Long before he become one of the fashion industry’s hottest photographers and a voice calling for greater recognition of his peer group, Adam Katz Sinding (AKS) spent 12 years carrying guests’ bags when they checked into a Seattle hotel. And he loved it — almost too much.
“I really took pride in being the first person they encountered in Seattle. I could make them like my city. Felt it was my responsibility,” he recalled.
“It was really hard for me to get promoted, because I was so good at my job, they didn’t want me to be the concierge, the restaurant manager, whatever. Thank God I could do something else.”
Sinding, who is even better known by his initials AKS, continues to put a lot of effort into proving his versatility, even in photography. While being celebrated for his street style photos, his blog is named This Is NOT A Street Style Blog. His book, published last year, goes even further with the title This Is Not A F*cking Street Style Book.
For AKS — who was in Toronto recently to help shoot images as part of the opening of luxury boutique WDLT 117 — that anti-street style positioning is a way of reminding the industry of his interest in portrait photography, editorial work and other activities.
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“I use available light for shooting no matter what,” he explains. “There are a million things you can do. It just happens to be easiest when you walk outside of a building and there are half a million beautifully dressed people and take photos.”
Over time, however, street style has evolved beyond the days where stylish people were photographed almost surreptitiously. Instead, we now have influencers who are constantly aiming to be captured by the likes of AKS, in ways that can be completely contrived and manipulative. He says when he’s at a major event like the Chanel show, he’d much rather take pictures of the old women wearing half a million dollars of the brand’s clothes — people who are the actual customers — or at least juxtapose them with a young influencer.
“This phrase ‘content creation,’ it just bums me out, man,” he says. “It’s tough, because there’s competition . . . It’s difficult to realize that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they’re are wearing. They will get engagement just because it’s that person.”
Things came to a head a few years ago, however, when AKS found himself standing among his contemporaries in Milan after the Max Mara show, when one of the other photographers asked an important question: How many of them had gotten actual work after having their photo of an influencer achieve thousands or even millions of likes on social media?
“There was 50 of us standing in a circle, and one guy raised his hand. We were like, ‘Exactly,’” he said.
“I once stayed in in a 35 euro a night AirBNB with six other guys, just so we could afford to take photos of influencers. Meanwhile they’re being driven around in Rolls Royces, staying in the presidential suite and flying business class and getting paid.”
This was the impetus being the #NoFreePhoto movement, which AKS skill uses as a hashtag on photos he puts to his own Instagram account. Though there was some backlash from influencers and other fashion industry members, the movement made the role of photographers impossible to ignore any longer.
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It was the first time we photographers all came together, because before that we all hated one another, in a way,” he says. “I don’t care about fair. I care about them using our work to fulfill their requirements to their contracts and we don’t receive anything. We’re not even part of the equation. We don’t want their money, we want to be part of this environment.”
Though he wound up a professional photographer after starting out as a hobbyist, AKS says he continues to try to main a level of naiveté or innocence — to pretend a particular girl hasn’t been paid $10,000 to wear an outfit, for example.
“Sometimes I want to ignore the clothes entirely and shoot the zeitgeist — to show the landscape of hyper-commercialized activity,” he says. “I also like to show how ridiculous it is sometimes and shoot the girl who’s paraded up and down the street four times as if she’s talking on the phone. Because that’s part of the scene, too.”