10th Avenue, New York.
Here’s a confession: after a year and a half running this blog, I still have a hard time figuring out how to photograph men on the street. Whether it’s approaching them (always a challenge getting them to accept), or photographing them in a way that maintains the right level of masculinity against their sartorial sensibilities. The thing about fashion on the street as it’s presented for consumption is this: it basically stays in one lane. I’m not talking about trends, because trends can vary from the very dramatic to the upmost conservative; but fashion has this grey lane that’s a little wider than androgyny. That is, fashionable women photographed for street style are never too feminine, and men are never too masculine. (And if they are masculine, by way of a healthy girth or brilliant beard, it’s usually offset by some article of clothing.) If you don’t believe me, do a Google-image search for “street style men”. You could call it a gallery of metrosexuals–I call it a gallery of the same type of man.
So I don’t know how fashion editors feel about the man in this post. For one, he’s not white, black or Asian. His beard isn’t immaculately trimmed, he’s not buttoned up to the throat and he’s not showing ankles. He doesn’t come from a Judeo-Christian background–he’s a Sikh. For these reasons, he falls completely out of fashionable compartmentalisation, and the more that I speak to fashion editors, the more that I hear the echoes of, “If it’s not ‘fashionable, why are you putting it on your blog?’ I understand completely that fashion is about the perfect garment, the perfect stride, the perfect face. But when I walk on the street, what’s fashion also has to do with presence, and not just the clothes but the way in which one wears them. Alas, is was the narrow confines of what fashion is supposed to be that led me to walk right past him without even lifting me camera.
In a way, the fashion editors are right–I mean, if part of my business is to curate a collection of fashionable photos for work, recognition, etc.. then it’s in my best interest to make sure that I’m only presenting the very best subjects that I can find, right? But here’s the thing– he was the best man I’d seen all week. The best man. This photo looks like it could’ve been taken anywhere in the world, and 80% of that is him alone–he makes that magic happen. And yet, he doesn’t fall into the contemporary lane of ANY of the 200 men that show up on Google’s street style search. Is it pretentious of me to ask what’s wrong with this picture? I’m not questioning the foundation of what fashion is or what the industry built, in large part because I love it and they’re infinitely good at what they do. Still, it doesn’t ease the heart to know that people like the man in this photo have to be the exception and not–at the very least–an extension of the rule.