The world’s four biggest Fashion weeks (and fashion week shows) attract throngs of celebrities and critics eager for a spot near the catwalk. But on the edge of any serious fashion crowd, upon looking closely, there’s a handful of cameras that are not pointing towards the runway, but towards the place where the real show is happening - the street.
Since the outset of street-style photography in the 70s and the pioneering work of Bill Cunningham for the New York Times best known for its apparent style, candid imagery and significant contribution to fashion journalism, there’s been an exponential growth of photographers, waiting outside the show venues, anxious to capture the best shot of the industry’s favourites, hoping that it finds its way to Instagram or a glossy magazine spread.
It’s the essence of something more individual, personal and visually engaging for the photographer that is necessary in order for him to get the shot. Not only are these photographers capturing moments of visually prominent fashion personalities, socialites and everyday people in order to feature them in the form of a progressively changing electronic recording medium, but also conceiving enduring imagery and documenting real fashion.
Since launching his online photo-journalistic diary named Le 21ème back in 2013, explicitly stating that it is not a street style blog, but a personal view into fashion and lives of people around the world, Adam Katz Sinding’s work has been featured in numerous magazines and websites, such as W magazine, Vogue, Glamour and various others online publications. What’s interesting about Sinding’s work is that he is not intrigued by people’s lustrous sets of clothes, but rather their attitude and the atmosphere of the surroundings. It’s the real life and real people that he tries to put an emphasis on and that is what makes his work unprecedented and appealing.
The San Francisco-born self-taught photographer discussed the difference between the street-style blogs and Le 21ème, why he started the project and likewise spoke of the sharp rivalry between the individuals in his profession, his favourites to photograph, and negative aspects of being a street-style photographer.
Hi, Adam! First questions are always rather awkward, so to lessen the pressure, I would like you to tell us something about yourself; what do you do, where do you come from, etc.
I was born in San Francisco, CA; grew up in Tacoma and Seattle, WA; lived in Paris for a bit. Now I live in Williamsburg and Amsterdam. Now I just run around the world and take photos of people who are cooler than me.
I would like to talk about this great website and the Instagram account of yours, Le 21ème, which gained quite a lot of attention through the recent years. What was the purpose of starting this project and when did it take off?
There was no “purpose” in any of it except that I love photography and I loved fashion. I just thought it would be fun. I never meant for it to become my career and my life. I don't know if it’s ever officially “taken off” but I guess people started to like my stuff about a year after I started my Instagram, so maybe 2013? It’s tough to say. I try not to pay too much attention to that stuff. Everything I do with Le 21ème is created for me. It’s just a great coincidence that sometimes other people like it as well.
How did you come up with the name (because honestly, it is quite hard to pronounce)?
Le 21ème means “The 21st” in French. It came after I moved back to Seattle after living in Paris in 2005. Paris has 20 Arrondissements, and I feel, personally, that the rest of the world’s style is quite influenced by the Parisian aesthetic. Thus, the rest of the world becomes the 21st arrondissement. It was a horrible decision to come up with this name… but it’s too late now.
What is the main difference between the street-style blogs and Le 21ème? Does it bother you when/if people refer to it as a street-style blog?
It’s difficult to describe, and it’s perhaps only me who feels there’s a difference. It IS street style, but I’m trying to show beyond the commercial. I try to express the atmosphere, mood, and feelings of that it’s like to BE there. It’s not about selling clothes. I see the main purpose of street style as something to sell clothing.
From what I see, there’s been this shift in fashion when people became more interested in street-style photography rather than in the runway photos. Why in your opinion, is this so?
Because it appears to be real life. Runways are curated conceptual displays of a brand’s vision. The street is more real. People identify with it better.
Do you love to photograph anyone in particular (a model, celebrity attendee)? Also, is there a photo you are the most proud of?
I have tons of favourite people to shoot. Markus Ebner, Jo Ellison, Isabelle Kountoure, Lolita Jacobs, Natasha Goldenberg, Julie Pelipas, Larissa Hofmann, Hanne Gaby Odiele. Countless people.
Not only that you are always present at the four big fashion weeks, you also venture to other cities and their regional fashion weeks. They all differ in their views on fashion and creative output. Which city do you feel is the most progressive or maybe the “coolest” to live in?
For me, Copenhagen embodies everything that I want in life. The fashion is amazing, the people are friendly and healthy, and the vibe is unreal. The Fashion Week there reflects this atmosphere. I want to live there forever.
What is it that you first notice about people? Is it primarily the outfit that catches your attention or is it the person’s energy?
Their energy for sure. The way they move. Their posture. The clothes only HELP to make the photo a little bit nicer. They are not the focus for me.
Most of the people who are not familiar with the industry are surely wondering how you make money out of it. Is it hard to get noticed by magazines and to establish yourself now when literally anyone owns a camera?
I started early. It was easier then I guess. But yeah, I mean, the beauty of it is if you’re good and you can get to all of these places, you have a chance. It’s great!
Is there a strong rivalry between people in your profession?
Absolutely. Photographers have huge egos. Many people out there feel that they are the only ones who should be there, and everyone else’s work is shit. It creates a lot of problems. I’ve tried to remove myself from most of the other photographers in order to avoid this. It’s a lot of guys in a small area, and the testosterone rages. The girl photographers are much more chill than we are. I’m a bit envious, to be honest.
What are some negative aspects of being a street-style photographer? A great documentary has been released last year about photographers waiting long hours in front of the show venues to get the perfect shot of the models leaving the venue, and they’ve stated that what they do doesn’t really differ much from what paparazzi do. What’s your take on that?
We travel a lot. Well, I travel a lot. I think I travel more than any of the other guys, but I think it’s become an addiction. Travelling this much is not healthy Eating properly is nearly impossible. Radiation from the airplanes makes you feel like shit. Jet Lag. It’s impossible to have a relationship. Friends get annoyed that you’ve never around. And then, yes: you begin to think “fuck, I’m just a glorified paparazzi.” BUT… then you get a great photo which really tells a story and you realize that you’re good at what you do and that it’s all worth it. I don't care about other peoples’ view of me. I just want to take nice photos. If it means I will be travelling like this forever, freezing my ass off in the NYC winter or getting skin cancer in the Florentine summer, so be it.
When did you start showing interest in photography? Did you ever dream of becoming a photographer or did you just come across the idea by chance?
My dad was a hobby photographer and after he passed away I got his gear. I did it for fun. In 2004 I bought my first DSLR and got really into it. I just thought it was fun. I wanted to be the General Manager of a hotel for most of my life. I never thought I’d be doing this. THANK GOD I am here and not still working in hotels. I’d probably be super depressed right now otherwise.
Would you like to offer any advice you would give to young emerging photographers who are struggling to get into this profession or who are just starting with fashion photography? Do you think one needs a degree in fashion/art/photography in order to be a good photographer?
I have my degree in art history, but I doubt it’s done anything for me except make me more critical of what I see. I never studied photography really. The idea is to just shoot as much as you can, make TONS of mistakes, learn from them, and keep going.