Portrait of Scott Schuman, taken from ‘The Sartorialist’ website

Scott Schuman in Five Photographs

The fashion photographer better known as ‘The Sartorialist’ has had an enormous impact on the world of street photography.

The world of photography changed with digital. It opened the industry up to people who perhaps would have been put off by the cost of processing hundreds of rolls of film, and the difficulties attached to getting your work seen by anybody.

The digital age in photography coincided with the availability of internet access that was growing increasingly affordable and more reliable — not to mention quicker; and at the same time there was an explosion in online communities, blogs, and services like flickr.

It was only ever a matter of time before new fields in photography became apparent, or new niches emerged in existing areas. One such niche has been street fashion photography, a spin-off of street photography that is less about the decisive moment and more about the decisive shirt.

Leading the charge has been Scott Schuman, a photographer you or I might sooner recognise by his nom de domaine ‘The Sartorialist.’ Schuman began the blog ‘with the idea of creating a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life’, but it could be argued that he has done much more than that.

He has, effectively, turned the world of fashion photography on its head.

Whereas in the past fashion shoots were the exclusive domain of the professional, we no longer turn to the catwalk and the pro photographer pit for our sense of what is of the moment; instead we turn to the streets, and to the ranks of amateur photographers, armed with powerful DSLRs and fast lenses, who follow the fashionistas of our day from city to city. They have become the new paparazzi.

But at the centre of this world there is Schuman, the photographer who has done much to establish the vernacular of street fashion photography: its style, its poses, its subjects, its appeal.

  1. The New Relaxed
October 2005; (c) Scott Schuman

It is enlightening, and perhaps even a touch reassuring, to see from Schuman’s early work that, whilst the eye was there for good fashion, it was not yet there for good photography.

This early shot from 2005 suffers from a bad crop, from insufficient subject lighting, and is generally not an auspicious beginning.

However, from a purely fashion point of view, the image as it is suffices— it shows us what Schuman wanted us to see, which was of a smartly dressed young man who had chosen a great outfit for the day.

2. Gianpaolo, Milano

January 2009; (c) Scott Schuman

Although I have fast-forwarded over three years here, do not be misled — it took Schuman much less time to establish a finer degree of quality on his website. This, however, is simply one of my favourite examples of the kind of fashion / street crossover that Schuman specialises in. Was it a posed shot? I don’t know — but it doesn't matter.

It’s an expert capture, both technically and creatively. The subject is sharp and well lit, and the background is rendered in a gorgeous softness that nonetheless gives a sense of the location. By the time this shot was taken Schuman had found the ideal combination of camera and lens. According to ‘Who Uses What Camera’, Schuman couples a Canon 5D MkII with the impressive (not to mention expensive) 85mm f1.2.

3. Near the Palais Royal, Paris

October 2011, (c) Scott Schuman

One common complaint about street fashion photography is how its focus is weighted towards the hipster generation. This is a complaint I can entirely understand and sympathise with, though it must be difficult for any photographer to resist the allure of a couple such as the one above. Yes, they are clearly ‘hipster’-ish, and their taste in fashion is eclectic rather than composed, but I have chosen this photo to illustrate something else entirely.

A great strength of Schuman’s is to get his models to pose correctly. There are a million fashion blogs that go unnoticed, and one of the reasons they fail is in the way the photographer handles their subject. Schuman gets it spot on here, lining up the couple so that they face the camera dead-on, feet together, expressions neutral, bodies half-relaxed. It works.

4. Via Sant’Andrea, Milan

November 2012, (c) Scott Schuman

What keeps bringing me back to ‘The Sartorialist’, and what convinced me to buy both of Schuman’s books, is the simple fact that he can take an otherwise unremarkable moment and charge it with so much hidden meaning and with so much delight that the person in the frame becomes irresistible.

To that end, this is one of my favourites, out of a selection of hundreds of favourites. It is a salve applied to the burn of hipsterism. Here we have a young lady dressed well, but shot this way, in this pose, she becomes, for a moment, a model — or better than that, because there is a humanity that she possesses that goes beyond what a model could ever offer. The expression on her face, the angle of her body, the way she clasps her purse — it all adds up to something terrific.

(As a brief aside, and for the education of those just entering the field of photography, do note please how the line of the young lady’s nose does not breach that of her cheek; it’s the easiest thing in the world to make a mistake here and give the impression that your subject is the owner of a massive schnoz.)

5. 10th Street, New York

August 2013, (c) Scott Schuman

It is easy to forget, given the success of his fashion photography, that Scott Schuman is also a street photographer in the traditional sense. This shot combines Schuman’s interest in fashion — note the way, especially, that the young lady in the shot is decked out — with capturing a moment in time; you could draw a line going back through history with this image at one end, and something by Robert Doisneau at the other end. There are many others in-between, of course, but Schuman can at least be relied upon to give us something interesting.

It has been surprisingly challenging to choose just five photographs by ‘The Sartorialist’. There is a consistency to Scott Schuman’s photography that many other photographers of this generation have struggled to match. Browsing his archives and flicking through his books, you see just how universally good his photographs have become, how each and every one of them realises his aim.

Sure, he has good taste in fashion; but more importantly, Schuman is expert at recording the world’s good taste for posterity, and for our personal edification.