As a photographer, travel is a necessary but not essential part of my work. I began The Sartorialist taking photos of the people on the sidewalks of New York City and I could have easily continued to focus on New York for the rest of my career. Many of the world's greatest street photographers have only or mainly shot in one location. The richness of their work built on capturing the subtle details and variations of life they found around them.
As a photographer I love to discover, compare and contrast the infinite variety of life you find when traveling around the world. Usually when I share images it is basically in real time, so if I’m in Peru all the photos will be from Peru. However, the reason I love making books is that I can review images I’ve taken over the last few years and place similar or contrasting images on a page next to each other, to create a strong visual statement for the viewer. Often colour or pattern or silhouette is the element that ties the images together in a subtle or not so subtle way, but once you see the connection it is interesting to then see the subtle or not so subtle differences, and the possibilities are endless.
Also when I make books I make sure not to write too much or share too many facts about an image. Mystery is very important to me. I feel my best images don’t tell you all about a specific person, place or thing, but hopefully draw you in by making you curious about who that person or place is, what their life is like there or how would you fit in at a place like that! I think my best images don’t give a lot of answers but create a lot of questions and the best result would be that the viewer decides to find out for themselves and travels to that place to experience that feeling for themselves.
I’ve actually been told many many times that my images were why a person or even a family visited a place on vacation or even moved there to live. By the same token I am often told by people how proud they are when they see their home city or country captured in my images. Since 2019 I’ve been stopped by many Indian people to say how much they appreciated my book on India because they recognised the spirit I captured the images and they are happy the world gets to see their home in that way.
Travel is always the perfect reminder that photography is what I was born to do. It presents experiences that don’t confirm how right I am about things, but instead humble and challenge me, causing me to question my beliefs… it opens my eyes and the eyes of my audience to new ideas and dreams.
– The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman for Émigré
What role has travel played in your work?
Since photography is my business, travel is essential. I fell in love with photography because it gave me a reason to travel and a way to connect with each destination in a way I never could as a regular tourist or vacationer. Many of my assignments have been in locations all around the world, however because my job is to create images that make people dream, I never think of it as traditional work. Therefore, I don’t draw a line between travel and work because for me it's one and the same.
How has your work been shaped by travel?
Travel has allowed me to create a catalogue of images from many different countries and cultures, that when my work life is through, will hopefully create a beautiful portrait of the world during my lifetime.
What has been your most enriching work travel experience?
I created a book on India and took 14 trips there to many different regions. I challenged myself to not see and share the typical images and ideas of India, but to really connect to what I was actually experiencing and share that, even if it was what was expected from me, or from a book about India.
How do you feel you have grown because of travelling?
Travel has made me a much more accepting person, because quickly you learn that your way is not the only or even best way of seeing things. I’ve realised my point of view on many issues have been totally shaped by my environment, so the wider and more inclusive I can make my environment, the more rationally I can make my decisions.
How much do you value in person connections?
All my work is based on personal interaction and connection. However, I’m aware that being connected to a subject may at once help a photo, but it can also hurt it, by unduly influencing how I see them. I love connection, but I also love mystery, so it's always a fine line.
What role does personal interaction play in your work?
I capture images of people on the street so interaction is always limited, but that’s ok because no one photo can tell a whole story. I accept and like that my work captures just a moment in a person's life. It could be a great moment, or a not-so-great moment, but hopefully a moment I would want to look back on later.
Can the relationships you build through virtual channels ever be as strong as those you make 1:1?
I love virtual relationships because I’m totally ok with mystery and seduction! My world is about facts or documenting truth much like a National Geographic photographer. My life and work is to share things in the romantic way I see them, using light, angles and emotion, I can make you see something in a way that may or may not be totally real. Virtual relationships are like that, which is ok if you’re aware and accepting of that.
What does travelling well mean to you?
Travelling well to me means going to places that inspire me or challenge me. I work hard so I like to be comfortable on the way to the destination but once I'm there I'm up for almost anything.
What do you need to travel well?
I thrive on being in a new environment, but I’ve learned to try to need nothing to do my work. For example, I love a few good espressos in the morning, but that’s not going to happen in rural India, so you learn to accept what a location has to offer and not be distracted by what’s not there.
What impact does good/bad travel have on your productivity?
I'm a very emotional person, so bad travel can make the start of a trip more difficult, but I’ve learned to fight through that and not let it affect me once I’ve arrived. This took a while to learn, but once I did it made a big difference in my productivity.
What do you look out for to elevate your travel experience?
I'm very picky when it comes to local guides when I’m shooting in a new location. I can tell quickly if the guide understands what I need or will just run me around to all the easy expected places. I also love having a guide that truly loves where they live and can help me see the location through their eyes.
How do you prepare for transitioning between different business and social environments?
I have a very limited wardrobe. Everything is navy in colour, which isn’t as severe as black, but still allows me to blend into the background. With only a few simple item changes I can easily go from a business meeting to a chic dinner.