It seems fitting that nearly a year after Vogue Creative Digital Director Sally Singer wrote that article, criticizing fashion’s darlings – Bloggers, that a new state of play has emerged amidst Milan Fashion Week. This time around it is those that have aided fashion’s social elite gain visibility, popularity and provided consistent coverage, that have turned on their prime subjects, as an attempt to get their fair share of this very lucrative pie.
You may have noticed that a handful of Street Style Photographers – including Le21eme and The Style Stalker started using the hashtag #NoFreePhotos on their fashion week street style posts. The campaign was launched as a direct response to a growing trend of brands and Bloggers using their copyright-protected photos without authorisation and remuneration to fulfil their obligations to brands during Fashion Week. The campaign highlights the premise that Bloggers are taking advantage of the fact that they know they will be photographed at shows by a mass of Street Style Photographers, providing them with enough – free – content, and thus removing the need to actually pay a photographer to take photos of the outfits they have been paid to wear and promote. Their concern and frustration is not unwarranted, when you put it into context the blogging and influencer business has become a multi-million dollar industry, and where once – bloggers were fighting against the “work for free culture” it makes sense that photographers want to be added to the equation and be better compensated.
However in the instance of street style photography specifically, things get blurry and a little more complicated. The concept of street style photography revolves around the premise of a candid, caught in the moment photograph whereby the subject is usually unaware – not anymore – that they are being photographed. As the subject of a photograph, I think there is an automatic sense of entitlement to be able to share and repost that photo – with credit to the photographer of course. So where do you draw the line? This also raises the question of privacy and the commercial use of imagery without consent. While brands usually have to pay models and influencers usage rights for publishing photos of them on their channels – and let me tell you these are usually pretty hefty, street style photography works in a realm of loopholes claiming “newsworthiness” or “public interest” but imagine if bloggers and celebrities suddenly demanded remuneration from brands and photographers for the right to publish photos of them? This, of course, would never happen however it does raise the question of entitlement and rights to an image if the subject has not specifically commissioned or consented to it.
There is no doubt that street style photography acts as a symbiotic relationship for the blogger, the brand, the media outlet and the photographer. However from what I witnessed first hand at New York Fashion Week, many – if not most, street style photographers I saw outside of shows only took photos of bloggers, models, celebrities and industry leaders. It was a very surreal moment as I watched 30 different photographers, professional and amateur pursue Margaret Zhang to capture essentially the same photo – if you followed my Instagram Stories you would have seen this unfold. Unless you were wearing a Pocahontas like outfit – yes that did happen, no matter how well-dressed, interesting or fashion forward your outfit was, you were not worthy of photographing unless you had a name or handle which was part of fashion’s social currency.
Street style photographers – at least some, have made it their business to only capture fashion’s IT crowd, by selling their images of the known and important players that are guaranteed to get media outlets clicks and get brands the hype they need to sell their product. So like blogging became a profitable business it’s natural to assume that street style photography will do the same – but are they perpetuating the very cycle they want to change? Early in its day street style photography was all about capturing candid moments with a focus on clothing and how everyday, real – and often unknown, people expressed their personal style through their fashion choices, but with a monetary gain in mind, this is not always the case. I will conclude this article with a quote from the great late Bill Cunningham which seems fitting for this debate, both from the blogger and the photographer.
“I am not fond of photographing women who borrow dresses. I prefer parties where women spend their own money and wear their own dresses…. When you spend your own money, you make a different choice.” – Bill Cunningham
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, be sure to leave a comment below.