Oct 21 2013
In every industry, whether it be music, fashion, technology, automobiles and others, there are a handful of individuals that help keep the industries afloat. In fashion, we have the brands themselves and the conglomerate companies that invested in them, there are buyers and wholesalers that get the products in stores, and there are the salespeople that serve as liaisons for the customers to help them better understand the product.
Then there are the creatives – the writers, editors and bloggers, the stylists and the photographers, the art directors, the make-up artists, the models they work with and more. Every individual in this industry plays their role exceptionally to ensure that the engine never fails, that the sails continue to catch the wind and, basically, that the fashion industry continues to stay a well-oiled machine and cash cow. These dedicated individuals often go unnoticed and unheard, their story untold because they shine a spotlight on another and hustle to push their creative boundaries for the better of the business. These individuals, these Hustlers, will have their story told so that you can finally meet the minds behind the minds you adore. Our first Industry Hustler is none other than photographer, George Elder.
Photography by Lordale Benosa
On a cloudy Sunday morning with slight precipitation, photographer, Lordale Benosa, and I hopped aboard a northbound Metro North train headed to Portchester. Portchester isn’t any different than New York City, in fact, upstate New York has as much of a bustle as Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Upon arriving in Portchester, I shot a text message to native New Yorker, George Elder to confirm our meeting place at a local bakery named, Kneaded Bread. We found the bakery quite quickly since the neighborhood seemed all too familiar. There was a movie theater complex close by to our train stop and a few popular restaurant chains. Although we headed an hour up north, New York seemed unchanged. Shortly after reaching Kneaded Bread we heard a shout out from a distance and noticed George in his denim shirt, henley and camouflage cargo pants. He greeted each other and he shared how he was still surprised that we wanted to highlight him for our Hustlers series and how gracious he was.
George is a humble guy. He held our door open and made sure we were accommodated well during our stay. George reminded me of other native New Yorkers. He has a bit of an edge to him at a glance, but he’s an easy-going, conversational guy. Eventually, we ditched Kneaded Bread to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings and watch some football. Yeah, he’s a regular guy. The youngest of 3 ‘Elders’, George is a photographer and married man who spends his weekends in SoHo to capture the street style of the busiest and most stylish downtown neighborhood. Maybe that’s why there was such a familiarity with George and the neighborhood. He’s not far removed from the city and has his finger on the pulse of menswear just like every other “#menswear dude”. He chose not to eat but he didn’t object to us ordering a heaping helping of boneless wings. He said he needs to chill out with that food since he’s going to the gym, but he was definitely tempted. We talked about photography like what body and lenses he uses, we talked sports and music, George is very agreeable and though we grew up in different neighborhoods and sections in New York, it felt like we were friends for awhile.
As the Giants game played on the projector behind us and fans began to flock into the restaurant, we picked our wings and picked George’s brain about how he got started in the industry and what’s next on his agenda.
Interview from October 6th, 2013.
What was life like growing up?
It was a regular childhood. I grew up in Spring Valley, NY and lived in a co-op. I had close friends in the building, we all grew up together. It was fun! There were rough times too. That was during the time when it was bad in the neighborhood, but it turned out well. Pretty much, the focus was sports and making music, we loved that.
Was music your first love?
It was actually; well I’d say art and then music. Rap, hip-hop, I was doing that for a really long time. That path is difficult because you really have to invest yourself and have a good team. Anything creative just draws my attention.
What about sports? What sport did you play?
Football. I started out playing two-hand touch in a little area and I was good at it. Unfortunately, I never got to play running back, but all of us used to play in a park for Pop Warner Football, which lead to college football at Western Connecticut in Danbury. I got injured and it was something minor too. I tore a tendon in my finger, but by then I fell in love with my college life. That’s where I met my wife and a lot of my close friends now too.
Wow, so there was sports, music… How did photography come about?
Well, the best man in my wedding, Greg Lewis, he’s a wedding photographer. He just started out doing that and I was seeing the work he was putting in and I noticed that he was having a good time. We took one class together in photography in college, and he actually shot my wedding and my engagement. I think that’s where it started.
I would go on vacation sometimes and notice that when I take photos I put a lot of thought into it and I didn’t really understand it. Then Instagram came out, and this was back before it became really popular, I was using all of the filters and after I would post them I would delete them. From there I really wanted to get into photography. I was doing music then and that huge investment is tough and I felt that after getting married I couldn’t invest that same time. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do [in photography].
What was the first step into photography for you?
I was speaking with Greg and I asked if he could mentor me and if I can help shoot weddings. I still do and I learn a lot from him and then one day I was on The Sartorialist, I didn’t know who he was then or that he was a big deal, I just saw what he was doing and thought wow that’s what I’d like to do. I really wanted to do portraits and fashion photography, but I wanted to get my feet wet doing street style. I enjoy doing street style, it’s my bread and butter, but eventually I’m going to do portraits and editorials.
Who did you first work with for street style photography? What was the process like?
What I did first was talk to Greg for recommendations, and I think at first he was feeling me out to make sure I was taking photography seriously and giving me pointers. Eventually, I drove to SoHo and just went out and started shooting people. I was a little nervous at first, but even comparing it to me being on stage and performing I didn’t have stage fright so I didn’t when I went to approach people. That helped me talk to people and then I learned a lot from researching photographers and looking at The Sartorialist. He made a good point about how to approach people like maybe out of five, one will say no.
When I approached people to take their photo, I always told them it was for a school project although I graduated years ago. I would tell them I’m shooting street style for a thesis and eventually I was shooting for someone so it made it easier.
I eventually sent photos to Sharp Magazine based in Canada, I was featured maybe three times and I reached out to The Genteel. I found them via social networking and I still shoot for them. I continued to go out and shoot and build my craft and study my camera and that’s when I reached out to Lawrence at Four Pins who liked my stuff. We started off on the good foot.
Do you feel like your wedding photography translates to your street style?
I think that for what Greg was teaching me, like what to look for in settings has helped me, but I feel that my street style helps with my wedding photography. There are certain things I’d take pictures of that they wouldn’t necessarily see and they like that about my style so they have me as an assistant for detail and candid shots mostly. I think wedding helped me learn the camera itself too.
Initially, I would shoot the standard full body shot and I wouldn’t set up because I didn’t want to take their time and sometimes it turned out right and other times it didn’t. I trained my eye to shoot what I like and now shoot what’s catered for whom I’m shooting for. Looking back on what I’ve sent out when I started shooting, the outfit was probably just average, nothing standing out about it, but I think I’ve learned to shoot what I like or would like to wear.
What do you usually look for in an outfit?
It depends on where I’m shooting. I think it just happens, like if they’re wearing a regular suit it doesn’t appeal to me but the little details like their tie or their posture really sells the outfit. Sometimes I look to the pants and how their shoes are. Sometimes I’ll see people and their top half is decent, but their lower half is terrible, like maybe they just threw it together. Women do that a lot but they look effortlessly chic and natural. Also a lot of red catches my attention.
Where else would you like to shoot street style?
I would love to go to Paris or London. I actually want to go somewhere unexpected or a city not known for their fashion so much like SoCal. I’d definitely like to shoot outside of LA.
We’ve noticed in your style that you shoot candid shots mainly. When did that start for you?
I started doing more research and looking at other photographers and was pulling ideas to try to create my own shot and I think it was close to the time where I started shooting for Four Pins where candid photos would work better and I became more comfortable with it. I like candid shots, because the subject is in their moment. I don’t like to pose someone. Sometimes when they pose they look stiff so I’ll take their picture and then ask to take a photo and not use the posing photo. Earlier when I used to look at other photographers I saw that they were taking posing photos, and I’m still looking now for something different but it’s still early for me. I’m just really trying to learn and try to get better and try to get ideas and better myself.
In college when I took photography 101 with Greg, that was with film. I want to go to that.
Do you feel like shooting film in class helped your shot more even from the early Instagram days?
I think it does. I think it makes me patient and prevents me from going shooting crazy. You only get a few shots out of a film camera and I feel like it makes you want to get the right shot and that’s something I’ve learned from then yet I’ll end up editing 500 photos because I went shooting crazy.
Can’t blame you though. I shoot as well and there’s a shot everywhere so it’s like when can you ever stop?
Exactly, that’s very true. And also in college I studied graphic design and graphic design is everywhere. You don’t even realize it until you get into it and I sort of apply that to my photography.
Music, art, graphic design, now photography! You’ve just been creative since day one.
Yeah, my mom said when I was 3 I drew the guys on the Rice Krispies box!
Snap, Crackle and Pop!
Yeah those guys, and it came out exactly like it. I think she was exaggerating, I mean there is no way in hell a 3 year old can get it exactly like it, but I was always creative. Sometimes I think what if I was just a normal person and had no creativity and just wanted a desk job? Sometimes I wish I just had that, especially when I was doing music. I didn’t want to regret not doing something or not giving my all and not achieving anything. I felt like, damn people can wake up and go to work and they’re fine with going to work and I want to feel like that. I have all this motivation to want to do stuff and be creative.
Well do you think it’s less of being creative and more of being ambitious like not to discredit the people that work the 9-5…
Not at all discrediting them. They love what they’re doing and that’s great. Some people grow up and they just want to be a doctor and they go for that and they get it and there’s no real creativity it’s just hard work. Well everyone works hard, but when they get there, they’re good, but you notice when it’s sports, art, photography it’s a difficult route to get there.
I think it’s because there is no real right or wrong answer in creativity. It’s basically you and your own style and you have to hope everyone likes your style.
That’s very true. I think another thing that did pushed me too was that people would compliment me for being creative and say you’re gonna do something great and it kept getting embedded in me. With photography I don’t feel stressed doing it like if it stops here I’m fine, but I’m committed to taking other routes. There’s no pressure, I don’t feel like I have to put a song out and hope everyone likes it and try to get on a blog and get a publicist. Photography is just go out and shoot and enjoy doing it.
I wanted to ask about that actually – pressure. There are so many people that love shooting, how do you handle the pressure and competition?
I don’t really think about them. I try to go out and stay in my lane like when I go and shoot I see other photographers shooting and they might not be doing what I’m doing, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. Sometimes, someone will take the same picture but it’s a totally different shot. As far as competition goes, I’m not even worried about that and I always like to think that there’s room for everyone. I look at their work and I enjoy it. I don’t see them as competition.
Are there any photographers that you’re a fan of?
I like Tommy Ton’s stuff, also Collin Hughes. He doesn’t do street fashion but I like his stuff. He really inspires me by the way he shoots, it’s really cool. Also Justin Chung, but I never refer to them as competition, everyone’s going out and doing their job.
And what’s the next step for you?
I’m going to start doing some test shots and some studio. I love natural light inside the studio or maybe even outside so I’ll try to incorporate that and try to get lifestyle, just people in their daily lives not really posing. People in their element, when I’m working with someone I like to just let them do what they’re doing and I’ll just catch the shot that always looks the best to me.
Check out George’s work on his website, George Elder Photography.