Scott Schuman is the creator of The Sartorialist blog and the author of The Sartorialist.
Epilogue: Tell me about the book and how that came about.
Scott Schuman: I received several offers about doing the book. This was the one that was, by far, the best because they were willing to do the hardcover and the paperback at the same time. I wanted to have the ability to do something that was high-end and but also something that was approachable by a lot of different people. I didn’t really need to have a big, super glossy book, I didn’t want my first one to be like that. They were willing to do that; it’s not something that they usually do. That actually made me feel more comfortable because that’s a well-known company and I got the feeling that they didn’t want to mess it up. They didn’t want my first one to be messed up. So luckily, it’s turned out good. It’s selling really well. The trickiest part was trying to get them to understand the randomness of the site and let that happen. They were trying to group it together by cities and by year, and things like that. I said, you know, we really have to mix it up. Like the blog, you never really know where I’m going to be, day-to-day, I never know who I’m going to run in to, day-to-day. As soon as they started doing that, I think it really came together. I knew it was going to be 500 pages and so when I sat down to start editing which ones I thought would be good for them, it was actually reasonably easy. It’s pretty clear which photos are strong enough to really sit on their own. Then it just becomes about who you lay next to who, and that was something that was kind of nice because sometimes the people were two years apart from each other so they never sat on the blog next to each other. Now you got a chance to go back, compare and contrast, put interesting themes together. It was kind of fun that way.
You mentioned the randomness of the blog. How do you contain that in a book?
One of the things I talked about in the introduction is that even though the core of the book is about fashion, I don’t really think about fashion when I look at those shots. It had to do more with expression of personal style, things like that. I don’t think there’s really hardly any places in the book where I just talk, straight up, about that fashion thing. These are usually, hopefully, slightly deeper (laughs). If a book about fashion can be that.
What kinds of things do you look for in anything, not just in fashion or photography?
I constantly like something that has a sense of quality to it. It doesn’t have to be expensive; I have a lot of things that aren’t necessarily expensive but they’ve lasted great. They hold up and all. So I like an element of quality. I like an element of craftsmanship. Even in something like an Apple computer. It’s mass-produced and it’s totally modern but yet there’s a craftsmanship in terms of how it was originally designed and these great materials that they’ve chosen. Those kind of things. Things that really work. I’m personally not too big on over-whimsy but I can certainly appreciate the charm of something like that. I think, at least in my shots and things, an ability to know what’s the difference between what I like personally and also being able to appreciate someone that’s doing something different, something that’s outside of me. I think I’m able to find other things easily romantic. The romance of a lot of other types of people and lifestyles.
Do you feel like the book was a long time in the making?
The main thing has always been the blog. If the book never happened, I’d be totally happy. So many photographers need to have a book, especially in the old days, photographers need to have a book or magazine, somebody else to share their images with, another medium to share their images with, or through. It’s been very lucky starting out with the blog. I can pretty much go right to the audience I want and have my pictures seen and share those pictures. So doing a book was actually a little bit…I felt less pressure than other photographers because I could really translate what I wanted through the book and wait, and not have to have the book come first. At the same time, I guess there’s a certain amount of pressure with that because I had to maintain what I’d already created, the concept I’d already created with the blog. But I think I did a good job with them. I’m comfortable with how I translated a blog into a book.
The underlying idea for the blog is so strong. How did you develop that idea?
Like anybody I like to people watch. I can’t say that I’m a big aficionado or anything of street style. It’s just one of those things that’s out there, kind of like a supplement. I love all the magazines, all the Vogue’sand the GQ’s, all the big magazines or the little ones. So for me it was just kind of a supplement, to allow for a great fantasy world where street style is much more reality based. So I like that. I’m totally comfortable with that. It was just a supplement, an addition to that.
I think the trick for me was that I’ve been able to shoot with an editor’s eye what I thought was interesting, but also shoot it in a way that I thought was really interesting. Try and capture it in the way that I felt about it. The trickiest part was not just recording but trying to shoot it so people understand why I shot it that way, what it was about those particular things so they could look at it and instantly go, “Oh, OK.” I think there’s still wiggle room in there for them to be able to see it in their own way—that’s why I don’t do a lot of writing—but I still wanted to have that ability to direct them a little bit.
Does your own perspective lend anything to the experience? I’m originally from Kansas and I know you’re from Indiana. Does being from the Midwest or working in fashion for 15 years sharpen your sensibility?
That’s absolutely a huge part of what informed my eye. I don’t shoot too many things that are just dramatically crazy over-the-top. I think that I shoot a lot of things that people can relate to. I shoot a lot more subtlety than a lot of other people. Growing up in Indiana where that stuff is not readily available or easily available, I learned how to maintain a certain romance and see it in a certain way. I think I’ve always been able to keep that romance, purposefully not getting too close. A lot of these people that I’ve shot I’ve gotten to know, but I’m not usually that close.
One of the first little stories I write in there is about this guy Lino who speaks Italian and he has a great store in Milan and I purposely tried not to get to know him too well. A person who works at the store is translating what he said, and I felt if that he started saying something boring or complained about his employees, just don’t translate it, you know? I wanted to see it in the romantic way that I do right now. And they were totally cool with that. To still be able to imagine what that life might be like for a kid in Indiana or Kansas or whatever, to see the world through that lens, is a big part of the thing that makes it special.
What other things do you want to tackle? Now you’ve got a book, you’re in loads of magazines, you’ve got the blog…
All of that. I’ll take a little bit of all of that. As we’re talking I’m just getting ready to e-mail one of the women I shoot a lot for the book, Joanna. She’s one of the fashion editors at the Italian Vogue Pelle, it’s the leather and accessories section. So I just got done doing a big editorial for her in Montauk. It’s great because it’s still very much my style, my light, my sense of composition, but dramatic hair, a more dramatic look, more dramatic models, real models. It’s kind of like what I do, just heightened. That kind of thing is fun. I’m doing some pop-up shots for the book that will hopefully go well. I think of what I do as a brand and I try to approach it that way so now it’s just trying to figure out what other areas fit in that. How I can continue to translate into a brand and what other things seem to fall in that same realm.
What do you make of the fashion journalism landscape? I feel like fashion journalism is really married to the physical object, but what kinds of things do you see in the future?
I think that the bigger magazines will start using blogs as a minor league, find people but also create a more even relationship between the magazine and the talent because the talent will be able to come in and say, “I built this thing. I know I’ve got an audience” whether or not that audience matches the audience of the magazine. That’s the part that I think is going to be the big difference. Magazines will have more people to choose from but they’ll also have more competition in who they can get, whether they can lure them away from their own personal magazines or websites.
Do you think there will be some huge cultural overhaul because of the accessibility of fashion information?
I hope people don’t change. I hope it doesn’t create something like that. There’s that differentiation, how different people are, how a doctor leads his life or whatever. People just lead too different of lives. It’s just too different. But if you were someone who’s into that type of thing, you’re into style and notice that about people…I don’t think people are going to change. I think there will always be a set of people that are into fashion and style and a set of people that are into technology, or whatever. So that’s one of the things that hopefully separates what I do, because it’s really not judging, it’s accepting people for all the different kinds of things, and it’s not whether they’re cool enough for me, it’s how I can adjust what I know around them to be able to appreciate what they do. That’s one of the things I’m happy with is that the site’s not judgmental. It’s up to me to see what I can get out of these people I meet and what I can do with the inspiration that I see in them.
You don’t do a lot of editorializing in the site. Was that something you thought about or was that just the way it happened?
I didn’t really plan on writing. One of the things that I knew was that because it was Internet and it was so photo-driven, people didn’t have to speak English to enjoy the site. They didn’t have to speak English at all and they could still get something from it. I didn’t really plan on writing a whole lot but it’s still a thing I wish I could do more of. I end up writing a little bit more just to help people see it in the direction that I saw it, to be able to enjoy the audience I’ve created and be a part of that conversation. But past that, I like having people make up their own minds about how they think about something.
What’s the best feedback you’ve received from the blog or the book? Any particular moments when you felt like you made a difference?
I have had that a lot where I felt like, you know, I’m making a little bit of a difference in people’s lives. I’ve gotten e-mails from people saying that they’ve felt disenfranchised from fashion because they never saw anyone that looked like them, never seen anyone with their same build, their size, their same income level and can relate to that. These bigger guys that I shoot, they say, I took that picture to Nordstrom’s and asked the guy to help get me dressed like this. Things like that are great because it’s not about them buying expensive suits, it’s about looking at one of the images I’ve taken and figure how they feel they can make their life better. Something like that’s probably the most rewarding thing. I don’t really care about a bigger idea, but just a small effect like that. I’ve gotten a lot more e-mails lately from people who say they’ve just been very inspired to start their own blog or to look at people differently. And that’s really rewarding.
The Sartorialist Interview