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SARTORIALIST IN SOUTH AFRICA: Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist, flew into Johannesburg last week as the headline guest of African Fashion International, organizers of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa. In between fashion shows, checking out Soweto, venturing downtown and visiting a mall or two, he found time to talk about international street style, upping one’s game and why Bill Cunningham should really do a book.
Upon being told there were moans of protest from South African fans for putting up pictures he’d taken of South Africans in “inner city” settings, instead of taking better-dressed and affluent people in designer clothes, he expressed surprise. “Really, they’re moaning? They’re mad? Why? Well, I would say that the people who do dress in that other way [in designer labels], they’ve just got to bring their game on.
“I’ve only met a few people here that I’ve maybe wanted to take pictures of. Johannesburg reminds me of a lot of cities, like Moscow, Buenos Aires and in Poland, places that had some kind of political or economic difficulty, or they were a communist country for a long time…A lot of the women here are very beautiful, very perfect in every way, but it lacks a certain amount of charm. It’s almost aggressive. But the kids I’ve been seeing, young adults, young, cool women and guys, they just have more charm about them. It’s everything, the way they stand, the way they look at you, the makeup’s not aggressive, the way they dress, they look beautiful, but it’s not a hard package. A little fragility I think is always more charming.”
Here is what he had to say on other topics:
On blogs and retail: “Things like blogs and the Internet are so important now. Because there are a few blogs there like mine, and Tommy’s [Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil], and some of these other people who have more international blogs. I think what blogs have been able to do is make fashion local.”
On shooting street style during Fashion Weeks: “Now there are so many people doing it, it’s not so easy. To still find new people and shoot something that’s been shot by 20 other people….Everyone now knows what Anna dello Russo wore that day. My challenge is to shoot it better, you know. To shoot it more interesting than Anna, to shoot that third-level editor that nobody took the time to shoot. So that makes that part of it more difficult than taking the chance and coming down here [to Johannesburg]. I’m still going to shoot at my level. I’m not going to water it down to come here. If I get zero, I get zero. I might only be getting one or two shots a day, which is fine.”
On Bill Cunningham: “You know, I hate to say it, I’m sure everyone thinks he’s a lovable guy, and I’m sure he is. We’ve never had a conversation. The only conversation we’ve ever had is when I’m trying to shoot someone and he says, ‘Hey, get out.’
“The only influence he’s had on me is that I want to be doing that when I’m 80. That’s the only thing. I want to be on the bike, I want to be doing that at 80.
“His photographs, I think they’re nice, they’re just a totally different style from me. I don’t think they’re bad, really just a different style. He’s really reportage, shoot, snap, he’s just going, going, going. His only influence has been in the quality of the effort he puts in and the joy — you can literally really see it on his face, the joy that he still has for fashion.
“At the same time, I think there has been this whole myth about him that’s frustrating in the sense that you know he won’t do a book, which is fine if you don’t want to do a book, but you know, if you’re not going to do a book, you can pull a hundred different images of your career.…Then when he’s gone, which I hope will be a long time from now, then those stories are gone. I mean, you know you have a certain responsibility if you’ve been there for a really important period, for 40 years, and you haven’t written very much on all that, then you have, maybe not a responsibility, but it would just be very nice to have someone go through the time period and pick out ten photographs from the Seventies, ten photographs from the Eighties and say, “All right, I remember the first time I saw someone wearing Spandex pants on a thing and I thought, oh my God, cover that girl up,” or something like that. There’s just stories he could tell that probably will never be told. We’ll lose those stories because he just doesn’t want to do it.”