Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meeting THE Sartorialist... [fully-updated] the flesh no less!

I have been following The Sartorialist blog on and off for a while now (it's in my Google reader, and discovered via LCL's blog), and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw by chance that he was coming to Dublin last Friday as part of his book launch! (Dublin is not particularly well-known for its contemporary street-fashion, I'm afraid. Although that may well change when Scott the Sartorialist is finally in town!)

And being conveniently-located by virtue of my workplace, I snuck out during the lunch hour to attend his book-signing session at the Gallery of Photography (Meeting House Square, Temple Bar). (I left a message on his blog to say that I'd be there, but to be honest I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be able to go, as I had a meeting just before that lunch that could potentially go on for hours).

But I did manage to go there. Alas, when I got there by 1:10pm all copies of his books were sold out already (the Gallery director had posted a message asking people to start showing up by 12:30pm), and me and a dozen others were told to wait for their newly-ordered shipment. Meanwhile, the actual talk-cum-book-signing session was about to start in the upstairs gallery, so even though I was sans book, per the gallery director's suggestion, I still went upstairs anyway, and lo-and-behold, there is one lone final seat left on the front row! So I put on an affectation of confidence and asked the girls on either side if the seat was taken. It wasn't, so I sat there with a grin on my face, still sans book.

(I must admit it was a bit daunting to walk into an all-white gallery room with what presumably must be a pack of discerning fashionistas sitting there staring at you as you come into the entrance. For me especially that day, I had to walk the tight-rope between being presentable in an academic setting - I had to face students that morning, after all - and being presentable in a fashionable setting... not an easy nut to crack. One must command a certain level of social poise to pull it off and, I'm relieved to say I have acquitted myself well, I think. The fact that I did plan my outfit two nights before helped, as it was clear that most of the people there really thought through their wardrobe - you don't find the kind of run-of-the-mill Dublin crowd in this audience, as most of the young ones especially wear their attitudes on their sleeves.)

As I didn't have the book I was tweedling my thumbs while waiting for Scott (see how we're on first-name terms already!) to arrive, and so I struck up a conversation with the girl on my left, who was also there by herself but was one of the lucky ones to get a final copy of the book before the first shipment sold out. She turned out to be South Korean, and just graduated with a diploma in fashion, and had lived in Paris for quite some time. The girl on my right is Irish Irish, whom I later found out is actually a fashion designer herself, who has a collection on sale in a shop on the top floor of the Powerscourt Shopping Centre (a posh shopping mall at Dublin city centre). We were all shocked that THE Sartorialist deigned to come to Dublin for a book-signing, and we were also amazed at the amount of people who turned out. The rest of the audience seemed to be made up predominantly of Trinity and NCAD (National College of Art and Design) students (not surprising given how close the venue is to their campuses). Me, being an academic, feel like an exotic animal in such a hip audience (thankfully, there were also far less elegantly-dressed peeps scattered among the audience as well, and it wasn't just a young crowd but a good mix of ages, and the fact that it was one of the dreariest autumn days on record did help excuse whatever sartorial crimes we might have committed... although one does worry whether he's going to find any subject worthy of his camera during his sojourn here).(Edited to add: actually, no worries, Scott managed to do some brilliant work during the few days he stayed here, see: Blathnaid, Trinity Rugby Players, and Dad's old sportcoat)

Anyway, here's a few pics I took of Scott the Sartorialist at the end of his talk (I shall update this blog on what he said that was very inspirational to me in a little while).

Scott put on his glasses just before he sat down for the actual book-signing. The book in question can be glimpsed just to the right of the photo. He was literally just given a Guinness pint glass of what looked to be just tap water (not even bottled water, but then again, the Gallery of Photography is a non-profit outfit).

Also, I have to say that Scott is much shorter in person than I imagined he would be, especially given his elongated face and chiselled features. I also think he probably didn't bring enough warm clothes with him, as his bomber jacket was buttoned all the way from top to bottom - not a particularly good look - and he still looked like he was freezing (which was not surprising given the weather of the day). It was actually quite funny when he was being introduced by the Penguin publicist - as he too hesitated to come into the all-white room!

He was really friendly with everyone and took time to have a wee chat with each person as they asked for his autograph. And hey, I think my photograph of him above isn't half bad in terms of composition! (Although the image quality could be improved, as I was just shooting with my cameraphone). Anyway, he does have a Clark Kent look about him when he put his glasses on!

The guy behind him seemed to be the official photographer sent to cover this book-signing event. But he didn't take more than 3 pictures during the whole talk, and then just faffed about in the background at the end. The fact that the Gallery of Photography didn't have the foresight to order enough books to cover the book-signing crowd is also very disappointing.

The crowd getting up to queue for book-signing... notice there is a mix of ages, and some not-so-well-dressed ones in there as well, so I didn't feel like I was sticking out like a sore thumb :P

Prior to LCL's comment, I didn't realise I needed to explain why I'm a fan of Scott Schuman the Sartorialist. But apparently I did need to explain myself. So here goes: Anybody who can see beauty in the ordinary, and enables others to see it, is a true artist in my book. Scott chose not to photograph the rich and famous, or only those clad in designer labels, or only those who are conventionally stylish. He photographed old and young, in all variety of street styles, and captured a moment of contemporary modernity that is both unique and commonplace. The key to his subjects' style is not that pieces have to be expensive or exclusive, but interesting yet ready-to-hand pieces that are put together as an expression of their personality. It's people wearing clothes, not the other way round. Scott shows us how ordinary people can be authentically fashion-forward in a way no corporate fashion houses can simulate through their multi-million dollar ad campaigns. That is why I am a fan of his work.

Now that's cleared up, anyway, as mentioned above, there are parts of Scott's talk prior to the book-signing that are quite inspirational to me:

During his own brief talk at the beginning, Scott touched on how he chooses his subjects for the camera, and he's basically saying the things that I already noticed about his photos from reading his blog: that every person he photographs has something to give him at that particular moment, that it is their personality that attracts him to photograph them, rather than their clothes or their look per se. He wants every one of his photo to show the individual, rather than be a mere comment on how good or bad that particular person's style of dress is. Like he never wanted, nor indeed could, comment on how well-dressed or stylish a particular person is, what he wants to show instead is that each person is giving him something different from others, through their style of clothes and how they carry themselves. He always got something from the people he photographs, although he never elaborated on what that "thing" is.

So my interpretation of his avowed philosophy is that, strictly speaking, his photographs are not "fashion photography" per se, but embodies the finest ethos of street photography. And although he didn't elaborate on the "thing" that he got from each of his subjects, we can all get the sense that that "something" is really undefinable and unique to each individual, so he didn't even try to define it, and the audience was intelligent enough (and know his work enough) to not have to press him for an explanation, as we can all see "it" in his photographs.

This is quite inspiring for me because, although I'm a designer label ignoramus, who have no sense of what's hot and what's not in the world of high-end fashion, Scott's photography (and this is coming from somebody who's worked for decades in the fashion industry) hammers home the point that style is something innate to the person, and has nothing to do with external trappings per se, and indeed, is not something that could be found when one is covered head-to-toe in monogrammed designer gear just because it's ordained by the fashion powers-that-be as THE thing to wear.

(To be honest also, when he talked about the above, my heart was screaming, "Oh Hong Kong girls should really listen to this!!")

The last question he got asked from the audience was about whether he had ever been to a place where he found it difficult to find a suitable subject for his camera. Scott pondered it a little and actually said that Sao Paulo is a city where he found it very difficult to find people with enough interest to photograph. And he attributed this to the immense gap between the rich and poor in the city, so that on the one hand, you have a rich upper-class who slavishly follow designer-label fashion, whose insularity is made worse by their constant insecurity about their societal position due to the vast number of poor people surrounding them; and on the other hand, you have this huge underclass in society who had very little to physcially live on, so expressing their individuality through their dress is not high on their agenda, and in any case, he couldn't get close to them because he's forced to be surrounded by security guards front and back when he tried to go to those slum areas because of his camera equipment, and thus it was impossible for him to blend into the local scene, which is what he'd normally do when going on a shoot around a foreign city.

From his experience in Sao Paulo (and he also mentioned that he found the exact same in Stockholm, which was rather surprising), Scott deduced that the existence of a middle-class is really crucial to fashion, that without a sizeable middle-class in a stable society, even if there is an upper class, fashion will be in trouble. He's never a believer of brand-names in and of themselves, and found the game of chasing the latest and hippest of designer labels pursued by the rich and famous rather tedious and beside-the-point. The poor is not in a position to appreciate fashion, and the rich is too insular to appreciate fashion as an expression of individuality. That leaves us the middle-class kids, who are able to mix and match pieces - perhaps a hand-me-down from a sister, paired with a newly-bought iconic piece of the season - to experiment and show off themselves.

That is also very heartening for me to hear because, more often than not the term "middle-class" is rather derogatory when it comes to fashion, bringing to mind bourgeosie sensibilities and pedestrian, low-culture tastes. Yet in Scott's eyes, middle-class people have the best of both worlds - they are not so rich as to be full of themselves and see clothes merely as expression of their wealth rather than their personality (if they have one, that is!), and they are not so poor as to be preoccupied solely with physical survival and have no time for frivolous aesthetics.

So the above are the parts of his talk that inspired me. But in addition to the above, Scott the Sartorialist also spoke about how he wants to write better, that he wants to be able to connect with people not only through his photographs, but through words, and it's something that he's working on and something in which he is inspired by his partner, a writer. When asked what he thought of the "fashion month" in Milan, London and New York this year, Scott joked that nobody could be seen to be having fun in these dire economic times, and that it's a pity because he would love to see more young people involved in fashion, but that's one of the first things to go when times are hard as you don't have as many apprentices/interns working on shoots, and so he got less opportunity to photograph the new up-and-coming talents of the fashion world.

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At Mon Oct 12, 01:40:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

OMG (I know it sounds like a 13 year old girl, but I couldn't think of any other way to put it, I shall refrain from using it again). I guess I really don't know you. I never would have thought you would go to his book signing event. I am wrong of course. I was laughing reading this post both at you and with you, the part about planning your wardrobe a couple nights ago and walking a tight rope ...

One burning question: Did you tell him to use punctuation correctly the ... business?

At Mon Oct 12, 02:07:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

I LOL'd at your comment LCL, but allow me to respond to your comment properly:

"OMG (I know it sounds like a 13 year old girl, but I couldn't think of any other way to put it, I shall refrain from using it again)."

As a keen user of the OMG acronym, are you insinuating that I'm a 13 year old?

"I guess I really don't know you. I never would have thought you would go to his book signing event. I am wrong of course. "

Why not? What kind of person do you have me down as? I didn't realise I was giving out the vibes that I'm a shallow philistine who don't appreciate the work of a great street photographer?

"I was laughing reading this post both at you and with you"

Oh now you're just being too polite, why not just say that you were laughing at me and be done with it, I really don't mind you know :P

"One burning question: Did you tell him to use punctuation correctly the ... business?"

Oh the ellipsis business? Yes it did cross my mind, but then sanity prevailed, haha! (You really think I'm some kind of nutter don't you?) Anyway, that "debate" was all instigated by yourself, and if I recall correctly, I think I "won" the argument by pointing out that there are different stylistic conventions? (But please, let's not open that can of worms again!)

Anyway, shall update blog later with the quotes from his talk which was why I wanted to blog about his visit to begin with!

At Mon Oct 12, 04:14:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

I guess my comments speak more about myself. I mean I never bother to wait in line for any book signing or anything that I can avoid. I simply won't wait in line unless absolutely necessary, like clearing immigration when re-entering this country or at the supermarket check-out.

I never thought you would have waited in line for that either. You know sometimes I think am I spending my time any more wisely that I don't bother waiting in line? The answer is no, I am just wasting my time all the same, and sometimes waiting in line is really worth the wait and is not a waste of time as I am sure you feel that way. I just hate to wait in line not because I am a snob or anything, it's just lazy I guess, that's all ....

OMG, I think a guy really shouldn't use it, at least not too often. It just sound so un-guy. But I hate it more when a guy who is not 13 adds, wait for me, I have to find the word, "耶" at the end of a sentence. It's just a pet peeve.

At Tue Oct 13, 10:37:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Oh no worries LCL, actually I should have added [faux outrage] tags to my previous comment!

But I must say it's quite funny to see how you've tried to dodge the question of why you didn't think I were the kind of person who'd go to his booksigning. I guess I never came across as a fashionable person, which is actually true :P So I didn't take any real offense at the fact that you didn't imagined I would go to see the Sartorialist, nor was I particularly surprised that you laughed at my sartorial preparations to be honest!

Oh it took me a little while to realise why you had to use the Chinese version of "Yeah", and then I realised you were probably referring to the guy in the Taiwanese video clip. Haha, I agree that could be really annoying and "un-guy-like" alright!

At Wed Oct 14, 02:19:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

Great update.

At Mon Oct 19, 01:17:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...


At Sat Oct 24, 03:48:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

This is the 耶 I was talking about
I just copied and pasted here


It's not exactly yeah. Yeah or Yay I have no problem. But I don't know since when this 耶 has gained some traction in the Chinese blogosphere. If one is a 17 year old girl ,I say OKAY. But if he is guy .... My pet peeve anyway. It's not like I am right just how I feel about certain word, actually the last word too 哦 ...


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