The street is the average person’s daily runway. It offers a unique setting for photographers to document the unfettered fashion of style enthusiasts. Photographer and creative designer Paul Melo seeks to capture individuality and authentic senses of style for his highly acclaimed street style blog, StyleQuotient. Melo launched StyleQuotient in the summer of 2009 to document and promote what he says was Vancouver’s lacking fashion scene: “I created this site to highlight and uncover the most stylish personalities gracing the streets, the most stylish places to see and experience, and the details that make it all worthwhile.” Melo decided to focus on style over trends, fashion, or celebrity, describing himself as a true street style photographer who captures people wearing real fashion in everyday life.
While many photographers have jumped on the street fashion blog bandwagon, few have adhered to the quintessence of the genre. Melo says that, until recently, photographers would attend fashion shows to capture the loudest outfit on the street in the lead up to the show. He says, “That is not street style. Most of the high level ‘street fashion’ photographers have finally realized this and [this approach] is now becoming passé.” Melo is pleased that the street style bandwagon has lost a wheel.
Melo finds inspiration on the street from real people in real life scenarios. He looks for that intangible element that catches his eye. “I never look for labels or costumes,” says Melo. “I walk through a neighbourhood and photograph that person who stands out amongst the crowd, usually because they shine in comparison to everyone else.” Having a fashion sense is something that’s personal and distinct says Melo, who believes that fashion is just one element of style: “Most people think style is about clothes, but it’s not. It’s not what you wear but how you wear it, how you accent it, how you present yourself.” He describes style as a subtle but clear distinction in quality and appreciates a well put together outfit as a mark of authentic individuality.
Melo grew up in a stylish Portuguese-Canadian family; his parents instilled in him a sense of pride in appearance from a young age. Melo explains, “Dressing up was a show of respect and self-awareness. My father always wore a suit in his spare time, and my mom loved to take my sister and me shopping. I guess I developed a sense of style from very early on.” Melo believes style is in the details, which can be all it takes to transform an uninteresting outfit into something truly outstanding: “It is a thoughtful sign of consideration about oneself. It is simple but impactful.” Melo claims that details such as the addition of a bold pocket square or the right watch with a simple suit can augment a look, while the wrong accessories can sabotage an outfit — for example, bad sneakers paired with a beautiful dress. Though Melo chooses to focus on the street style of Vancouver, he has travelled to other countries to seek out unique
street fashions for his blog. He claims some of the most styleconscious people can be found in Frankfurt, Germany; although he admits that he tends to gravitate towards more stylish neighbourhoods: “It’s tough to find a lot of style in the parking lots of the world’s rest stops, but you might. Every city has a place or neighbourhood where stylish people congregate.” Melo says these fashionable areas are considered the hip neighbourhoods today, but this was not always the case, as evidenced by the early street photographers.
Although his images are mainly viewed today for inspiration on the latest fashions, Melo hopes they will one day be appreciated as a social document, like those of founding street photographers Fred Herzog and Vivian Maier. Though street fashion photography may seem a relatively new form of photography because of the many new photographers who have flocked to fashion blogs, the genre has been around since the end of the nineteenth century and is widely considered a kind of social documentary. Celebrated street photographers such as Herzog and Maier, who shot during the 1950s and 1960s, are known for their images of ordinary people and streetscapes mainly in the working class neighbourhoods or gritty downtown cores of cities like Vancouver and Chicago.
Unlike his predecessors, who photographed with various film cameras on slide or negative film, Melo uses a Nikon D800 digital single-lens reflex camera with an 85mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.8 fixed lens to capture his street subjects. He prefers the former for its shallow depth of field, which allows him to blur the background and focus the attention on his subject. While Melo appreciates the convenience that shooting digital affords him, he takes the time to edit his images before posting them to his blog. “There is always something to distract on the street, be it a cigarette butt or oil stains on the asphalt or lint on a jacket,” says Melo. “I’m documenting and photographing style, not forensics.” He will remove any distractions in the image and apply a subtle softness to flatter his subjects and give the photographs a filmlike quality.
While equipment and post-processing are an important part of the process, the method of shooting street style photography is equally as important in achieving the desired results. Melo uses gentle confidence to approach his subjects and gain their trust. He dresses well, is friendly and professional, and always initiates a photograph with a compliment.
Melo’s photography went through a stylistic shift. He slowed down the shooting process, bringing some of his street subjects into the studio in order to capture their personalities in a more intimate setting. “I’m shooting more stripped down, simple portraits. Street style photography is very fast. Some interactions happen in a matter of seconds. You only have a moment to pick the perspective, frame them, relax them, and snap,” says Melo. “There is something special about photographing them again in a completely different setting with time to interact, get to know them, and see them in a new way.” StyleQuotient is a creative outlet that allows Melo to showcase style — something that is near and dear to his heart. Although he does not believe the world needs another fashion blog, his advice to would-be street style photographers is to pursue the genre if style is something they are truly passionate about. He says, “You have to have your own sense of style and have the eye for what is stylish and what is not. Also, approach it as a professional, not a hobbyist. The niche is already saturated.” Melo’s secret ingredient is a sense of style that he honours in everything he sets his sights on, be it photography or design, for every market.