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The Sartorialist: Birth of an image maker

On Dec. 10, Scott Schuman will appear at Wellesley College to explain his street style in relation to the work of featured photographers at a Davis Museum exhibit.

GARANCE Doré

On Dec. 10, Scott Schuman will appear at Wellesley College to explain his street style in relation to the work of featured photographers at a Davis Museum exhibit.

Though Scott Schuman didn’t expect to settle into a career in fashion photography, the Indiana native always had a love and appreciation for both.

“Even at 29, I never thought photography was going to be something I was good at,” Schuman says. “I wanted to be in fashion. My images work well because it’s a mix of a love of photography and a love of fashion.”

Scott Schuman

Schuman has presented his photos in a blog and books.

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The images Schuman is referencing are those found on his highly regarded fashion blog, The Sartorialist, focused on street style across the nation and across the globe. Today, Schuman, 44, says he looks for inspiration in the unexpected, focusing on capturing candid yet chic moments. But long before he picked up a camera himself, Schuman was more interested in the history of the field.

“Photography was something I liked as a byproduct of looking at magazines,” he says. “I love reading about other artists in other periods, and what they’ve gone through to create their arts. It’s the process of creating art and then trying to get it out there, and trying to get people to understand your point of view.”

That passion is what brings Schuman to Wellesley College’s exhibition “A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012,” which highlights the growth and change of the Davis Museum’s photography collection. On Dec. 10, Schuman will explain his own street style in relation to the work of featured photographers. The exhibit showcases shots by some of history’s most famed image makers, including Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt, and Nicholas Nixon.

Schuman admired the work of such photographers, though his own affinity for photography developed later. “It wasn’t until I had my own kids that I actually picked up a camera myself and found something I wanted to take pictures of,” he says.

Scott Schuman

He began to experiment with photography but was never deterred from his love of fashion, initially cultivated by a much younger Schuman growing up in Indiana. He recalls being entranced by what he saw on the glossy pages of magazines. “[Fashion] was as unreal as ‘Star Wars,’ and as fantastical and romantic and faraway. It was totally unlike the life that I had — and it seemed more fun.”

‘I wanted to be in fashion. My images work well because it’s a mix of a love of photography and a love of fashion.’

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Years later, Schuman took to perusing fashion forums online, which he quickly tired of. He found the wordy sites to be lackluster and limited. “There was no visual element for fashion, which is totally visual,” he recalls. He saw it as an opportunity to combine a new talent with an old mainstay.

“I had learned how to use natural light and be very spontaneous [with photography]. I thought if I mixed what I knew about shooting and what I knew about fashion and put it on something like a blog, it might create something unique.”

What resulted was The Sartorialist (www.thesartorialist.com). Although the site is geared toward fashion, Schuman makes clear that the reach of his work extends further than the garments.

“[I shoot] strong images with strong fashion elements, but to me, it’s not just a fashion photograph,” Schuman says. “It’s more about conveying the moment. I try to capture it in the romantic way that I see it.”

That shooting style has earned Schuman attention in his travels from Italy to South Korea to Costa Rica, and across the United States. Bloggers, fashionistas, and writers in New England have taken notice, as well.

“I think his photography is amazing,” says Bettina Janco, creator of New England style blog Neat Bit (www.neatbit.net ). “He has a natural way of capturing people that is really in their element. The way he composes his photos is beautiful, and it feels very natural and not as contrived.”

Beyond appreciating the composition of Schuman’s work, bloggers have pegged the photographer with spearheading the explosion in popularity of street style blogs. Many are turning directly to him and The Sartorialist for inspiration.

“He’s definitely the best-known street style photographer,” says Marissa Berenson of Boston-based site The Well-Appointed Catwalk (www.thewellappointedcatwalk.com ). “He’s influenced a lot of other photographers in the way they shoot and blog. A lot of bloggers are turning to him for ideas — I know I do.”

Emily Geaman of local style blog So Anthro (www.soanthro.com ) agrees. “If you were to look at any page, there’s always something to take from [each],” she says. “He’s a pioneer in street-style photography. Especially where blogs aren’t the most respected form of media, this shows you can really make a name for yourself being a fashion and street-style blogger.”

Schuman is eager to continue photographing, exploring, and sharing his findings with the throngs of fashionistas that navigate through The Sartorialist each day. He credits the success of this especially stylish moment in part to good timing, but also notes that this new forum for image sharing plays into something larger.

“In the real history of photography, we’ve never had a moment where we could put photos up and have contemporary comments of that moment. It’s the first time that we’ve figured out how to portray fashion on the Internet,” Schuman explains. “It’s getting people to understand where we fit in.”

Jessica Teich can be reached at jessica.teich@globe.com.
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