Three years ago I started photographing for a local publication called Central Track. This particular outlet had a section dedicated just to photographing people walking about town who were extra fashionable, or just plain interesting looking. Most people call this Street Style, and CentralTrack was no different. It was my job to turn in three street styles a week.
I would ask them a quick interview along with taking their photos. “Where did you get your clothes? How would you describe your style? What’s your inspiration?”. With an average time of 15 minutes from the first snap of the camera, to the end of the interview, it hammered into me a sense of public awareness. A sense of how to approach people, how to talk to them, how to get what I wanted from them without sketching them out.
I no longer do street styles for the publication, but it has instilled in me something that I can’t forget. It will always be a part of my life, and as such, I carry it with me everywhere I travel. Paris was no different than the streets of Dallas in my eyes, just different people with a different sense of fashion.
A little secret: I don’t speak French. Daniel only knows key words and phrases, usually revolving around food. So between us, we didn’t stand much of a chance getting the message of what a street style is to the locals in Paris. In America, starting with a compliment usually does the trick of getting someone’s attention, but in Paris it often gives off a stranger, more nefarious vibe. People in the US hear “Hey, thats a nice jacket!” and often reply with “Thanks! I got it from this store!”. In Paris, people in their head they hear “Hey, thats a nice jacket, let me have it!”
So I had to enlist the help of a friend. A local Parisian with her own photography intentions that was happy to tag along and translate, provided she got some fun photos of the locals herself.
Body language is the universal language as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to street styles, the way you communicate is just as important as the shots you get. If your subject isn’t on-board with what you’re doing, they’re only going to give unnatural, awkward poses. Making eye contact, pointing towards the camera, pretending to press the shutter button are all great ways to quickly and effectively convey what you’re trying to do, and typically within the first five seconds you’ll know who is, and who isn’t interested in getting their portrait taken. People who don’t want to be photographed will almost always instinctively shy away. Those that were open to the idea would immediately open up or at least let you come in closer.
The only thing I regret about my Paris street styles was not starting sooner. Being shy myself of being caught in an awkward situation where communication was key kept me from starting earlier, but once we started shooting, it was immediately apparent there weren’t too many differences in street styles in the US, and those in Paris. Turns out fashionable, fun, quirky people love getting their photo taken across the globe.
Thanks Alex for a great time in Paris!