Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Materialist

For my Open Source Culture class:

Appropriated photographs + collage:
2 foam core panels (26 1/3 in. x 40 in.)
Mounted full color photograph prints
Mixed craft + origami paper
Mixed metal thumbtacks

Scott Schuman is the man behind The Sartorialist, a popular blog that features photographs of stylish urbanites. Schuman created the blog, he writes, "simply to share photos of people that I saw on the streets of New York that I thought looked great. When I worked in the fashion industry (15 years), I always felt that there was a disconnect between what I was selling in the showroom and what I was seeing real people (really cool people) wearing in real life." In the intervening years since its inception, The Sartorialist has made a celebrity of Schuman, and become a lucrative project in its own right. Schuman freelances articles and photos for more established, traditional fashion media, and also exhibits and sells prints of his favorite snapshots to collectors. He then uses this revenue to finance more ambitious Sartorialist endeavors and now travels often to Europe and Asia to document style and streetwear around the world. The Sartorialist has indeed come a long way.

Through recontextualizing Schuman's digital photographs, my work "The Materialist" invites a rigorous critique of The Sartorialist enterprise. While on one level celebrating Schuman's work (the viewer can luxuriate in the large color prints to take in the style and beauty of each subject, each "really cool person"), it also provokes an awareness of the essential flattening effect that The Sartorialist inflicts on his everyday muses. Through its very obvious use of applied materials in the spirit of vernacular collage, "The Materialist" seeks to return to the image making process the principles of fashion lost in the first transfer of life to film: texture, structure and color.

As part of a 'found art' exhibit, The Materialist appropriates already existing work that aspires to art. But on another level, The Sartorialist himself uses found objects to constitute his art: those of his everyday streetwear models. What makes a Sartorialist photograph more than just a stylish person on the street? Scott Schuman's lens, which frames the subject and composes the photograph as a whole. The collage covers the background in the frame, effectively eliminating what Schuman brought to the subject. That the applied materials represent a variety of colors, prints and textures re-foregrounds the materiality of fashion, which is a tactile, Do-It-Yourself, experiential sport of mixing and matching. There is no shortage of fun in street fashion, but it should not be rendered sterile, frozen or mute by the editorial gaze of one man's photographic eye.

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