The photographer becomes the photographed

A look back at what happened on the streets at London Fashion Week

Street style. Probably the craziest phenomenon to hit these shores since ‘twerking’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary. And this season what had before seemed like a healthy enthusiasm for fashion, now stretched to an obsessive compulsion to fight for the best place, the best photo. The question is, what exactly is street style? Do people consciously dress to be photographed or would they actually go down to the supermarket wearing a pair of trousers covered in teddy bears? In my opinion, which I’m sure I share with many people working in the fashion industry, clothes should be an expression of your personality, not a cry to be noticed. Although it is a slightly cynical idea, you have to ask the question, is there any authenticity in the way people get dressed for the fashion shows, or are they simply peacocks desperate for some air time?

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In 1989 fashion crews were first allowed backstage to film areas that before that had been off limits to any photographers. After the supermodel craze of the early 1990s, hundreds of crews could descend on the backstage area to interview, photograph and generally just hassle the models. Now there is not a moment of a catwalk show that is not documented, one way or another. Bill Cunningham was the first ‘real’ street style photographer back in the 1980s. His photos stood out because he noticed something other people did not see. He had an eye for detail and took photos that could not have belonged to anyone else. Nowadays there will be up to twenty photographers crowded around the same person, all taking the same photograph. There are those who may say, what is the point?

But this is the era of reality TV, where everyone has Facebook, Twitter and a blog. Everyone is involved. This is an empowering feeling for a generation who feels the need to share every moment of their lives with strangers over the Internet. But it can also feel demoralizing when you are the one who did not get to go to that show or meet that famous person. Blogs have become a craze that seems to be ridiculed a lot of the time but they promote a positive message for young people starting out: that you can make it on your own, if you only try hard enough. It becomes very difficult, however, to establish what someone really is or really wants to be when their job title reads blogger. The streets outside fashion shows have become a circus, a photographic warfare in which a sea of unnamed, unknown photographers jostle for that angle that just might set them apart from the rest.

At London Fashion Week this September, there seemed to be more ‘photographers’ outside the shows than there were people attending them. I will admit that I was one of those ‘photographers’ but I felt quite cynical about actually taking any pictures. In the end I decided that people carry cameras as an accessory, so that other people carrying cameras might just actually use theirs to take a picture of them. Those people take those pictures to post on a website in the hope that someone, somewhere might notice how good they are and hire them. So I decided to take pictures of people taking pictures of other people. Very confusing I know but I came away with an, what I felt was, interesting viewpoint of the few days where fashion’s real stars and fashion’s peacocks parade around Somerset House.

Photography is an incredible medium, designed to capture those moments you never want to forget. But when you start to share the exact same moments as twenty or maybe even thirty other people around you, they begin to lose their individuality. And that is what I fear is happening to those people behind the cameras. Those people whose faces the world never sees. There will come a time when this craziness will go too far but the real question is where can it go from here? Has street style photography come to the end of its reign? I really have no idea. We shall just have to wait and see.

One comment

  1. 31 Oct ’13 at 7:42 pm

    Henri Cartier-Bresson

    Big props to Cunningham, but Cartier-Bresson was out doing the candid stuff back from the 30’s. Also, formed Magnum Photos. Just sayin’.

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