Taking photography from the streets to the blog.
By Melissa Presti (Book Publisher)
I’m going to preface this post with a little anecdote from 2007: I was couch-surfing in NYC, as you do when you’re trying to make it, and ran out of couches and job interviews. Obviously, I checked into a hostel for a few nights before I went crying back to Ohio. It was just like the movie Big, when Tom Hanks barricades himself in a room while he cries himself to sleep to the sounds of gunshots and arguing foreign tongues from the street below. Except I was in a room with 3 bunk beds filled with strangers and I don’t really recall gunshots. Also, I was a real adult.
Anywho, one of my bunkmates is actually still my friend to this day. Simbarashe and I only see each other maybe once or twice a year, but I’ve worked with him editorially on his book series, and more recently I’ve become a fan of his street photography.
I find his website, Lord Ashbury, to be reminiscent of the infamous street fashion style blog, The Sartorialist, but it possesses more down-to-earth flair and I wanted to take the time highlight the concept behind his photos with the following Q&A.
(He spells things like “colour” and “neighbourhood” to remind you that although he lacks an accent, he has British roots).
MP: Explain the concept behind Lord Ashbury.
LA: The site's tagline, "English eyes, American ego" basically lends itself to my existence which has always been the dichotomy of all things that are proper and over-indulgent, for lack of a better term. I learned both the British and American way of doing and understanding things growing up; visually speaking, this governs what I see and in turn, what I like. The blog exists in a similar vein: on one hand, I display a collection of uniquely fashionable people across the spectrum of New York, but then occasionally there is a shift to a more organic existence of the city at large. I think this is why so many people like my blog; it's not just "street style" or "editorial" or "pretty pictures". Lord Ashbury does all of that, but it doesn't try to do all of it at the same time. You can find a photo of a nicely dressed person today, but tomorrow find a write-up about a polaroid film developer or a house band that plays somewhere on Wednesday nights.
LA: Back in January. My original idea was for Lord Ashbury to be a style guide for men. I was going to go round to shops and take pictures of products, and maybe Q&A trendy men on the street. On a whim I went and shot some people at Fashion Week. A woman I had photographed was also posted by The Sartorialist. Someone on the Internet made a side-by-side comparision of both our pictures; my blog went from 50 hits to over 400 the next day. One could say the whole street style aspect of the blog was determined by the will of the people. I just thought, 'These people won't come back unless I put up more content.' I've been posting every day ever since.
LA: No, I never studied photography. I didn't even own a proper camera until November of last year. Prior to that, I took tons of photos on my cell phone. Before Instagram made everything cool and easy, it was sort of my life's work to get the absolute most out of my smartphone camera, down to the last ounce. Once Instagram got popular and there were several killer apps out though, I just sort of looked around and thought, 'Well that was fun while it lasted; onto something else.'
I'm a writer by day, and I think one has to be able to find interest in things that are ordinary to be a good storyteller.
LA: You know, you bring up an interesting point that I've been struggling with lately. Strictly speaking in terms of fashion, I don't have an acute taste for high fashion so much as I do for colour palatte and presence. Sometimes the stuff I like on people is high fashion, but sometimes it's complete thrift. How that translates to Lord Ashbury, who knows. To be honest, I don't know why I call my subjects 'Street Style'. I take pictures wherever I find interest, and I've often been told by people that at first glance the subjects I post look ordinary. When I see a person I want to photograph, a lot of times it's not about the clothes at all but the way they look in the place where I find them. In that regard, I think of LA as more of a collection than a series of pictures. This is why the blog has the layout it does, because one can always see at a glance what I was into during any given week. You could say the blog is really a tray of hors d'oeuvres, and visitors have the freedom to click on what they like rather than having to scroll through all of them chronologically. The fact that so many people accept the challenge of finding the interest in my subjects is pretty remarkable, though. The Internet makes people so lazy these days... I love that my audience isn't lazy.
LA: I've walked around the city so much now that I pretty much know what neighbourhoods I want on certain days. For instance, I stopped searching for fashion on Fridays because I've discovered that's the one day of the week where people are guaranteed to dress plainly. I figure everybody plans to go out that night or over the weekend and subconsciously nobody wants the hassle of getting dressed up twice. In the beginning, I was in Soho all the time, but Soho is tricky. All the style bloggers hang out there. Laziness. I tend to find the best people on Mondays and Tuesdays. And I carry my camera every day it's feasible for me to do so.
LA: That phone call where someone thinks highly enough of me that they'd want me to shoot their stuff. I mean, that's what anybody ever wants, right? No? I'm not allowed to actually say that on record? Just print 'high-fives' on the street.