scan of the first street style shot I got with my new analogue camera. I will be posting plenty more in the coming days.  

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