Scott Schuman Chats With Us About His New Book

This guest post comes to us from fp naomi, who hasn’t blogged with us for awhile, but we’re so happy to have her here today!

This day and age everyone wants to be a photographer.  We all want a piece of the street style pie, and a nice camera isn’t so hard to come by. The contemporary blogging phenomenon began with a lucky few, such as Scott Schuman, who were early on scene. Through a good eye and wise advice from his lover, Garance Dore (who also shot some of our October Catalog!), the self-taught photographer has climbed to the top. Today, he’s in the midst of the launch of his second book, The Sartorialist Closer, and continues to shoot eye-capturing portraits worldwide.

This past weekend Scott and Garance visited Philadelphia for a Q&A book signing at a local venue, Cook. Throughout the inspirational discussion, Scott let us in on some of his favorite photos, and where he plans to go next. A special thank you to Philly Mag who put the event on, and was so kind to invite the Free People team. Read below for a Q&A recap with the renowned photographer.

*Please note that responses are not direct quotes, but summaries of Scott’s words.

Q: Talk a little bit about your influence by Bill Cunningham.

A little secret between us, I don’t actually know Bill Cunningham. Despite that, I feel like I must pay my respects. He, of course, was one of the originals. Garance and I were recently at the Ralph Lauren show, and we were seated right near Bill. I remember watching his face light up like a kid as the looks came out. Even after all of these years. I hope that I have such passion when I’m his age, we can say he’s a spiritual mentor for me.

Q: How do you differentiate yourself now that there are so many people trying to do what you do?

When I started, I always wanted the background and the light a certain way. I was the first to put people in the street to get a context of their surroundings, but now that other people are adopting that style I have to evolve. It’s one thing that Garance has said to me. We were recently in Morocco and I was having a hard time, but she made me realize that the people weren’t going to change to me, I had to change to them. You have to be able to adjust! Now moving forward, I’m really focusing on getting more movement in my photographs and playing with light. It’s kind of nice now that people know who I am, they will give me the time to play around and get that great shot.

Q: Do you prefer indoor or outdoor photography?

I don’t have enough patience for indoor photography. With indoor photography, you have an image in your head and you create it. It’s tedious and takes hours just for one shot. I would rather react to an inspiring scene that is already happening. I don’t prefer to shoot any certain kind of person or fashion; I shoot what I react to.

Q: What makes a great shot?

Dramatic light, the gesture and physicality of a person. It is so much more important to capture a beautiful gesture rather than a full view of an outfit. What I do is more like portraiture; fashion is just the underlying thread tying things together.

Q: Do you seek to inspire or be inspired?

I would say that I seek to inspire. The photo has to be something that I would want to look at again. I hope that people can see something they relate to as a human, something that moves them.

Q: Do you have a favorite photograph in the book?

I do actually! I really wanted to shoot nomads, and so Garance and I went to Morocco. One day we went to the desert and we found this woman and her son. The whole time the boy was running around being a typical kid, throwing sticks and teasing the dog. Then there was this moment, he and his mother both happened to make a similar gesture, raising their hand up to their mouth. I knew that was it.

Another favorite is of the young Mennonite girl who was selling blueberries by the side of the road. We drove by, and I knew I wanted to shoot them, but I wasn’t sure if it would be ok. I thought it might be against their beliefs, but Garance urged me to go try, “Even if you don’t get the shot, the interaction is still there,” she said. So we went back, and the young girl spoke no English. The whole time I was communicating with her though her mother. But look at her, she’s really a modern day “down on the prairie type,” with her sleeves rolled up and her tan lines. She is just about the same age as my young daughter, but what a contrast.

That is why I wanted to call this book, “Closer,” because it’s getting closer to what I originally wanted to do: mixing fashion and culture.

Q: What is the easiest city to shoot in – the most fashionable?

I love shooting in NYC because of the crazy variety you can find. I also love Milan because it is what I call, “narrow & deep.” Italians eat Italian food and do what Italians do, but there are 1 million variations within that scope when it comes to how they dress.

Q: Tell us a bit about your fashion background.

Growing up, Armani was my hero. I went to school and took some design classes here and there, but luckily I was self-aware enough to realize that I wasn’t going to be the next Armani. I was only regurgitating designs that he had already done, and I loved fashion too much to disrespect it like that. I still felt like I was meant to do something important in the industry. I worked at places like Valentino, but found myself feeling too creative and passionate to wait on other people’s creativity.  I ended up opening my own showroom in NYC, and then that closed just after 9/11. I became a stay at home dad after that. During that time, I started shooting my kids. It was the first time I picked up a camera. I was completely self-taught, but I think that  was part of what gave me a unique style. What I was creating was totally my own vision. Then I launched the blog and within six months I was shooting for GQ. To get a blog going and make it successful, you have to have a strong point of view.

Q: Who are some of your other influences besides Bill Cunningham?

First of all, Garance and I have an apartment overrunning with books, but I look a lot to people such as Bruce Davidson, Caravaggio, August Sander, Helen Levitt, and Brassai. I key in on photos that I like and see how they make me feel. I then try to go out and try to capture similar emotions in my own work.


Our Creative Director and her boyfriend outside afterward with their new books!


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