Outside the shows every season, obsessively photographing but never making a dime – meet this never-before documented community of fashion week veterans
The Other Side of Fashion Week is a film about outsiders: a group of incredibly dedicated show attendees you never even knew existed – obsessive and eccentric photographers who traipse the streets of New York, London, Paris and Milan to photograph models. Birdwatchers of female beauty driven by love or loneliness (and sometimes both), the men featured do not make money from their images, although some have been doing it for almost a decade. At times both humorous and poignant, The Other Side of Fashion Week takes a humanising look at the lives of the men featured – like Bobby, a retired teacher from Florida: "I closed the door, and just started coming to fashion week, and that's my passion now." Often living strange double lives, for them, their love of models and fashion week stands in stark contrast to their everyday lives. As for the film's director, Swiss-born Salome Oggenfuss, she too considers herself at something of a distance to the world of fashion. “I am still an outsider looking in,” says the New York based filmmaker and photographer of her own relationship to the industry. "Fashion is a world geared towards the surface level – inevitably, there are some interesting stories beneath that."
Today, an excerpt of the film premieres exclusively on Dazed, launching all of our SS15 womenswear coverage. Here, we speak to Oggenfuss about gaining entry to this community of eccentrics, and turning her lens on those who usually exist only behind the camera.
How did you come to meet the documentary’s interesting protagonists?
Salome Oggenfuss: A few years ago, while working on fashion week castings, I met Damian, one of the young men in the film. He was interning at the casting agency I was with, and we spent some time working together. He told me about the group of model photographers he belonged to, and that he was going to travel to Paris for the very first time to follow all of his favorite models with a camera. I was intrigued by what I heard – and to my knowledge, this was a community of people that had not been documented before. I saw potential in the story because of the clash of ‘everyday people’ – the photographers that don't have access to the shows and take pictures on the outside – with the more guarded atmosphere of the fashion world.
I followed Damian with a camera, and met his colleagues. As soon as I met Bobby, I knew there was something special there – he was so animated and entertaining, and it turned out he had been photographing outside of fashion week for almost a decade, without ever making a dime from his photographs. When I started doing interviews with models and fashion industry people, I realised many of them were aware of this kooky southern guy who photographs them outside the shows, but no one knew where he came from or what he takes pictures for.
The men like Damian and Bobby who feature in the film have so many different facets to them. What was it about the juxtaposition between their everyday lives and the lives they lead during fashion week that interested you?
Salome Oggenfuss: I find the idea of living a double life fascinating. Be it the banker that goes to an S&M dungeon at night, the girl that takes on another identity in an internet chat room, or just someone who works a regular job and then goes to fashion week whenever they can. Don’t we all live double lives to some extent? There’s a beautiful passage from a Haruki Murakami book, it’s a metaphor for the impossibility of grasping someone’s full personality: to get to know someone is like entering a large black cellar holding a small candle. You see clearly what’s right around you, but there is a vast realm of darkness beyond. You can’t see everything at once.
What was one of the most interesting stories of the men you featured?
Salome Oggenfuss: It’s hard to pick, I find them all interesting. There was also another man, who I wasn’t able to feature in the film due to possible conflicts with his job, with a really interesting story. He is a prominent interpreter with an NGO, who has published books and sits at dinner tables with some of the world’s highest ranked politicians, but spends his free time photographing models outside fashion shows. His business card has the slogan "Beauty saves the world" on it. I think it’s the diversity of all these people’s stories that makes an interesting whole.
In general, I find it interesting how all these men use cameras as tools to gain access to a world they do not belong to. They are all outsiders who are seeking connections with other people – in their case, some of the most beautiful women in the world. I wanted to look at the effect that beauty has on people, and make a story that revolved around the human need to belong and connect, and how modern technology plays a part in that. I think it’s a good moment in time to tell a story set in the fashion world, because through modern technology, the industry has lost much of its exclusivity, and is now at a pivotal turning point. Where will fashion end up if it is completely democratic? And how will it affect us as a society?
“These men use cameras as tools to gain access to a world they do not belong to. They are all outsiders who are seeking connections with other people – in their case, some of the most beautiful women in the world.”
Any gems that didn’t make the final cut?
Salome Oggenfuss: There is one funny moment that wasn’t in the film. It was after a show in Paris, and P. Diddy was exiting the venue. In the darkness of the night, it was hard to recognise him, and Bobby mistook him for Kanye West. Even though he was in a hurry, Diddy stopped to clarify that he wasn’t Kanye, and Bobby apologised and they had a nice moment where they laughed and sort of hugged.
Weeks later, Sandra, who worked with me in Paris and lives in Stockholm, was eating breakfast and looking at a Swedish gossip magazine and was taken aback by a picture of the exact moment of Diddy exiting the show with Bobby in the background in an agitated pose. Everything is so interconnected. Cultural and geographic boundaries are disappearing – for the good, and for the bad. The moment with Diddy and Bobby, and Sandra being re-confronted with this random encounter through a Swedish magazine, illustrates this well.
You seem to have a fascination with the raw – your work is almost brutally candid, and appears to be centred on capturing your subjects’ true essence. Would you say that’s an accurate assumption?
Salome Oggenfuss: Absolutely. It’s all about peeling off the layers, finding out what’s underneath. Having grown up in Switzerland, there was a certain lack of rawness – as you can imagine. I think when you live in a fairly normative society and don’t see your own place in it, you need to find an escape route. I was lucky to meet people who exposed me to vernacular and outsider art – a love I share with Bobby, by the way – and find people who shared my interest in going to events and places ‘off the beaten track’. Because there are a lot of outlets for opinions today, and content can be produced fairly cheaply, it’s important to me to create something with a point of view that does not just recycle what mainstream media wants us to see.