If you’re a street-style aficionado, chances are you’re a Scott Shuman fan. Schuman, a.k.a. The Sartorialist, has been photographing his encounters with the most unique and stylish men and women of the world and chronicling them on his blog since 2005. We caught up with him at a recent event at the Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver, to celebrate his new book, The Sartorialist India (get it in store and online at Secret Location). —Jeanine Gordon
Hi Scott! You’ve been visiting India and spending time there for years. Why was this the time right to make this book?
I like making books. The first three books I made were shot all over the world looking at similarities and differences so I thought, for the fourth book, it would be fun to pick one place and examine the similarities and differences there. I thought of places I’ve been to that have that diversity and range. You don’t have huge diversity in America—there’s a little bit where some people are very rich and some people are very poor but it’s not like places like India where, between rich and poor, the lifestyle is completely different. When I thought about my time in India, I realized that my experience of India was not what I was seeing in other books. I thought it was something that I could shoot that no one else could. Not better or worse than anyone else’s, just what I saw through my eyes. It’s portraits of really different kinds of people. Every trip I would fly into a big city like Mumbai or Delhi and try to mix that with smaller villages and rural places. Once I was there I would just go out and look around and see what happens.
How has street style changed over the last 15 years, since you began?
People have become so aware of how the world views them, especially with Instagram. When I started there were kids who were quirky and wore what they wanted and for the most part they lived in their world in ignorant bliss, just expressing themselves and having fun with it. But now I think people are afraid because if they post a picture of themselves and get a bad reac-tion, I think it’s made them a little gun shy. It means you have fewer people who are willing to be kind of quirky. They want immediate approval and they want the likes, so I think that’s the downside—you have fewer people who are willing to wear what they want. That’s affected what you see in street style and how people are putting themselves together.
What is it about street style that’s so appealing to you?
I get to get up and see the day and walk around. I don’t like shooting in a studio—I like to be surprised. I like to see and react to what I see on the streets. You never know what you’re going to see, especially in a city like New York or in India. No matter where in the world I’m shooting, I just like to be surprised and take a picture of it and share the fun, emotional moment I’m having. Sometimes it can be silly, or serious, or sad, and that’s not something I could recreate in a studio. I’d rather just put myself in the world and let the world surprise me.
What draws you to a person and makes you want to photograph them?
I’m usually just reacting. I have no preconceived notion because the world is so much more surprising and diverse than what I could ever dream up, and I think that’s what allows me to shoot such different kinds of people. It’s a visual charisma that catches my eye. I really like the diversity of what it is to be a human and because I’m very open I realize that I capture a lot of really different kinds of people.
What’s your advice for the average woman getting dressed each morning?
There’s two worlds. First, with a lot of hardcore fashion like Prada, Gucci, the designer is making what they feel expresses them, not necessarily what makes you look better. It’s an expression of who the designer is and people buy into those brands because they like that expression. If you love the esthetic of Gucci and the world of Gucci, then go ahead and wear it and love it and have fun. Just enjoy it and don’t worry about how you look and just be happy with how it expresses you. On the other hand, I’m at a stage of my life where I’ve worn all the fashion and now I just want to look nice. Sometimes you love a piece but it looks awful on you. Really look in the mirror and figure out how to dress your body in a way that makes it look good, and once you find what that is, buy deep into that formula. What a great formula: shop less, look great every day. Figure out what looks good on you and wear that kind of thing every day.
What’s a typical day like for you when you’re working?
I like to get up early and exercise around 6:15 a.m.—it’s a nice, quiet time for me. Then I usually come back and do morning meetings, emails and stuff. Then I like to go out and shoot. I don’t ever have a routine of going to specific places. Maybe I’ll ride my bike to Brooklyn or go to Harlem if I haven’t been there in a while. Even if I don’t get a photograph, at least I got to get out and walk around.
What's the best thing about your job?
Sometimes it’s the not knowing that makes you go places you don’t think would be interesting and then you run into some image or scenario where you think, "I’m so glad I ended up here." The guy I shot on the cover of the book; I could never find my way there again. It was somewhere in Jaipur and it was some little back street and I could never find that spot again.