If someone wrote about fashion shows in the way good writers tackle sports or popular culture, they could attract literally tens of readers.
In September of this year, while I was living in the city, London hosted its fashion week, and, as far as I can tell, this had no bearing on my life whatsoever. There was a time when I might have cared, might even have gone through the various shows and picked out looks that I liked and, god help me, write about them, but even then it was less aspirational and more “This is something that should interest me.”
Except it doesn’t. At all.
When I was 14 I went to the Vancouver Auto Show. Even in the early 90’s when car shows were depressing I remember feeling a sense of wonder at these machines that, not a decade later, I would come to hate. I read car magazines. I understood, to a degree, what cars did. And going to a car show or, probably better, looking at pictures of the bigger shows like Detroit and Tokyo, was an important part in my understanding and finally appreciation of cars.
I don’t think I know a single man who feels that way about fashion shows. And I know some very fashion-conscious men, men who read blogs or even write them, men that care about what they wear and where they buy it and even on occasion how it’s made. But I’ve never been around a group of men anywhere at anytime and had one of them reference in any way a menswear show. Ever.
Which raises the question (but does not beg - it does NOT beg - it never, ever begs): why are menswear shows, at a time when it seems the male awareness level of style has reached a high not seen since Beau Brummell's times, so completely irrelevant to almost all men?
It’s easy to think that, for the vast majority of men, money must be an issue - fashion shows are seen largely as a parade of things most men could never afford. But then you wouldn’t sell many issues of Motor Trend if every cover shouted about the Top 20 Most Affordable Cars. Even on GQ the fashion shows are buried deep at the bottom of the style page, a reluctant provision to their existence; by far the most interesting part of GQ’s fashion show coverage is its street-style sections, including the still legendary Yo, Your “Street Style” is Buggin’.
I haven’t looked at a runway show in years, partly because I stopped writing about style, partly because I couldn’t tell why I would bother, and, even more partly, by which I mean more and not less of the parts, I couldn’t find a site that had them viewable by anything other than a slideshow designed by sadists playing with Flash the way a young child plays with the wings of a fly. Do fashion shows not want us to look at them? Why are the pictures organized so poorly? Why is the complete show view always in 24x36 thumbnails? Why is nothing given any context other than a blurb about the existential crisis at the heart of cotton?
I think if someone took it upon themselves to create a fashion show site organized like Devour or The Verge, that men would continue to ignore it but eventually become curious, curious enough to wonder why an entire industry seems to have developed so close to them without needing their interest or wanting their concern. I think if someone wrote about fashion shows the way Grantland writers tackle sports or popular culture that such a person could attract literally tens of readers, and maybe, just maybe, draw us into contact with this thing, this preening mass of limbs and double-breasted blazers, that does its best to ignore us.
I am the worst sort of hypocrite - every day I check The Sartorialist to look at his photos. And if all he did was take photographs, the world would be a much better place. But no. Occasionally—and, maddeningly, more than occasionally in recent years—Mr. Schuman will take the time to voice his opinion on things. And his opinion, whether of himself or young bloggers or the way one eats lunch, is always, always wrong.
How can someone’s opinion be wrong? When it’s attached to the kind of blowhardiness Donald Trump finds off-putting. In a recent interview with BlackBook he proves once again why nothing should ever come out of his mouth by comparing himself with photography legend August Sander.
Your images are rooted in fashion. Do you consider yourself a fashion photographer?
August Sander was a strict photographer but because he captured such interesting elements of life at that moment, now a 100 years later you can’t help but look at the fashion in these photographs. The only difference with me is I have a chance share a fashion experience for a contemporary audience with my photographs.
Emphasis is my own, but don’t think he wasn’t thinking those italics.
EDIT: Not really an edit, but something I thought today while in Shoreditch - Schuman photographs people because he likes what they’re wearing; Sander photographed people because he liked people. I don’t know about you, but when I look at Sander’s collections the last thing I’m thinking about is fashion.
The summer I turned 20 I worked as a counsellor for a camp for youth with mental and physical disabilities. I had never done this type of work before and didn’t know what to expect. But I enjoyed working with kids, loved summer camps where I’d volunteered the past three summers, and assumed I’d be a good fit for the job.
There is a certain popular narrative going around about people with mental disabilities that tends to focus, rather oddly, on how happy they are all the time. (If you haven’t, I urge you to read Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s account of life with her disabled son.) Even if you’ve never significantly interacted with mentally-disabled people I’m sure you can see how this assessment is limiting, insulting, and narrow-minded. I suppose people have their reasons for thinking this; some, I’m sure, even see it as a generous assessment of a positive quality we’d all like to possess. More on this later.
It only took a few days before I started to wonder if I was possibly ruining the campers’ summer. My chargers were not, on the whole, happy. I was failing them, it seemed, failing them in a spectacularly uncool fashion. It probably didn’t help that I was nervous, so nervous sometimes that I found myself standing in the middle of the main field, on my way somewhere, stopped by a train of thought that dead-ended in doubts. I talked to a few veteran counsellors who assured me I was doing fine, that for god’s sake I needed to relax, that I should try to just go with whatever was happening at the moment. If it wasn’t illegal and no one was being injured, what did it matter?
Here is the truth I learned about providing care - you can’t make it about yourself. My concerns in the beginning were about how other people would perceive me. I wanted to be the hip, new counsellor, god help me, that all the kids immediately liked better than anyone else. The more I tried to be that person, the less useful I was to the campers.
So I stopped trying. I let things happen. I forego control and a sense of order for the sort of amazing chaos inherent to a summer camp, and especially prevalent at this one. Here is my favourite memory of that time:
At some of the camps it was important for counsellors to stay with their campers essentially 24/7. However, at some of the teen camps you could spend time wandering around and interacting with the other campers. This is how I met Kevin.
Kevin was a fan of Kenny Rogers, and had become deeply concerned that Kenny’s manager was up to no good, particularly from a financial standpoint. Kevin wanted to write Kenny a letter, a warning of sorts, but I suggested that a song might be more appropriate for the gambler. Over an afternoon Kevin wrote out what he wanted to say to Kenny, and then I came up with a tune, and together we sang it hoping Kenny could hear us. The only lines I remember are one about how the manager is out to get you, get all your money, and then the epic chorus of “Run, Kenny, run”.
If the internet had existed in any useful way back then I would have a) filmed it and b) tweeted at Kenny about his predicament. As it stands, this entire event only exists in my memory, aided by the photo.
I don’t want to speak ill of the organization that funded this camp, because I do believe they do good work and are, on the whole, helpful, so I’ll refrain from using any names. But there was definitely one part of that summer that bothered me and the other counsellors - the annual board member picnic. This was when members of the board of the unnamed organization would drive up to the camp and have lunch in the outdoor eating area.
Nothing wrong with that - most of them had donated large sums of money for these kinds of privileges. What bothered us was that they then requested certain campers be brought by to meet them and pose for photos. I suppose it could have been worse - the campers could have been asked to perform, maybe a rousing rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For”. There was also a lot of gossip as to how the campers were chosen, that lead to some very inappropriate statements made about what is probably just a group of generous men. (And they were all men.)
After the camp I went to work for one of my campers as a part-time caregiver. He was a young man with cerebral palsy, confined to a wheelchair, and also one moody, cantankerous bastard. He was also, by turns, funny, charming, sincere, and brutally honest. In other words, he was as complex as any other human being, and this complexity was singularly unmitigated by the fact that he couldn’t talk.
For the entire first day at camp I was certain he hated me, or, at least was having a really bad time, until I noticed a slight smile creeping over his lips whenever he thought I wasn’t looking. It was then I realized that he wasn’t having a bad time but, like almost anybody, he didn’t like being taken for a fool. I had been talking to him almost non-stop, worried that he’d feel neglected (or, if I’m honest, worried that I’d look like I was neglecting him.)
But as I got to know him I understood how having someone just talk at you and, worse, pretend to answer for you is pretty insanely annoying. So I stopped and just watched him when I wanted an answer to “How are we doing?” or “What do you want to do?” and generally, I think, I got what he was saying. I lost track of Peter a few years after I stopped working with him. I like to think he’s giving someone else the same kind of wonderful grief he gave me, and that that someone is a beautiful woman.
In which I walk from East Dulwich to Brixton on the hottest day (so far) in London.
Weather-wise, it has been a summer to forget. By trading one water-logged city for another I realize I’ve resigned myself to countless more earnest conversations about the weather, and where this summer stands versus all previous summers (“the worst”), and what we all are for putting up with these 13-degree, permanently moist if not actively raining days (“crazy”).
Of course, now that the Olympics are almost here, the officially sanctioned perfect days of cloudless skies have arrived, turning London into a swamp of sweaty, sun-addled lobsters. Which is the perfect time to forgo public transit and walk from my home in East Dulwich to the market in Brixton.
I read recently that not knowing where you are in a city simply requires ignorance, whereas getting lost demands a real sense of purpose. It’s not hard to get lost around the south of London, with its streets eschewing any sense of a grid or pattern, and its rows of houses dead-ending without warning, making it the perfect place to have a wander.
I’m fading hard, which is embarrassing and shameful. In my defence it really is ridiculously hot after weeks and weeks of cool and drizzle. I’m going through my water like the crazy guy on a life raft; I’d be drinking sea water if I was on the ocean.
No, seriously, this is terrible. This is why people don’t walk anywhere. No public water fountains. No public shade. I’m standing on a street corner melting into my shoes and there is no one about anywhere. The most beautiful day of the year in London and not a single person is out (or they’re all at the lido, or beach, or eating delicious ice cream in some sensibly shaded area).
I’m not lost, since I’m following the 37 bus route precisely, but I’m hot enough to think I might be lost, and yes that makes no sense but that’s how amazingly hot I am. Did I mention I’m carrying a DSLR? I’m carrying a DSLR.
No more water. Send dogs with balms of nectar.
Vancouver prides itself on being an exceptionally green city, which is a little like Venice being proud of being underwater. Sure, Vancouver is green, but it’s Vancouver, not Phoenix. Maintaining a park in Vancouver is about as labour intensive as watering fish in a lake. In London, every park is being used, and there is an amazing number of parks, most small and comically statued, but many large, the size of neighbourhoods, and filled with families, musicians, and that shirtless guy doing one push-up every five minutes.
I take shelter in a park and lean against a tree. I whisper to it that it’s a very good tree, in the hope it will share some of its moisture. It does not. Nature is selfish and cruel.
Brixton. Mother-loving, ice-cold drink-vending Brixton. There are people everywhere, and all these people are drinking beer. Parched with thirst and on the verge of singing show tunes in a fountain, I realize now why the great explorers of the past tried to walk across Australia.
Because they were stupid.
When I was four or five years old I would wake up every morning and eat oatmeal with my dad. I have only vague images of this, which are themselves probably simulations based on stories my parents told me many years later. That said, the feeling of heading down the stairs to share oatmeal with my dad remains in that space between true recollection and fabrication, and is one of my favourite stories about me.
Apparently, I was a voracious eater of oatmeal.
There’s nothing more boring than someone extolling the virtues of eating breakfast, and I’m happy to say that the fact that it’s The Most Important Meal of the day and Vital for a Healthy Lifestyle does not factor at all into why I love it so much. Breakfast could be linked to cancer and I’d probably sneak two or three a week.
What a proper breakfast signifies—and here by proper I mean something that resembles a meal, and not a bar of compressed nuts covered in yogurt—more than anything else is the availability of time. Unless you’re the type to wake up two hours before you need to leave the house, a proper breakfast is probably beyond you on most working days. But on holidays, or when gainfully unemployed, breakfasts offer the kind of decadence I associate with jackets worn indoors and afternoons playing ridiculous sports.
With the kind of time I’ve had over the past eight weeks I’ve produced breakfasts of such dense amazement sometimes I just sit in front of the plate almost weeping. I’ve discovered the delight of duck eggs, of cooking tomatoes slowly in a pan, of scrambling eggs with butter by taking the pan on and off the heat. When I have significantly less time on my hands, as dictated by bank accounts and bills, its breakfasts I’ll miss the most, although I have a sneaking suspicion kippers and eggs will start making their way onto the dinner menu.
If music has any power left in it (of course it does, surely it does), it won’t be found in detailed discussions of the music industry’s descent into obscurity. We talk about music like we can trade it for chips in Vegas, and not like it lives and breathes and pulses and babies know about it the moment they’re born.
And while you will have to pry my iPod from my cold, dead hands, curved perpetually to its scroll-wheeled demands, music is still best experienced live, which is where The Tallest Man on Earth, aka Kristian Mattson, takes his music and drives it directly, unerringly, into your soul.
Mattson is the kind of artist so in love with his audience that he’ll play a free set to people who bought his album literally minutes before he’s meant to take the stage for a paid show. It’s one thing to render judgment of music as it comes through a set of headphones, quite another when you’re faced with Mattson’s profusely sweating brow as he almost melts in Rough Trade’s stale, unmoving air.
Recorded live at Rough Trade East, Brick Lane, London, 2012.