Huntsman cutter and resident tailoring columnist Matthew Gonzalez turns his attentions to the art of photography
At its core, photography tells a story. It’s the reason we use that tired cliché ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. During the Great Depression, photographer Dorothea Lange famously took portraits of impoverished Dust Bowl era migrant workers. In many cases she would shoot her subject from a low angle, looking upward. It was a technique that would make us, the observer, feel small and the subject big. They would tower over us, while we glimpsed into their world of hardship. Lange used her camera to remind us that everyone, regardless of their age, race or economic circumstance is valuable. She showed us that even those who we can very easily pity, possess untold amounts of grace and dignity. At her core she was a storyteller. Photography’s ability to convey stories is why it resonates with us so much. It’s also why that favourite picture of yourself (the one where the camera angle and lighting are perfect so you’ve never looked better) means so much to you, because it captures a memory of you at your aesthetic best; it’s a tangible document that allows you to forever bask in the momentary bliss of photogenic perfection.
Clothing is another great communicator. Our wardrobes are material signifiers which inform the world of who we are publicly and privately. Our clothing can indicate what we do professionally, our religious beliefs, the music we like and even our political affiliations. Naturally, clothing has long been an interesting subject for photographers. Tailoring and photography specifically have always been comfortable bedfellows.
The long elegant lines of a well-tailored jacket and the razor sharp creases of pressed trousers naturally possess the physical elements that make a good photograph. However, those elements alone don’t produce a great picture. As viewers, we require a story. We want a reason to study a photo. Lange, like all great photographers, seemed to sear the intangible backstories of her subjects on to film and that is what still draws us into great pictures today. When it comes to fashion photography a professional model whose sole purpose is to look good wearing a suit is usually aesthetically pleasing and very stylish, but it can lack a sense of authenticity. Conversely ‘street’ photography seems to pin down the very essence of what fashion photography is supposed to be, the tangible manifestation of personal creativity and passion coming together through clothing.
We can most easily see this online. Instagram has been an amazing platform to showcase photographers who are seemingly inspired by the relationship between a person and their clothing. Jamie Ferguson (@JKFman) and Scott Schuman (@thesartorialist) are just two of many who come to mind when thinking of photographers who showcase ‘regular’ men and women (i.e. non celebrities) in their own clothing.
Seeing a photo of an otherwise regular passerby dressed exquisitely, not because it’s their job or because some stylist had kitted them out, but instead because they are passionate about how they dress, is far more interesting than almost anything coming out of a studio. Great photographers are able to sense and capture that passion on film. When scrolling through JKFman’s account one will see a variety of posed and candid shots of well-dressed men expressing themselves by wearing their own clothing. More often than not the men in Ferguson’s feed are suited up. He is a master of showcasing the richness and character of men’s suiting that lies beneath the polarised conventional wisdom that a suit is either a boring city uniform or an outlandish peacock outfit (just think the worst of what Pitti has to offer for a mental image). In doing so, he has discovered a new archetypal urban male. One that is drawn to the formal lines of tailoring without feeling obliged to conform to the conventional expectations of long standing sartorial dogma. The suit can be yours to interpret and if other people like it, all the better!
If fashion photography is about telling the story of clothing and the people wearing them, then the best photographs are the ones that feel genuine. It’s why celebrity models in fashion adverts can sometimes feel a bit strange and disjointed. It’s also why we are so drawn to the subtextual narrative of great photographs. We, as consumers of photography, in galleries, museums, magazines and on social media want to be mesmerised by it. A great photo should linger in our minds like a song we love and can’t get out of our heads. Photography is visceral. At its very worst fashion photography should be a bunch of pretty pictures. However, at its best it should inspire us to dress in a way that makes us comfortable to express who we truly are. MG
Words by Matthew GONZALEZ