Friday, 5 April 2013

People Take Pictures of Each Other

It’s strange to think about how recent an invention the Internet is. The emails, notifications, feeds, coverage and images that take up much of the day are all comparatively recent developments. Looking back to snapshots of my mum’s teenage years is to peer through the window and witness a different view. Not necessarily a better or a worse one, but certainly distinct from this screen-filled modern life.
The Internet changes patterns - of product consumption, access to information, ways of communication, on and on it goes. Pick a topic, any topic, and we could probably discuss the impact of the Internet on it. Fashion is a readily available example. Style blogging is still young. So is the concept of online shopping. It wasn’t that long ago that Net-a-Porter was merely a tissue-wrapped whisper in Natalie Massenet’s ear. Growth has not just been rapid, but rocket-like. One of the most visible examples of fashion’s constant expansion and alteration is street style. The streets are a longstanding location. Both Norman Parkinson and Rico Puhlman enjoyed using them in fashion shoots, while Henri Cartier-Bresson netted and preserved the human variety he found there on rolls of film. But although Bill Cunningham has been snatching shots of the well dressed from the seventies onwards, it has only been in the last five years or so (and perhaps the last three for serious coverage) that street style has taken flight.
The bird analogy is fitting, for Suzy Menkes wrote an opinion piece during the recent fashion month that placed what she perceived to be respectable ‘crows’ in opposition to brash ‘peacocks.’ Her similes condensed down to editors versus exhibitionists. I have a variety of conflicting views on the issue, as I will readily admit the literal over-saturation of the streets with people outside each venue, whilst also acknowledging that I choose my outfits carefully to attend fashion week, aware of the cameras that will be there. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous. However, I find it interesting that where ‘high-fashion’ fans of the dressing up box such as Daphne Guinness, Zandra Rhodes or the late Isabella Blow are celebrated for their innovation, those who do not have the name to match their outrageous ensembles are often criticized.
Furthermore, although it may be said that there are now too many photographers for what is essentially a finite job – there are only so many photos that can be taken of the same person – this does not detract from the craft of the professionals. These are the ones who are out on the pavements all day, searching and working. Some survive on little sleep, busy as they are uploading, editing and sending off batches of photos to websites or magazines. Others may have the pleasure of working for themselves, meaning less pressure but no less commitment to the quality of their photography.

One of my longstanding favourites of these photographers is my friend Dvora. Her ‘Street Chic’ selections for are always an intriguing delight. She also shoots for GQ and runs a superb blog called Fashionistable.
“I wanted to start shooting fashionable people on the streets as a means of taking pictures on a more regular basis,” she says. “I just needed to shoot more and more often. To start with I contemplated having a portable background, lights, camera. But the idea of carrying the equipment all the time put paid to that idea quite quickly. It was while chatting about it with my friend Alyson from That’s Not my Age that I first heard of blogging and suddenly I had a platform for my work, a voice, a purpose. It was very exciting, still is.”
Dvora’s photos have a distinct sense of clarity and colour. They radiate vivacity. Although the outfits, layers, shapes and shades are all sensitively composed, there is also a sense of personality – of characters framed by and manifested in their clothes. These are not snaps, but portraits. The graft that goes into each image is something that I can personally confirm. Alongside watching her in action, I have also had the pleasure of being photographed by her many times. Her focus is sharp. She notices stray hairs and fabric creases, carefully arranging everything in the viewfinder until the stance, light and location are perfectly aligned.  

I spent a day at the last London Fashion Week tailing Dvora. I had no camera as I followed though, merely a Welsh Wool covered notebook in which to dash off illegible notes. The brown pages filled with quick glimpses: the PRs’ resemblance to guardsmen protecting the inner sanctum of the show-space, or Anna Wintour’s face lit by a flash. The observations quickly coupled up, moments expressed in hendiadys. Phones and cars; sunglasses and fur; pencil skirts and tall shoes; blazers and skinny legs. As I watched passively, Dvora wove in and out of show-goers and other photographers. Like many of them she was engaged in a continual process of approaching individuals, quickly setting them up for a photo and then letting them continue.

Behind, beyond, around every finished image you see online or in print there are the crowds and chaos. That seemingly deserted road is probably several metres away from the queue fanning themselves with invites and gently flexing their ankles one at a time to relieve the pressure of heels. The candid, smiling shot is possibly the best of seven or eight clicks in the hope that one will capture the desired moment. A model caught just after a show will have a finite window of time before her car arrives to ferry her to the next. There in that beautiful instant we do not see the stress over transport between shows or the irritation at another photographer or twenty crowding in behind to steal the same shot. The resulting image is often a semblance of calm in the bustle of the street.

The ideal moment for these photographers is when a show finishes, and press, buyers and known names emerge. It is an incredible visual experience. A tide of style spills out of doors or down steps. It splits into smaller waves travelling in several directions. Some are fast – using bags as shields as they stride past the cameras. Others loop and linger, happy to chat and be photographed. Finally the surge ebbs. It is time for the next location, and another expedition in search of style.

The streets shown here are not from fashion week, but a previous visit to London. Dvora and I met in the East end for some wandering around Spitalfields, enjoyment of Columbia Road flower market and, of course, a shoot. The setting echoed my outfit (composed of a vintage dress from Beyond Retro, a £3 coat from a a charity shop and second hand Kangol beret) almost uncannily. These four shots really are a testament to Dvora's unerring skill. She and I have timed our posts so that the same images have been posted on her blog this morning, so do head over to hear her side of events.

As a side note, I'm extremely happy to say that you can see another article of mine in the May issue of British Vogue which examines perfume as a rite of passage. It starts on page 237. If you have particularly keen eyes you'll also notice me making a small cameo in a 70s cape and vintage Chanel dress in Emma Elwick-Bates' roundup of LFW. 


Sasha said...

I love your coat and dress they are beyond cute : D

Ivana Džidić said...

you always write great posts. It is true that the interenet has changes our perception of fashion and I think we still cannot be altogether sure how. Everything is in process of change right now.

Helen Le Caplain said...

Love the berry colours - and what a bargain your coat was!

It's true that a seemingly effortless pic is generally the product of 8 other terrible ones.... aren't we a funny bunch of people?!

.... at least we recognise it ;)

Closet Fashionista said...

i love these photos, you look so amazing :)
And I loved this article, you write so articulately, I'm so jealous, ha ha. It's so true the internet has changed so much. I'm of the generation that remembers what it was like before everyone had computers and the internet. I experienced it as it was starting and it has been crazy seeing it grow.

Maya Topadze Griggs said...

I'm off to check Dvora's blog.

Fashionistable said...

Oh Rosalind you write so beautifully. Thank you for this wonderful piece. It is a great response to the piece by Suzy Menkes. There may be more of us but then the whole online thing has blossomed too. It was great to read your perspective on watching the photographers run. And always to spend time with you is a joy. Xxxx

Fashionistable said...

And BIG congratulations for another appearance in Vogue magazine both written and visually. Xxxx

Vix said...

Love these photos, you are such a natural beauty and they way you're dressed is stunning, uncontrived and fabulous.
I'm going to have to break the habit of a lifetime and buy Vogue just so I can brag that I know you! xxx

Nancy Wilde said...

You look SO BEAUTIFUL! And that outfit is adorable :)


Ahh, yes, the lovely Dvora always captures people so marvellously. You look absolutely beautiful Roz! Also love the plum colouring. Congratulations with Vogue, very much looking forward to reading the May issue (viewing of the cape). :-) /Madison

Pull Your Socks Up! said...

I was fascinated at Menkes' piece on bloggers and the ensuing comments/opinions/backlash. I was rather surprised that the presence of style bloggers and their effect on pre and post-show crowds is still causing so much dissent among the fash-mag hags. Haven't we been here before, like three years ago? When are these editors et al going to get over themselves? I find it so ironic that there they are, the crows, racing from venue to venue for weeks on end, exhausting themselves to be the first to identify and pounce on the next "big trend", yet the very powerful presence of these everyday people changing the fashion landscape faster than a hummingbird's wing, is scorned and ignored. Except we know that bloggers and street photography will not be ignored. They're not going away just yet. Someone needed to attach the defibrillators to the heart of fashion journalism and photography, and long may it beat. Thank you for this great post Roz. xoxo

Lydia said...

I have two thoughts about this post--one, I was just talking to my friend last night about how bizarre the Information Age is, and how vast the Internet. And now with smart phones, how huge the pool of resources and information is in my own little pocket. I was a teenager in the 90's, when none of my friends had cell phones, and few had computers. The Internet existed then, but was mostly foreign to us. That was a very short time ago, and now here we are.

Second, I sort of hate when people have negative opinions of street style and even the circus of it that happens outside of fashion week venues. It's fashion!! We're supposed to dress up in extravagant outfits, we're supposed to preen for each other, we're supposed to out-do one another, push one other creatively, see how creative we can be. We should be celebrating this gaudy trend--not turning our noses up at it. I am most definitely one very proud peacock.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

As soon as I saw your first image, I thought, "This must be a portrait by Dvora." How thrilled I was to scroll through and see the whole post revolving around her photographic talent! I have to head on over to her site right after this too.

I was just having a discussion with someone about the dwindling art of fashion photography. You mentioned Parkinson and Pulmann. We also had Man Ray and Richard Avedon. At least, now we still have Tim Walker. But I do admire a few street style photographers, like Dvora, who still carefully compose street shots without losing the immediacy of the moment. I love your imagery of the few seconds a photographer has before cars come to whisk these beautiful people away.

As always, any collaboration between you and Dvora results in grace and beauty. (I would so enjoy trailing behind the two of you around the streets of London -- I'd take photos of Dvora taking photos of you!) You certainly know how to carry off aubergine tights! And congratulations on your piece in British Vogue. Just so excited for your writing career which is taking flight, soaring on the wings of fashion (as your bird analogy conveys.) I don't get that here but I wonder if I can see it online. I'll try to see your cameo appearance too! - J xxx

The Foolish Aesthete said...

PS So glad you mentioned one of my favorites, Henri Cartier-Bresson. He really opened my eyes as far as capturing street scenes. Lee Miller was another pioneering photojournalist, made even more impressive by being female! -- J xxx

Emalina said...

I love that plum colour on you dear Roz, you look so gorgeous, with a subtle reference to Fayne Dunaway's Bonnie & Clyde in that lovely outfit.

This is a great response to the Menkes piece. Even before Lee Miller and Man Ray we had the incredible Julia Margaret Cameron, whose incredible photos of her servant girls and friends and family have been so influential on fashion photographers today.

Emalina said...

ps. can't wait to read your article in Vogue!

Not Just A Pretty Dress said...

I was curious to her your views of the fashion blogging debate that emerged during the last fashion weeks. And I like the fact that in this post I found not only your views, but all the sincere diary of your impressions from following a street style photographer like Dvora. What I admire the most about you and Dvora is the authenticity that emerges in your writing and in her portraits. I completely understand that during fashion weeks, one thinks more carefully about the outfits, isn't fashion week about clothes?! But I think people can still see the difference between genuine style and 'costumes'. Congratulations on your Vogue UK feature! I'll try to get a copy of the magazine...Take care, Caterina

adrielleroyale said...

Such beautiful colors on you and I love your little smirk and mischievous eyes, your friend captured you well!

Melanie said...

Surely there is room for crows and peacocks, and even the lowly apteryx!

I can't help when reading the Mendes article that she longs for the good old days when decorum was a strictly defined concept and fashion industry insiders could expect a certain amount of obeisance per capita. What professional wouldn't feel unsettled by: a) a multitude of competing squawks eager to announce the emperor is wearing no clothes, and; b) the fact that any addle-brained middle-aged woman can now publish an online "fashion" magazine or host a street style blog! (Okay, so b would never be a real threat...LOL) Thanks for raising this topic.

You are divine as always, filling that street with your quiet but powerful presence in this solid and pretty ensemble. I am very happy that you are getting more print and photo coverage! The Fashionistable blog is definitely a new source of inspiration as well.

Melanie said...

In my above comment, for those who don't know me, I was referring to my own art/comic/hobby efforts. Professionals in the field, such as Dvora, clearly have earned their positions of respect through their training, talent, and dedication. The eloquent description of your experience tailing Dvora and Dvora's outstanding work are testaments to this.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

You look so beautiful, Roz! As always!
I've actually thought about how new the internet is recently. When I was about 13 I got a camera and made my own films. The internet sort of existed (I'm not THAT) old but it certainly did't like it does today. There were no blogs or anything like that. But I made films and I took outfit posts of myself (before digital cameras) but there was nowhere to share them. I sometimes wonder what my life would be now if I had started sharing my creativity at the age of 13....:)

Anonymous said...

I was hoping you'd share your thoughts on the 'peacocking' article and the response to it. I think your point about there seeming to be one rule for celebrities or major fashion players, compared to those without a name to trade on.

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