Notes from the field. Faces, Places & Spaces.
Street Fashion w/ Manou of Wearabout
Published October, 2021
Firstly, how have you been considering the current state in India? What has your personal experience been since January and how are you dealing with the lockdown?
Arundhati Roy’s recent article on the Guardian is how we are all feeling right now. My own experience has been quite normal. I’m up here in the mountains in Dharamshala for more than a year now and have decided to stay here until things go back to somewhat normal again. Jan - March this year I was running a friends cafe where I was doing everything baking cooking cleaning and screening films once a week. We only got in a partial lockdown here two weeks ago with a 3 hour window each day. Anybody who has a place to stay, has food to eat, has internet, don’t have much to worry about. I spend a decent amount of time reading things that improve my understanding of the workings of the world, stuff we should be taught in school. I don’t have many responsibilities other than myself and a baby cat that I been looking after.
Tell me a bit about yourself, what's your origin story? Where are you from? How did you lean into photography?
I grew up in different places and now since I’ve been out for many years I feel I don’t have any kind of binding to one place. I went to a fashion school(NIFT) and that’s where I got introduced to photography during a short photo module.
You rely on constant movement to capture street fashion around the subcontinent. How’s it been like these past few months? Where are you based currently? I see that you’re still posting photos - I'm assuming they're from your back catalog?
I haven’t actively taken photos for a year now, at least not the kind I take for my blog. Last time I photographed anybody was on Losar - the Tibetan New Year here in Mcleodganj. I have a lot of back log and most photos I put on my blog now are from before. Maybe maybe I’ll start doing those FaceTime photos.
Tell me a region that you think is the most fashionable or the style you enjoy the most and why? This may be obvious but hands down the kids in North East India seem like the coolest. Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh stand out for me.
Way in the beginning I used to think like that too, but now I have had a broader experience, I have grown to appreciate value of diversity and heritage which can be seen almost everywhere in India. There is something interesting everywhere - from common man to highly stylised. (I see you mention that yourself in your next question). But yeah in adapting western clothing, Kpop culture, the yung ones in the NE are right there. They look really good. What I find really cool is someone combining their heritage with a kind of self expression - an extension of their own being like without which they would combust.
I haven’t lived in India (my partners from India- I was born in Pakistan and grew up in NYC) but to us, street fashion is essentially about personal style and swagger/confidence. I see so much ingenuity from city to city in India. Just from the everyday people. My favorite photos are off the folks that may not necessarily be interested in “fashion” but looking good and feeling good in an effortless way. You can tell there was intentionality behind their fit but they're effortlessly cool. What are those interactions like? Are they surprised by your interest in what they’re wearing? Are they aware of their swagger?
Haha that word. Yeah, those are some of my favourites too. Did you mean unintentionally? Because not always there is intention behind what common man/woman chooses to wear. most times they don’t care about fashion at all. The reaction ranges from being curious to being on guard and saying no for a photo to being shy, being happy to be photographed, sometimes like they’ve done it many times before, like being naturally comfortable and open. I think some are definitely aware that they look good, sometimes I tell them. Sometimes I’m asked to pay them for taking their photos even though it is just meant for my blog, but I see the logic. Sometimes someone would invite me to their home or to tea. There was a time when I took down peoples addresses because I planned on sending them their photos but I formatted my phone by mistake and lost all the data.
Is there one particular photo you’ve captured over the years that truly embodies everything you enjoy about photography and documenting street style?
I wouldn’t say there is any one photo that embodies everything but maybe there are a few photos that I really like and I can point them out on my blog. But maybe you should tell me what you like; that’s more interesting.
The ethics of street photography can be described as a gray area. However, the photos you take never seem invasive. Has your approach changed since you first started taking photos of strangers? How do you make your subjects feel comfortable? Do you feel like you're part of a larger street/fashion photography community or you still feel like you're riding solo?
They don’t? Maybe I’m a good manipulator. Sometimes invasive photos could look normal and solicited photos could seem invasive. You could say that there are subtleties in approach in interactions with strangers that one learns along the way. I am definitely more aware of those than before and try to approach everyone with respect and sensitivity. Some photos may not exactly reflect that and you could say that I missed. I don’t know if theres a big street fashion photo community in india, is there? The ones I knew some years ago were very ‘commercial’ and not interesting for me.
I like the balance you offer on your blog by covering the diversity of the sub-continent, specifically of your photos from Himachal Pradesh, to the 16th century Ima Keithel, coverage of aunties in Tamil Nadu, to local kids in Dharamshala. You also have the so-called “high” fashion week stuff balanced out with more anthropological documentation of indigenous textiles in the countryside and the North East. In your opinion, are the younger kids and designers embracing fashion from different regions? Is there a cross-pollination of styles happening in Indian cities?
Yes they are and thats really cool to see. Cross pollination of styles was always happening. I think.