The Dijon mustard retro shopfront was a full twenty meter slab of pure, untarnished yellow jutting out in London's desaturated streets. This was Ahluwalia 2022, in the pouring rain, and outside the city's branch of 'Le Sans Blague'. Even though the subjects aren't related, it was clever to host a fashion show out of an equally sharply-dressed movie tie-in, and the French Dispatch's well-advertised café certainly drew crowds. While some had already been lingering in queue or in preparation to photograph, it didn't take long for the rest, now all with water beading off their shoulders and onto dark knee-length rain coats, to start dragging the walking pace of the pavement down to a crawl as they all filed in.
I found myself right in the middle, not fully expecting nor quite unprepared for it; I'd prepped my camera on the off chance I'd pass by a Fashion Week event or two, but instead the show had seemingly come to me.
I use a very lightly modified version of Fujifilm's venerable X-pro2, equipped with an adapted manual 50mm m-mount lens, a 550 paracord strap that I wear slung over cross-body, a titanium clip at the back that binds the strap together, and a screwed-in aluminium hand grip that I have layered in dark grey hockey tape to further improve control. All branding and superfluous buttons are blanked off with the same tape. It's half homage to the Leica MD, (a camera that I wholly cannot afford, but is put to great use as an ultimate 'personal blackbox' by two of my favourite photographers) and half a means to limit myself to certain basic foundations. I'm interested in an inconspicuous, subtle shooting style, one with fully manual controls, a low visual profile, and a humble quality that requires searching out for the right shots rather than forcing them into existence as is frequent with a larger DSLR. But this process, as I'm learning, is frequently slow. Manual lenses on mirrorless cameras is a difficult gamble; focus peaking is a wonderful tool, but it can be inaccurate. Fully manual controls are also slow, though I'm typically only playing with shutter speed anyway. There is, however you cut it, a lot to consider on top of the usual framing, shot composition, and target-acquisition.
Writing about it makes it seem like a chore, but in practice it can be incredibly rewarding; especially when everything goes right. Process is important to me, less so the theoretical, fine-art side, much as it has its place, and the same with the raw technical side of dynamic range and reading histograms. There is a middle ground; where process is as seen through the way in which a photographer uses and bonds with their equipment, where the numerical spacing of a focus ring, the way in which the throw progresses from close to far is all less a negligible detail, and more a medium through which a photographer can naturally bring into focus their intention and element of study. Process where the feel, function, and placement of a dial becomes a muscle memory, and a muscle memory becomes pattern, a beat, a motif, then a distinct physical fray, a unique breakdown of paint, exposing the base metal from which the dial is constructed from. This is my process, and I was about to explore the process of others.
At this point while walking through the rain my camera had become saturated; still very much functional, but in an increasingly-cautionary state. Rain was steadily dripping off the top plate as I leant it 45 degree forwards, and the viewfinder and lens filter had long since fogged up, though the hockey tape meant it was easy to keep it firmly in my hand. I was struck by the fact that this was the first time I'd actively been surrounded by other anonymous photographers, a large array of unknown faces and folks who I'd likely never see again, but whose work would be floating around the feed of myself and thousands of others for the next several days.
Between the models in colourful ensembles and sharp, purposefully eye-catching wear from other exhibitors at the festival, and the photographers dressed in a mix of dark outdoors-wear and workwear inspired by military cuts and materials, my focus was squarely being ever-drawn towards the latter. It was all the wear of artists; comparatively much more subtle tapestries of contemporary fashion trends mixed with rigid practicality and fluid adaptability.
It's all a stark contrast of purpose; clothing on one hand to be seen, and on the other, to be worn, perhaps even to be used a means for the wearer to be hidden. Waterproof and near-sight-proof.
I generally avoided interjecting myself too much for the little while I was there, choosing to only really step forwards when I knew I wouldn't be removing opportunities from working photographers. So I stayed in the middle, surrounded by the group while they were shooting outside the huddle towards the cafe's wall and the queue waiting up outside.
A few weeks later and I'd started reading 'What Artists Wear' by Charlie Porter on a flight to Asturias, and he was making a series of similar observations. Artists aren't just their biographies and their art, they're expressions of themselves, billboards for their own beliefs, experiences, cultures, and cares. Every piece of clothing you choose to wear is a reflection of the self, and that cannot be fully replicated when wearing what another has chosen for you (other than what can already be implied from that sentence). A model is a conduit for another's expression, an artist is a model for themselves. Photographers, the functional workers that they are, are an extension of this philosophy; even in the pouring rain, in near-identical black North Face and Arc'teryx, they express a learned and ever-evolving self-elected uniform. Expressions of their own creative and personal process.
I don't think too many noticed that instead of photographing their subjects, I was photographing them. To some extent I prefer it that way, opening up opportunities to observe photographers in their element; to see the way they move, position, hold themselves, their composure, the ways in which they compare against each other. All expressions of their own process as I was my own. Those who took dynamic liberty and involved themselves with the subjects, leaning forwards and crouching in, isolating the images. Others who stepped back and took a noticeably more candid approach, watching, more documentary and reportage than magazine fashion. All with equipment and personalities that matched. Independent, shared expressions of identity, function, and lifestyle. A subcultural 'tribe'.