A HIPSTERISH fellow in a hooded sweatshirt and a fur-collared trench coat gazes out from a black-and-white photograph. His hair coiffed rockabilly-style, his pants rumpled, he strikes a balance between grit and polish. It’s one of the many transfixing street portraits by the photographer Vivian Maier, now on display at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. Though she produced most of her work in the 1950s and ’60s, Maier’s eye for bold prints, and fashions that range from the decadent to the artfully decaying, would place her images at the center of today’s street-style photography. If only she’d had a blog.
Unquestionably, street-style blogs have revolutionized fashion, both in terms of how we view it and how we define it. The fashion vérité on sites like Scott Schuman’s Sartorialist broke ground and inspired countless others, many with highly evolved views of what fashion is or should be.
Indeed, with a blog and a little savvy, Maier would not have been on the sidelines, nor would she have been a lone woman finding her footing among a host of male photographers. A strong case could be made that traditional fashion photography is still dominated by men, but on the street the reality is far different.
For all the attention paid to photographers like Mr. Schuman, Tommy Ton and Yvan Rodic of Face Hunter, street style as a genre is scarcely a boys’ club anymore. A growing pack of talented female photographers, based in New York and abroad, are equally deserving of the spotlight. They are all the more remarkable for effortlessly working both sides of the camera. Impeccable dressers themselves, women like Candice Lake, Hanneli Mustaparta and Tamu McPherson are often photographed by their peers. In pursuing street-style stars, they have become nouveau celebrities in their own right.
This month, as models, buyers and fashion editors descended on New York for Fashion Week, throngs of street-style photographers converged at Lincoln Center and other sites. As the Richard Chai show got under way last Thursday, Bridget Fleming, who shoots the fashion flock for a photo agency, waited by the Lincoln Center fountain. She wore a scarlet beanie-style cap and a wool cape layered over a chunky turtleneck. Her camera hung pendantlike around her neck.
“It feels relatively gender-even,” said Ms. Fleming, who is better known for her solo project, Downtown From Behind, a popular blog showcasing impossibly cool movers and shakers bicycling on the streets of Lower Manhattan. “There may actually be more women than men.”
For Ms. Mustaparta, once a full-time model, the impetus to shoot strangers came from being a target herself. “I was going to Bryant Park for a friend’s show,” she said, “and as I walked up to the tents, all these photographers wanted to shoot me — for what I was wearing. After the show, I was backstage and saw this girl, and she had on this awesome outfit, so I asked if I could take her photo.”
In less than three years, Ms. Mustaparta, who was born in Norway, has become a first-name fixture in the blogosphere, one whose “brand” is built on her own way of dressing as much as on her ability to reflect that aesthetic in her photographs of others.
Thanks to her bankability as a model, she has worked in front of the camera in ad campaigns for Net-a-Porter, Coach and Rag & Bone while shooting street fashion for Vogue.com. Last fall, the magazine named her one of its 10 best-dressed women of 2011, further blurring distinctions between style photographer and style icon.
Ms. McPherson, the oft-photographed photographer behind the blog All the Pretty Birds, shoots women who deftly mix and match their designer wares. They dress with purpose, as does Ms. McPherson. “I love dressing up,” she said in an e-mail from her home base in Milan. “I try to be practical with my outfits. It’s really tough, though. I mean, how long can one resist a sweet pair of stilettos?”
Ms. McPherson and Ms. Mustaparta share company with Garance Doré, Mr. Schuman’s paramour, who frequently appears enviably dressed on his site, while her own blog encompasses personal storytelling, illustrations and photos of her equally chic friends.
The men plume themselves, too. Karl-Edwin Guerre of the blog Guerreisms is a thoughtfully dressed cameraman, but by and large, his patterned three-piece suits and vintage panamas are unusual among his colleagues. “I go mostly for function and fit,” said Jason Jean of Citizen Couture. “I try not to drive too much attention my way when photographing.”
Seemingly, it is more common for women to embody their brands photogenically. “Given that women are predominantly the subject of street-style photographers, I can see how many of them would want to extend their point of view in fashion and personal style through shooting,” said Christene Barberich, the editor of the fashion site Refinery29. “Their personal style is very evident on both sides of the lens.”
For female subjects, too, there may be a difference in how they pose for other women. “There’s something special about a woman’s eye,” Ms. McPherson said. “Maybe it’s an innate understanding how other women like to be perceived or the message they’d like to communicate with their style.”
Ms. Lake, who appeared on the catwalk with Ms. Mustaparta at Alberta Ferretti’s prefall presentation in Milan, is another model-turned-photographer-turned-part-time-model. For the first day of Fashion Week, she donned a fur-sleeved jacket, leather pants and red suede ankle boots, with her Canon 5D Mark II on one shoulder and a Chanel purse dangling from the other.
“It’s like the first day back at school,” she said, waving as Ms. Mustaparta walked by. Glancing around for possible shots, she seemed unaware of the small gathering of bloggers nearby waiting to snap her photo.
Ms. Lake, a six-foot-tall Australian, worked the runway circuit as a model before obtaining a fine arts degree in photography. She has shot ad campaigns and editorial features but is best known for her luminous shots of young women in London (where she now lives), contrasting the gray streets with vivid colors and splashes of prints. Last September, the Tribeca Grand exhibited some of those images.
ANOTHER photographer, Vanessa Jackman, is something of an anomaly among her cohort. “I absolutely loathe being in front of a camera,” said Ms. Jackman, who was born in Australia and now lives in London. “If I could be invisible, I would be.” Her work includes images of Fashion Week centerpieces like Giovanna Battaglia, Taylor Tomasi Hill and even Ms. Mustaparta, as well as portraits of relatively unknown faces. But each one possesses a dreamy, almost romantic quality.
“You won’t find her in the herd, and it shows in her photos,” said Mr. Guerre, of Guerreisms. “Vanessa’s about the ‘perfect picture.’ ”
Ms. Jackman attended her first Fashion Week in 2009, shooting for British Vogue, but this season she is on the scene strictly for herself. “Financially, it is more difficult to work independently,” she said, “but you have to balance that with the freedom. I can photograph who I want, when I want and how I want.”
Shooting on assignment has reliable earnings (and there is no shortage of publications with “street style” components), but the demands that come with the commission can be overwhelming. Ms. Fleming says she takes as many as 1,500 shots a day during Fashion Week, and often works up to five hours a night on processing and color corrections before passing her images off to clients.
Regardless of success and exposure, these women maintain realistic attitudes about net profits and meeting their bottom lines. Though Mr. Schuman has said that he earns more than a quarter-million dollars annually in ad sales on his site alone, that remains an unimagined figure for most street photographers. Even “It” girls have to pay the bills.
“You definitely need to have additional projects for financial stability,” said Ms. McPherson, who keeps a post as director for the Web site Grazia.it.
Despite the infinitude of the Internet, the field of street photography is becoming increasingly crowded, yet there appears to be little rivalry among these potential competitors. It’s unlikely that editors from rival fashion glossies would show one another next month’s cover and ask for feedback, but that happens between rounds of shooting outside the shows.
Last season, Ms. Fleming, Ms. Jackman and Ms. Lake often split cab rides between shows and found time for the occasional meal together. For Ms. Jackman, the competition is there, but it’s personal and entirely gender-neutral. “All of us have different goals in terms of where we want to take our photography,” she said. “So for me, it’s within myself.”