Talking 'Faces' with Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist

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NEW YORK—Naples, Italy. Mid-July. Early evening. The Grand Hotel Vesuvio overlooking the sea. That’s where Vision Monday caught up with Scott Schuman, founder, blogger and photographer of The Sartorialist, an early pioneer in street style blogging, to discuss his new project with Luxottica, Faces by The Sartorialist. The Faces project is a digital hub dedicated to Schuman’s signature imagery of stylish individuals in eyewear from all over the world.

Of course, when I say “caught up with,” I mean Schuman was in the middle of an extended tour of Italy, while I was sitting in an empty office on the ninth floor of Jobson HQ overlooking the Holland Tunnel.


Nonetheless, Schuman’s enthusiasm for the project, and his work in general, almost made me feel like I was there… almost.

“One of the things I have been doing a lot more lately is portraits,” said Schuman. “It’s the idea behind my second book, called “Closer,” because a) I was getting closer to the way I wanted to shoot in terms of the diversity of people and b) closer, literally to the people. In those portraits, what I thought was interesting was from the shoulders up. It could have been their makeup, or hair, or the way their shirt was buttoned, so it still kept the fashion element, but I really zeroed in on what I wanted to capture in each person. So, it seemed natural, when Luxottica reached out, to use that approach with eyewear for this project.”

“I love shooting portraits,” added Schuman. “There is just something about getting in close to somebody. It’s a weird process because you don’t really know them but you stop them on the street and you’re standing pretty close shooting right at their face. But I think there is something about that awkward moment that comes out very beautifully in photographs.”

Of course approaching strangers on the street, especially if you don’t speak the language, isn’t without its challenges, but Schuman has that covered.

 
                             Scott Schuman
“You learn to be very humble and gentle, body language is important,” he explained. “I think they can see the sincerity in my eyes when I stop them and say ‘I’d really like to take a picture of you” or I act it out. Once I start shooting, I have to remain gentle and humble to get them to relax, but the other element is that I have to take a bit of control to show them that I know what I am doing and that I am taking this seriously.

“If I am going to stop someone and take their time, I am going to take it very seriously. Even though they are very nice and said yes to having their picture taken, I still have to say ‘Ok, can you stand here?’ or ‘Can you do this?’ It took a while but now I’ve learned to take control of the situation.”

Luxottica got behind the project because, according to the company, “in recent years optical eyewear has [become] an essential accessory that can define an individual’s style and personality” and Schuman’s blog, The Sartorialist, was “the first of its kind to capture the world of style in a more everyday context, natural and spontaneous.”

"In a project like Faces, like in anything, people love to look at other people,” explained Schuman. “They love to imagine what someone else’s life is like or who that person is. That is why the optical part is very important and why I am happy Luxottica gave me such freedom. The big thing that appealed to me with this project is that they gave me complete creative control, they want me to shoot things besides their brands, like vintage glasses and stuff, and they’ve been happy with the shots that we’ve done so far.


“I don’t shoot a whole lot of shots of the same thing, so the pictures I shoot tend to be the ones I use. I also don’t write very much about each picture because I want the viewer to use their own imagination,” he said. “I say this all the time, I said it in the first book, and its true with Faces also, the clothes and the eyewear and the hair just tell you a little bit, it sets the story, so people can look at these portraits and imagine who these people are.”

The only requirement of the project is that, through his lens, Schuman reveals people’s unique sense of style, specifically in regards to their choice of eyewear.

“It’s surprising how much you can tell what a person is like, even before you speak to them, from their eyewear,” acknowledged Schuman. “You know, if they’re kind of kooky, or whatever. A lot of people wear glasses every day. It sits right on their face, but I’m always surprised that once you start talking to them you think ‘wow, they really are like their glasses.’ Their glasses tell you a little bit about whether they are a serious person, or wacky. Do they even really care or are their glasses just face furniture for them? That has been the thing for me, what a signal a person’s choice in eyewear is to their personality.”

Over the course of the coming year, while on his travels, Schuman will keep a particular eye out for men and women who wear their eyeglasses with unusual flair and post those photographs weekly to the Faces by The Sartorialist site and Instagram feed.

 
“I rarely have one particular favorite shot but it’s the diversity of the shots that I really love,” he explained. “It’s when I go through the stream of faces and the different kinds of style and the different personalities and the lighting of the shots is different, that’s what I love. There are so many possibilities with what we can do with this project.

“I am really just at the beginning of this process. Hopefully, I am going to India this year and to Africa. I don’t know if my point of view will change or if how I see the project is going to change in so much as it will be reflective of where I am and the environment I am in.”

At that point, I ended the call so Schuman could head out into the Naples twilight to do what he loves.

“At the end of the day, the thing I love most is just to go out and take photographs. Just going out and finding interesting people to shoot. If I am out doing that and put myself in the place to absorb things, then good things happen. I don’t always know what but good things happen,” he concluded.

To follow Schuman’s journey visit www.facesbythesartorialist.com or @facesbythesartorialist on Instagram.