If Tommy Ton is the Michael Jordan of the international streetstyle set, then Adam Katz Sinding is the Zinedine Zidane — exceptionally talented, and not at all concerned with kissing babies or shaking hands. His website, Le 21ème proclaims, “This is NOT a Street Style Blog”. He wears head-to-toe black, a long, dark, beard, and travels in a pack of similarly clad photographers. His shots are moody and sophisticated. He’s not an easy conversationalist.
Adam started his site in 2007 after moving back to Seattle from Paris, where he worked in hotels and became obsessed with Hedi Slimane’s designs for Dior Homme. According to the man, he was shy, and used his camera as an ice breaker to enable him to talk to people who looked like they might have similar interests. It served him well. Today, his Instagram followers count in the hundreds of thousands, and growing. His clients include W Magazine, style.com and The New York Times. He’s known as the one to watch.
We caught a taxi together from Charles de Gaulle Airport to our Paris apartments last night, and I took the opportunity to ask him some questions about his attitude to work, his life on the road, and his relationship to the other photographers.
I’ve noticed that there seem to be two cliques in the streetstyle world — your crew on one side, and then Tommy Ton’s on the other side.
Yeah there’s a separation between these two crews that’s risen up. It’s like Tommy and Koo and Nam and Phil and those guys, and then me and my guys, and we just don’t talk to one another. I don’t quite understand where the animosity arose from, but yeah we’re all in competition.
So you look at the others as competition?
Yeah, we’re all in competition with one another, of course. Only one person is going to get the best photo because it depends on where you’re standing. Even if the other person isn’t selling to the same vendors as you, they’re in the position that you want to be in or their elbow is making it so you can’t get that perfect angle, and that’s frustrating and that’s where it becomes so competitive, but it’s exciting too, and we’ve all had to adapt because of that. It makes it more difficult to get a photo, so it makes it more interesting. When I go to Copenhagen there are maybe seven photographers there and it’s so easy that half the time you forget to lift your camera up because there’s no urgency.
It’s almost like sport in a way.
It is. We’re all using sports cameras, we’re using sports lenses, it’s competitive when you’re out there for sure.
Forgive me for saying, but I’ve noticed that sometimes you look a little angry on the street.
My number one thing is telling people, “Don’t f*cking look at me.” I’ll yell at people. It makes me sound like such an asshole but it’s the only way that you can really express to people what you want. “I’m not here. Don’t look at me. Live your life.” I want to make a hat or a shirt with fluorescent letters that says, “I’M NOT HERE!” I’m trying to capture authenticity — the whole thing is so fake that you try and derive some authenticity from it if you can. That’s one reason why I don’t like to become friends with the people I shoot, because then you can just ask them to do whatever you want and it becomes manufactured.
So who are your favourite people to shoot?
Julie Pelipas, who is the fashion editor of Vogue Ukraine, she’s so cool and her body proportions are insane. Isabelle Kountoure — I think she works for Wallpaper — she’s so beautiful and she always wears black and it’s just all about the little nuances in her movements. She hates having her photo taken but she knows I love taking her photo. And Christine Centenera from Vogue Australia.
What about a guy?
Basically any Japanese dude out there. Stephen Mann from Inventory or Rick Owens. It’s these people that you rarely see that I’m the most attracted to because it’s so difficult to get a photo of them.
I talked to Tommy Ton last week and he said that he gets lonely on the road. Do you get the same way?
I get lonely just because I’m working 20 hour days for 30 days straight, with one day off, and then you do it all again. It’s tough. And then you see all these people Instagramming that they’re drinking champagne and having a Michelin starred dinner, and I’m eating a pizza in my underwear with crumbs in my beard, drinking a bottle of wine out of the bottle, and it’s 5:30 in the morning. I think I spend more days on the road than any of the other streetstyle guys — last year I traveled 300 days — and I get super depressed, but it’s such a catch 22 because if I wasn’t there and I was seeing these guys’ photos, I’d want to kill myself. And then the irony of it all is that the moment the fashion week is done, you wake up the next morning and you’re like, ‘What the f*ck am I going to do now?’
I can totally relate. It’s such a comedown.
The funniest thing is that I’ll make more money in one day shooting in a studio than I’ll make doing streetstyle for a month, and I don’t have to run around and there are assistants and production and styling and everything, but I would never ever give this up. I don’t know about Tommy, but you don’t make that much money when you think about the hours that you put in and the fact that your expenses aren’t covered. I might make $10,000 in a season, but I probably spend $6000 for hotels and flights for one month, and that’s not including the meals and if you wanna go out and get drunk and whatever. It’s not about that. It’s so exciting. I just wanna run after these people.
Whose work do you admire?
Tommy’s. Period. That’s it. We all talk about it. Every day when we’re running around going crazy working until we can’t keep our eyes open anymore, and we always say, “We could take less photos,” or, ‘We could go to less shows,” but I’ve never gone to a show and had Tommy turn up after me, and I’ve never gone to a late-night show when the light is fading and not seen him there. His dedication to this is so admirable because he doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t produce as many images as we do, he only puts out maybe 10 images a day, maximum, whereas we’re doing about 70 or 80, but he is still there at every show just to ensure he’s not missing anything. I don’t think he’s technically any better than the other guys, but he’s the one guy who always has his camera in his hand, who’s relatively antisocial — like me — and that’s the main reason we don’t talk, because I don’t want to interfere with his work. He was there before me, and that’s my sign of respect. He could work 10% as much as any of us and still be at the top, but he works just as hard, if not harder.
But he also seems to love it the most.
We all do. I was talking about this with Nabile Quenum from J’ai Perdu Ma Veste the other day, I was like, “We should just go to less shows,” and he replied, “Yeah, but don’t you love taking photos?” And I was like, “Well yeah, that’s right. I love taking photos.” Even if it’s raining or snowing, it’s fun. You’re creating something.
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