Transitioning — The Contrasting Aspects of Street and Fashion Photography
There appears to be a direct line between shooting people on the street and eventually shooting models from a catwalk. The transition of a street photographer into fashion photography is a well traversed path.
Many of the classic shooters of street photography were later commissioned by such luminaries of the fashion world as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. William Klein and Saul Reiter are two of the big hitters to have succeeded in both fields, and they offer reassurance and inspiration to my ambitions.
Knowing I have gained transferable skills shooting street — that you photograph people is an obvious starting point — is useful, but the differences are remarkable. As a street photographer I aimed to be stealth and hidden from the crowd. Shoot and move. Look for the natural scene, not one contrived on moodboards. One or two frames per moment. If the subject has not clocked, then I would reframe for a few shots more.
On the streets I am not a pretty sight. Between shots I snarl and grimace and wave my camera above my head. All the things I should not do to remain inconspicuous, but I feel the aggression to shoot people off guard.
People have shouted at me and I have received all sorts of stares and dirty looks for pointing my camera at their direction. I feel hardened by the streets and have come to understand the tough nature of photography. The fashion industry too can be brutally honest. Rejection is high, but that is the nature of the beast. The idea is to produce images that wow, which is only possible through diligent rigour.
Yet the joys of shooting street are unbound. Fashion photography has a level of satisfaction unmatchable when you get it right. It is full of contradictory beauty, controversy, an indisputable art form. Some may find it contrived; for me it is freedom to create and to soften my approach.
Street photography can take on multiple forms. Bill Cunningham, the celebrated photographer for the New York Times, pioneered street style as an off shoot. Photographing celebrities and the stylish New York public alike, the theme always was to capture the essence and emerging patterns on the streets of the great city. He did so with gentle charm and tenderness.
Shooting fashion I must to be vocal and to interact fully with my subject. Without this interaction, everything is static, and you risk losing the model’s engagement. Dancing with the model means I have a high shot count, counting upwards of twenty frames per pose. I don't shout to myself or the model, I don't ignore them immediately after catching their photograph, or ignore their attention on me — fuck off, I've got the shot already.
No, I am much gentler than this with a model. The trick is to capture emotion and being aggressive is not conducive to the emotions I want to capture in a shoot.
I trained my eye for hours staring at buildings, counting windows for symmetry or finding the correct composition within an uneven cityscape. I have wondered all sorts of locations and have an ongoing list of places to take models, without ever needing a studio. Shooting people, I know when they are comfortable or inhibited, and know how to capture people with their guard down. The years I practiced shooting street photography I believe will see me in good stead.