Street Style: Scott Schuman’s Search for Grace

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photos by Scott Schuman from The Sartorialist

Street style is one way you could define the focus of photographer/blogger Scott Schuman.

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Scott Schuman by Neal Agustin

He presents his photography on his fashion blog, The Sartorialist and has two books out featuring his work. But it’s not just prowling the streets for people who dress with style – there’s something more intimate there as well. He’s on a quest to capture that moment when the inner spirit is somehow revealed. What strikes me about his best work is how much his subject’s personality shines through.

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I suppose I should add that while I’m not into fashion, I appreciate it – I notice people with a sense of style or who have a flair for presentation. Months ago I watched a documentary about street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. While I enjoyed the documentary and he was a worthy subject, he was quite taken with clothes and accessories themselves and that’s what he searched for. Scott Schuman finds something deeper than fashion.

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If street style means more than clothes and accessories for Scott, then what is it? He explains in an interview in Harper’s Bazaar

The only thing I can say that seems to be the thread that runs through all of them is some kind of physical grace. In that sense, it’s very different for each person — some men are very manly, some are more feminine. Some women are more removed, quiet and in a shell, in a way that can be very beautiful. Some are more outgoing. But they all just have some physicality about them that’s not just the clothes, but also the way they hold themselves.

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I also like his work because there’s a sense of romance and mystery captured in his images of street style. In his framing and sense of composition – in what’s revealed and what’s abstracted – his images become transformed into portraits. That’s why his work is so fascinating, he plucks people out of their daily lives and places them before you in a revealing moment as if caught in the blink of an eye. Again, from the Harper’s Bazaar interview:

I don’t necessarily get to know the people that I shoot. I shoot them from a distance and see them in the imaginary way that I see them. It’s a dream of who these people are… I’d rather have that mystery.

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I’m always drawn to works that open a window into your imagination – it’s the way the photographer or artist draws you into an image that is so appealing.  When everything about the image – the background, the composition, the framing and the lighting serves the subject and reveals some of that inner spirit or emotion – that’s when I get interested in the work. Here’s a bit from another interview where Scott is asked what makes a photo iconic:

 At the end of the day, I think what really creates a strong image is something that doesn’t tell a story but starts a story. So if someone looks at it they are already creating their own ideas, their own images and their own thoughts about the photograph. I think if it tells too much it doesn’t leave room for imagination.

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A while ago Intel launched a series about The Visual Life. I wrote about it briefly in an earlier blog post, but didn’t dwell on Scott’s approach to capturing street style. Here’s the video, which I think does a great job of emphasizing the photographer’s quest and the power of the visual moment. It’s also beautifully shot.

One last insight: here’s how Scott describes his journey into photography, from his introduction to The Sartorialist: Closer

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Scott Schuman by Neal Agustin

I’ve always felt like an outsider… I developed a sense of distance and isolation from people. This didn’t affect me in a negative way – I actually became more curious about people. I wasn’t interested in knowing facts about them, but in creating my own vision of how I thought they might be. This emotional distance was at the core of my development as a photographer.

That emotional distance is there in his imagery too, since you can go back and look at the images as just fascinating objects who happen to be people well-posed. I realize his work won’t appeal to everyone. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

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About Dan Bailes

As a writer and storyteller I explore the creative process and how we understand ourselves and our place in the world. For my blog, The Vision Thing, I write on creativity, innovation and vision – with a focus on pathfinders and the inspirational moment. I also consult and write for clients, play drums in a blues band, practice yoga and enjoy photography.
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4 Responses to Street Style: Scott Schuman’s Search for Grace

  1. Brendan Bailes says:

    This guy is great… didn’t know of him before.

    It immediately calls to mind the work of another similar artist, the HONY guy:

    http://www.humansofnewyork.com/

    He sometimes/often adds a touch of context to his photos, with one or more short Q&As (adding a great deal of fodder for imagination with just minor additions).

  2. Corey Petree says:

    Thanks, again, Dan. I love the idea of a blog like his being a digital park bench for people watching. Formal training vs. being self-taught is also really intriguing. Great musical partnerships are often made of one person with formal training and one led by the ideas they’ve discovered as they’ve taught themselves. In a sense, everything that has ever been learned and taught was at first self-taught by the first person to discover an idea, right? Another thing one must do with formal training at a certain point is to forget it – not be distracted by it – and follow a muse like the self-taught. And fashion – it’s at its best when it’s a real form of personally comforting self-expression: self-taught.

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