"I don’t usually do so many smiling pictures," said street-style photographer Scott Schuman (he of Sartorialist fame), surveying his new exhibit in the Danziger Gallery on 23rd Street. "I usually like them to be more serious — but maybe I’m in a good mood or something." He has good reason to be, as brands like the Art of Shaving will pay him handsomely to collaborate on things like this show, a photo series of men with varying degrees of facial hair. He took all the portraits in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, in keeping with the brand's latest "Chelsea" shaving collection. The razors and brushes were also on view in glass cases, like tiny metal sculptures.
Schuman himself was clean-shaven and dressed in a black tie, gray jacket, and white pocket square. He politely greeted several of his photo subjects, who looked both pleased and rather bashful to have their faces hanging on the walls. "For each picture, I tried to get something a little different," explained Schuman. "But it's actually difficult to find diverse facial hair right now, particularly among stylish guys." We caught up with him about facial hair trends and the dearth of well-dressed men.
What kind of facial hair is trendy these days?
I really tried to get a good cross section of different kinds of facial hair. But right now, it’s really hard to find good-looking young guys with a little bit of style that don’t have big beards. And it’s hard to find guys with just mustaches. A lot of guys are doing beard and mustache, but it’s hard to find a guy with just a mustache. Or even a goatee. Goatees used to be so popular, and now it’s really hard to find a guy who has one. It's all about these big beards.
Why do you think it’s hard to find stylish guys without facial hair?
Because it’s hard to find stylish guys in general. It’s reasonably easy to find beautiful, stylish girls in a lot of places. But guys, it’s so much different. There’s so many other elements [for men] — you just have to put yourself out there, and it’s hard for men to do that, for whatever reason.
What do you look for in male subjects?
They can’t be too arrogant, but they have to have a little confidence. They have to have some quality that makes you want to look at them. And in this case, they had to have some kind of grooming thing going on. Most of these I shot when I was just out doing my regular stuff, but I had this project in the back of my mind.
I’ve noticed that you shoot a lot of men with facial hair for your blog. Is that just coincidental?
Totally coincidental. It’s just a trend we’re going through right now. If you went back to the seventies, it would be the same thing. It’s just what’s happening. And it’s not one of those things that create a “problem.” Like, glasses create a problem. Too many guys are wearing glasses, and when they turn, it makes their head look bigger, or the light’s reflecting. Really short hair creates a problem, because their ears look red when the sun’s behind them. Facial hair is not that kind of problem, from a photography standpoint.
Now that you’re well known, does it make a difference when you’re out shooting?
The only difference it makes is if they know who I am, they maybe give me a little bit more time. When they didn’t know, it was like, "Oh, yeah, hurry up." But if they know who I am, they’ll be like, "Okay! You want me to walk over here? Sure!" So it just buys me a little bit more time. But then, the hard part is to get them to be calm, because they get excited. So you’ve got to talk to them for a little while. It becomes about the quality of the expression. That flattered, a little bit embarrassed look can actually be very charming. But you have to shoot it just right. You have to be ready for it, and read the person, so you can time it correctly.
See his portraits in our slideshow.