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Self-motivated and self-taught NYC-based photographer ADAM KATZ SINDING travels all year long, chasing style across the globe. SINDING was one of the prestigious guests of this year’s Festival Mode & Design in Montreal. Editor-in-chief Estelle Gervais shared a few laughs and drinks with him while he was in town. *Check*
THE FINE PRINT: Tell me a bit more about yourself. How has your career evolved since you’ve been in the industry?
ADAM KATZ SINDING: I worked in the hotel industry forever, carrying bags, making reservations, etc. I bought a Nikon D70 in 2004 and began to shoot around as a hobby. Going with my coworkers after our shift and taking night photos of old abandoned neighborhoods, ruined buildings, etc. It was loads of fun. I didn’t start to shoot people until October of 2007 when I started, what was then called, “Le 21ème Arrondissement.” I would walk to work to the hotel with my Leica M8 and shoot people on my way. After I moved to New York City on New Year’s Eve of 2010, everything changed quite quickly. It was only necessary to have a “real job” for the first year, and after that I made photography my career. It’s baffling to look back on how it all happened.
TFP: Most people imagine street style photography has being staged, and only a part of it being candid. Could you clarify?
AKS: 99% of my photos are authentic and candid. I get quite annoyed when I see “street” photos being set up or choreographed. To me, this creates a false reality, which I feel is not honest for the viewer. I would prefer to have a 8/10 photo of a girl crossing the street out of necessity versus a 10/10 photo of her doing the same after she’s been requested to do so. This is not the real action. You can see, at least I feel, the tension in the neck, the fixed gaze, etc, which is boring. If I wanted to setup photos I’d shoot an editorial. We [photographers] are out there to document. That’s it. However, it is very, very hectic and you miss a lot of shots, so some photographers ask the subject to pose. I try not to partake, or if I do partake, I take a more passive role. Shooting the subject from the side while she’s watching the other camera. To me, it’s reality: she’s posing for him, not me, and I’m documenting this. It’s a bit of a strange idea, but I require some sort of “story” to be told with my photos, not just “Look, pink shoes!”
TFP: How do you think street style photography has evolved from when Bill Cunningham started to today?
AKS: Today street style photography seems to be primarily about consumerism. You see some trend, and you know a magazine will buy the images if you can create a photo narrative that speaks to this trend. I try not to partake in that consciously. I prefer it to happen organically, if possible. Also, the whole concept of people arriving to be shot at shows, and who aren’t attending the show itself – people who want to have their picture taken for the world to see, who are just about the status and social recognition; I think the majority of the leading photographers can see through this and we tend to avoid them. That being said, if a girl shows up in a full next season Valentino look to the Valentino show, chances are MANY people will photograph her. Something like that is very eye-catching, and photographers react. Personally, I’d rather see understated women in T-shirts and jeans, clean and simple, but with oozing confidence. I like to shoot the girl who just wants go to the show and go home, the girls who don’t give a fuck about me, or about whether I’m there or not. I like the hunt. My ideal subject is the girl who I can NEVER get a great photo of because she’s “over” having her photo taken. It’s like a relationship. If you tell me you love me on the first date, you’re going to probably bore me.
TFP: Biggest difficulties in the industry?
AKS: We work very long days…without breaks…for 30 days at a time. New York is 8 days, on the last day we hop on a plane to London, get off the plane and head directly to the first show. Same with Milan after that, and Paris after that. We often start shooting at 9 a.m., and in the summer months don’t finish up until 10 p.m.; only to then go home and edit all night to meet deadlines. It takes its toll. You can’t really skip a day, or skip an important show. I’ve missed big shows before, and there’s nothing more gutting than seeing the photos the others guys got while you were late to the show. It sucks. I really want to take the best photo every time, and you just can’t do that if you’re not there.
TFP: Travel essentials?
AKS: Deodorant. Running shoes, running clothes; I get depressed if I don’t exercise on a regular basis, as it can get very lonely traveling this much. Besides the equipment, one pair of jeans that I wear the whole month until I bust out the crotch. A Bang & Olufsen A2 Bluetooth speaker to listen to while I slave over my edits for eight to ten hours a night.
TFP: Meeting the fashionalities: any muses?
AKS: Christine Centenera, Markus Ebner, Larissa Hofmann, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Hollie-May Saker, Dominik Hahn, Adonis Bosso, Isaac Larose and Florence Provencher-Proulx are also incredible to shoot. I love shooting them, as every time I encounter them I come out with a shot I’m proud of.
TFP: You have a very impressive list of clients. What working with the best in the industry has taught you?
AKS: Tommy Ton is super inspirational to me. His work ethic is unparalleled. This job is so tiring and often at the end of the day I just want to go home, but I look over and see Tommy is still there, and I think, alright, he’s been doing this circuit YEARS longer than I have, I can stand to hold on for a few more minutes before I head home. It’s interesting to watch his body language when he’s shooting. He sees things that the rest of us aren’t able to see. It’s impressive. I owe a lot to the fact that I work in such close proximity with him. My style of shooting has directly been inspired by his and his photos set the benchmark that I strive for. My #1 goal is to be as good at him one day. If he didn’t show up next season, that would be a real shame as I think it would also hurt my motivation, and that of the other photographers as well. Tommy and I are not friends, but I have great respect him and his work.
TFP: You are not only here to speak at the conference, but also to do what you do best: get some street style shots. What are you expecting from Montreal in terms of style?
AKS: I’ve actually never been to Montreal. I’ve been all over BC and in Banff. Canada is a beautiful country and Canadians are so much friendlier than Americans (Don’t tell anyone!!!). Montreal is on the very top of my list of places to go in Canada, rivaled only with St Pierre & Miquelon (Yes, I know it’s technically not Canada, but still) and Fogo Island. Montreal has exploded onto the forefront of the cultural scene. I’m now not surprised when I hear a song and hear that they are from Quebec. 10 years ago it used to surprise me. I’m coming there with no expectations. It’s better that way for me. I just want to shoot. See new people, new ideas, new light, and new backgrounds. I can’t wait!
TFP: Do you have a life lesson or “mantra” you live by?
AKS: I guess Nike’s “Just do it”. We often work 20 hours a day, it’s tough. Get your ass out of bed, and sleep when the season is done. Well, in my case the circuit has become a year round trip, pretty much non-stop, and I will think of this phrase to motivate me. It’s become difficult for me to take time off. I find that If I stop shooting, my body begins to hurt when I start again. I made this analogy with hot sauce: If you eat it non-stop, it never really gets that hot. It’s only when you STOP eating it that you feel the burn. I’ll just keep eating for a while.
Photography ADAM KATZ SINDING