Fashion

Street style photographers reveal what it really takes to be a fashion star

Posted by
Billie Bhatia
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In a sea of people attending fashion shows, how do we stand out? Here, three street style photographers reveal what they really want to shoot.

Back in February, I wrote an article about how street style had lost its authenticity. The lack of diversity was not just offensive – it also negated the entire idea of street style. I went in, hard, because I was disappointed in the photographers and the system. We were seeing the most diverse catwalks to date and yet the images from the street were so distinctly different that they were almost entirely homogenised.

So, when it came to the beginning of this fashion month, I wondered whether anything would have changed – and whether my love of street style could be resurrected. This time, though, I wanted to hear from the photographers. I wanted to give them a platform to have their say, so that I could better understand how they decide who, and who not, to shoot. 

Most of all, though, I wanted to ask them how they see street style progressing, what lured them into it in the first place and do they think it will it ever be diverse? 

This is what they had to say.

The Newcomer: Moeez Ali 

For street style photographer Moeez Ali, who is fast becoming my favourite snapper, his introduction to street style came almost by accident. Hailing from Bahrain, Moeez began his career at Formula One before moving to New York to work in tech. It wasn’t until he and a friend set up the fashion app Comb – a sort of Pinterest for Gen Z – that he was thrown into the fashion world.

The app required him to familiarise himself with influencers, but it wasn’t until he found himself at a Topshop show two years ago when a friend shoved a camera into his hand and yelled ‘Shoot!’ that he entered the realm of street style photography.

Unlike our other interviewees, Moeez had no formal training in photography, instead teaching himself the ropes. It wasn’t until a picture he took of Olivia Palermo went viral that Moeez was really put on the map. Here he talks about what makes the cut for his pictures. 

If you don’t recognise the show-goer, if they aren’t a celebrity or an Instagrammer, will you still shoot them?

I get a lot of messages from people on Instagram who say that they enjoy the fact that I post a lot of unknown people, even if it means that I can’t tag them or anything. It’s nice to see new faces. For me, the clothes come first and then the person.

As someone who has come into the industry as the diversity conversation has really come to light, have you seen an influx in diversity?

In my experience, photographers shoot based on either a shot list or direction. I don’t think anyone means to discriminate consciously: they just shoot what they see and what they like. But it’s a vicious circle: do Prada or JW Anderson make clothes for anyone other than a certain type of people? The answer is no.

Similarly, are those diverse in race, size and age invited to the shows? No, they’re not. And why aren’t they invited to the shows? Well, how many women of colour are in senior positions at magazines or retailers or brands or whatever? There aren’t that many, so it’s just a vicious cycle of shooting what is there.

So, if you aren’t seeking out well-known people, what do you shoot?

Often I will be given a shot list of items that a brand is particularly focused on selling like a type of shoe or bag, whether that be a Prada bag or a Balenciaga trainer or something along those lines. I really don’t like when someone wears a full look of a brand because it’s not original. They aren’t showing a consumer how to take an aspect of a brand and make it their own. This is the reason I really don’t like shooting in Milan!

Street style photography is fast becoming an oversaturated market. Coming into the game quite recently, have you faced any adversity?

You have friends who are street style photographers, but no one really trusts each other because there are so few jobs going around that everybody wants to guard what they have. Street style has definitely grown at least in the last two years, with more and more photographers. Aspiring photographers have seen how accessible it is – you can literally go to any fashion week and stand outside and take pictures. This also makes the streets crowded and there is a sort of unwritten rule of hierarchy that can be particularly tricky to navigate.

Who are your favourite people to shoot?

I really enjoy shooting people who have clearly put their own stamp on the outfit they’re wearing. I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures from the Fendi show, but… well, even for someone who is not in fashion, like me, I was embarrassed because it’s just too much. That’s not inspirational. It looks like the Fendi store threw up on them.

I love shooting Anna Vitiello, because she always puts her own twist on fashion and it’s very unique to her: I don’t really see the way she dresses on many other people. There’s also a Greek blogger called Zina, who I think has really incredible style. And Bettina Looney. Oh, and I also really love the two girls from The Attico!

In terms of photographers, who do you think is spearheading street style?

Adam Katz. As a photographer, I would say he’s in a league of his own… or at least in a very small league. I don’t know anyone who sees things the way he does and so I’m definitely influenced by him. 

The Seasoned Professional: Kirstin Sinclair 

After completing her degree in fine art photography, Kirstin started working in street style as an assistant. However, she didn’t start shooting her own images until 2005.

Now a seasoned regular at shows, Kirstin shoots for her website and Getty Images, as well as the likes of Chanel, Diesel, Harrods and Louis Vuitton. She published A Front Row Seat in 2011, a book documenting some of her most accomplished street style photographs. 

Why did you want to become a street style photographer?

When I started in photography I was searching for images that displayed style and individuality – those were the elements that really fascinated me. Style can give someone a strong sense of identity, it’s your way of saying who you are to the world without using words. That doesn’t mean you have to have the most expensive clothes and the perfect figure. For me, street style photography keeps you so far ahead because what you see unfold over the course of the season is ultimately what people will be wearing over the next six months.

After the past two or three years we have seen a huge shift in street style, a sense that photographers are chasing names and brands as opposed to authentic street style. How have things changed under your lens?

There feels like a more concerted effort for diversity in street style because it has really been brought to media attention that it wasn’t looking that way. The main trigger, though, was social media. Influencers were allowing their followers, and therefore more people, inside the industry and it just exploded… it’s a new generation. Brands are collaborating with these people because their reach is so wide and varied. In terms of photographers, there are just so many more of us. This can be an annoyance because you see a great person in the crowd, but then trying to get to them, as well as finding an amazing and creative way to shoot them, is becoming a real challenge.

Do you think photographers are just shooting influencers because they know they have a big following?

There is obviously an element of that, but it also depends what brief is given from the client. Some clients will want you just to shoot Instagram girls and you are bound by their briefs. I can only speak from my situation, where there is a concerted effort to create much more diverse content. When I shoot street style now my photos are always styled with an interesting new look, with different shapes and ethnicities.

Do you focus on pieces that you know are popular on the street style circuit, like Balenciaga trainers and Gucci bags, because these are the images likely to be picked up?

There is always going to be a few brands where people want to see what the latest styles and trends for wearing them are. The scenes I try to avoid are the head-to-toe in a brand. When they mix and match the brands and high-end with the vintage and the high street, you know somebody can truly put a look together – those are the people who are not scared to play around. Someone who is happy to experiment with shape, colour, texture – that is what I want to shoot.

We are finally seeing progress in the diversity of street style, but what do you want to see happen next?

I think it would be good if street style got a bit more recognition for the skill it takes. We are often confused for paparazzi and there is a huge difference. Paparazzi are there just to get a shot of a celebrity, we are photographing a sense of style, taking a picture that sells the clothes, not the person in them. The street style photographers I know have been talking for a long time about a street style committee or street style group to initiate a proper movement. It would be great if street style got its own voice. 

Who are your favourite people to photograph? 

I love Adwoa [Aboah], I think she is so cool, and Vivienne Westwood always brings something special. Caroline Issa is forever stylish, as is Susie Lau, who mixes colour and texture like no other. 

The One Who Wanted Out: Victoria Adamson 

Victoria Adamson is a well-known and respected name in the street style world. She started her career in 2007 and went on to shoot for global magazines and digital platforms. Victoria was the first person who made me feel comfortable in front of a lens, partly because she is one of the only street style photographers who actually talks to her subjects. 

After a decade in the game, though, Victoria decided she wanted to focus on editorial work, stepping away from the street style circuit last season. 

How and why did you start shooting street style?

I started working after university with Anthea Simms, and part of my assisting role was to go out and shoot street style. It wasn’t something I ever thought about doing before, so I kind of got into it through  being told to get into it.

What did you like about street style?

I liked the fact that I could just go and find people that I felt looked good and interesting – things that appealed to me. I always tried to find people who were more vintage and a bit quirky, because those are things that I liked. By the time I left Anthea and went out on my own, I knew this was not really for me anymore. By 2013, maybe even 2012, I felt a shift happen when people started reaching out to me saying, “I want you to get this girl and this girl, and this influencer, and this person.” It became less raw, less about finding the people who appeal to you and more about making sure you run to the It girls.

How do you feel the landscape has changed for photographers?

It has just gotten so competitive, which is why I actively decided to step out. I also feel it is actually now too dangerous, which sounds really silly, but I have been pushed over and no one helped me up. I have been smacked in the face, and pushed, and shoved. That is not what I signed up for.

When you initially started, what did you look for in a subject?

It was always people who had really good personal style. I suppose, although I didn’t know much about brands anyway, I used to see things that were less brand-led as well. There were less people who had been paid to wear head-to-toe labels. 

What would you not shoot?

When someone is obviously wearing something that just isn’t their style. When you see that person and it’s just so obvious that they have been paid a lot of money to wear something, and you are like, ‘That is so not your style.’ That’s when I think I am just not shooting that. And there are also things I would not shoot because it’s not my aesthetic. For me, it’s personal preference.

Do you think it’s possible to build a brand in street style, to build your own aesthetic?

I think it used to be. I don’t think it is anymore. Maybe a few people have managed to do it through the way they shoot. But I feel it depends on whether you are trying to make money off the back of it, I suppose, and how much you want to make. Those people who are really specific about what they shoot and have a very distinct look, they are going to shoot maybe a couple of people a day who suit that aesthetic. And that’s probably because they know someone is going to buy those pictures.

Would you shoot someone you didn’t recognise or who was not a known name in the industry?

When I used to do Style Hunter, that’s pretty much what I had to do. Just wander around and shoot people who I thought looked interesting, wearing an outfit that I found could translate to people. This trained my eye for finding interesting things as opposed to changing names.

Why did you leave street style?

It was never what I wanted to do and it helped my decision-making when the way we shoot changed so much. It’s like a sport now, the guys running and jumping over things to get a shot, pushing people, shoving people. I just didn’t really want to be part of it anymore. If everyone is getting the same photo, it’s absolutely depressing and boring. Also, so many photographers now piggy-back onto your shot. Sometimes you have 50 or even 100 people behind you and everyone is just taking the same picture. That isn’t interesting, is it?

What do you think the future of street style is?

I just wonder how long it can go on for because it is such a circus and it is isn’t monitored, so the crowds can just grow and grow. Maybe they will have to bring in permits for photographers. There is so much goodness in street style, you just don’t want it to get drowned out. 

Images: Instagram and Getty

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Billie Bhatia

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