After launching the now famous "Sartorialist" blog in 2005, Scott Schuman has emerged as an influential force in the world of fashion. A self-taught photographer, Schuman shoots for publications including French Vogue, American GQ, Fantastic Man and Elle, and a growing list of advertising clients. He has also shown his work at the New York photo gallery The Danziger Projects and appeared in the GAP Style Icon campaign in the fall of 2008. He has been named the number one fashion photography trend by American Photo magazine, as well as one of Time magazine’s top 100 design influencers. Penguin published an anthology of his favorite photographs in 2009. The hardcover collection is aptly entitled, "The Sartorialist."
Question: How can someone take a great fashion photo?
Scott Schuman: Shoot from the heart, that’s a good one. I think I’ll actually just stop at that. Shoot from the heart I think would be the best. You know I think it really doesn’t matter. I like to take good quality photographs. I like to try and have the light a certain way and the person stand a certain way. Even though it’s all very natural it happens very quickly. I work very quickly and work with what I’m given. I don’t really pose the people or anything. I just kind of work with who I think that person is, but I think the honesty of it is I think people like to live vicariously. I mean it’s the whole idea of this reality TV. They like to live vicariously through other people and see other people’s ideas and other people’s take on the world, so whether you’re taking it with just a little digital camera if you’re actually taking pictures that mean something to you in a real way and you actually have something to say people will follow that blog because you’ll find likeminded people, but by doing that I think you know one of the things that separates me is I don’t shoot just all 20 year-old hipsters. I shoot old and young and that brand comes across in the variety of people I shoot because I actually have something to say and I can do that as opposed to saying one thing over and over. It gives me a wider vocabulary to be able to shoot people in a lot of different ways and a lot of different types of people, but you always know it’s one of my shots and that’s because I take it very seriously and I have a real passion about it. I have a real point of view and so I think that’s what someone has to do before just deciding I think I want to go out and take pictures of people in the street I think they really have to have a point of view. You know it’s very important what I don’t shoot as opposed to what I do shoot. There is a lot of people in the fashion business I’ve never shot, so without a real passionate point of view I don’t think there is anything you can do because then it just becomes a report on product and there is a lot of blogs like that and I think they’re incredibly boring. You know just a report of what is out there doesn’t do anything for me.
Question: What are some tips for a successful blog?
Scott Schuman: Well passion and a point of view, number one. Consistency, you know you have to be able to create a consistent voice because if you’re blogging in a real way I think you have to do it very regularly. If it’s not five days a week or six days a week, in a way that people start to know when they can come see your blog, when there is going to be new images up. Not always, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same time every day. You know it’s not so bad to keep them guessing, not so bad to have them coming back once or twice, but there has to be a consistency in the voice because you just can’t fake it five days a week, so I think that’s really important. I think the next generation of blogs is going to be just like the beginning of websites. You know you could kind of do it on your own and kind of have it and it didn’t look great necessarily, but now you know blogs are getting very sophisticated and I think people are going to have to really start to be serious about the way the blog looks. The days I think of just being able to steal images from all over the place to put them on your blog and just put another two cents in on somebody else’s conversation is pretty close to over because the blog is not going to be able to grow that way. The blog is only going to be able to grow once you’re in control of all the content and I think that’s why street style blogs have grown so quickly is we’re in control of the visuals. We’re in control of the writing. If you’re using a particular kind of blog you can be more in control of the fonts and the graphics and everything else.
Question: What makes a photo captivating?
Scott Schuman: I don’t know. You can’t really do anything. I mean at least for me anyway because it’s so many different things. I mean it’s the clothes themselves. It’s the person. It’s I just have to… You know that’s the artist. You know there is no… I wish I could say as a marketer well you know if you’re wearing this brand and blah, blah, blah that will make it really interesting, but it’s not. You know that’s the artist in me. You know sometimes you meet someone and it’s just something that clicks and it might an obvious kind of beauty or a non obvious kind of beauty or just something that you feel. You know I shot this woman in Barcelona the other day, this beautiful older woman and she you know, really beautifully aged face and very perfectly done hair and fur coat and you know she was definitely not typical traditional beauty, but there was just something so charming about her and I don’t think she would end up on anybody else’s blog, but you know that is definitely a part of my vocabulary and I’m sure she didn’t get up that day thinking what should I wear to be shot by The Sartorialist”, I know he is in town, but you know that’s the fun of it. You just never know. There are people I see all the time that you would think you know maybe be on the blog, but if I don’t feel something and don’t feel I’m going to be able to shoot it the way that I want then it doesn’t really matter, but all black is pretty boring. If you’re going to do all black you better do some good proportion or texture or something like that, color, pattern, things like that that actually… Real elements of design are always a good place to start.
Recorded December 2, 2009