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Stopping Strangers

Posted by Rosalind Jana Oxfam Fashion Blogger

5th Jul 2012

Shooting street style photography is a process of opening eyes.  One has to 'see' more than usual, focusing not only on people's clothes, but also on their faces. Working at Hay - clutching little 'You've been spotted' cards as I wandered between events - gave ample time for this process of looking. The eye is often talked about as a lens, maybe with the blink symbolizing the click of the shutter.  But when the actual purpose is to photograph, then the eye acts as a kind of precursor to the lens, a roving scout that takes in everything. I noticed details that would normally pass me by - the way a pink jacket was matched to a scarf and the stripes on a bag, or the careful co-ordination of several necklaces and pins. I sometimes 'street style spot' people in my head, noting their sartorial choices approvingly, so to be able to follow this up with the chance to actually take photos was a joy.

Nonetheless, a great number of individuals I wanted to stop snagged my attention by their faces before their outfits - looking incredible in the way they smiled, or in the wrinkles around their eyes, or their bright red lips. But the nature of street style forced me to be selective: to make myself judge glimpses of clothing as they flashed by; the cut of a tweed jacket; the combination of colours or layers; the use of velvet or thick wool.

It must be decided instantly whether a person should be stopped and photographed. Sometimes I hesitated - halted by the slight fear of approaching a stranger to ask whether I could steal a few minutes of their time. It was an unknown quantity, and yet one that was proved unfounded by the responses from the majority of sweet, lovely people. Only one or two were unwilling or too busy to accept my request. Quite a few were shocked that I deemed them worth photographing! Serendipity also played itself out in the locations for many of the photos. A man in tweed was well placed with rows of books around him, while one woman's floral skirt was reflected in the blue and purple flags behind her. The satisfaction of such a shot is unbeatable.

 What united many of the subjects was a professed love for charity shops. From a woman who volunteered at an Oxfam to others who regularly donated clothes, the overarching theme was one of 'second hand'. Every time someone mentioned a coat or suit from Oxfam I was inwardly thrilled. It proved the importance of such places, demonstrating the fond feelings many hold towards charity shops - be they Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children or any of the others that scatter the high street. It was a privilege to snap such stylish individuals, and even more to hear the stories behind their choices, particularly when they had a special resonance or source. Stopping strangers on the basis of their outfits was a fascinating task, and one that I hope to repeat in the future.

Blog post written by Rosalind Jana

Oxfam Fashion Blogger

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Headshot of Roz Jana, Oxfam Fashion Blogger