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Taking Street Style to the Subway

Meet L train-hopper and photographer Clay Standley. On his site, Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls Ride the Subway, Standley infuses the transitory rush of the subway with fashion--dodging the typical stand-and-pose regimen by Lincoln Center that is done over and over again.

Meet L train-hopper and photographer Clay Standley. On his site, Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls Ride the Subway, Standley infuses the transitory rush of the subway with fashion--dodging the typical stand-and-pose regimen by Lincoln Center that is done over and over again. With an eye for movement and an aperture for freshness, this comely 26-year-old straphanger has hopes of collaborating with avant-garde designers and maybe one day snapping the youth of London on the Tube. Some of his shots are set up and some are by chance encounters, but it is the seeming randomness and the halt of hurriedness that makes his photography style attractive. If his subjects have time, Standley asks them what they're wearing and who they're listening to. And if you're in New York, you've probably sat next to him on your morning commute. And if you aren't, you probably wish you were--Standley is en route to somewhere huge.

Fashionista: So who are you? Explain yourself! My hometown is Portland and I lived in New York right after college. I went back to Portland and made my way back here. It was a couple years ago that I decided to do photography—it was a passion of mine since high school but I never thought of doing it professionally. I started this blog at the beginning of January this year because I needed a project that would keep me doing photography on a daily basis. Something about the phrase “pretty boys and pretty girls” on the train just popped into my head and I said “why not that?”.

Why the subway? The reason I wanted to [photograph people on the] subway is that I get really bored on the train, so it gives me something to do. In this day and age people are very self-involved and it is easy for people to disappear. For me, it is a way of staying engaged, opposed to reverting to some boring activity. I’ve also always been interested in these transitory spaces and zones in which photography or creative practices aren’t traditionally supposed to be performed. It has to do with focusing on something mundane and making it more interesting.

Describe your interest in fashion. Fashion is something that I sort of recently found myself engaged in since coming to New York. I didn’t really have an interest in fashion before this, but it sort of became an extension of my interests. Creatively, I see it as another medium like music, photography, or painting. Since moving back to New York, I’ve really fallen back in love with design and I’m very fascinated by it. The impetus of the blog comes from a very deep appreciation for style and how people express themselves on a day-to-day basis by not just what they’re wearing, but their personality and attitude.

Do people ever turn you down for a photograph? Very rarely but it is hard to get models to consent to a photograph. You can easily recognize a model, especially a girl, and I find that the rejection rate with models is ten times higher—maybe it is because they get photographed so much. Most people are really cool about it and it is a New York thing I think. With all of the bloggers and photographers in the city, it is a common occurrence that people are approached for a photograph—they almost expect it in a way, especially stylish people. I’m sure that a lot of people before they leave their house, have this idea that, “I hope I’ll get photographed today”. But that is what I love about it—people are always on their toes, people always want to look their best, and it obviously makes for good photographing material.

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What subways do you frequent the most? The L train absolutely. That never surprises people though. If you’re familiar with the subway stations you can usually see the Bedford sign in the background. I try to explore all of the train lines as much as possible, because each of the stations themselves provide a little photographic aesthetic diversity—certain stations have murals or mosaics, which kind of kill the monotony of the environment of the subway. I think it is important to branch out and visit as many train stations as possible, but the L is kind of always the go to—especially with the demographic I’m focusing on, which is exclusively 18 - 30 year olds. I find that you get more occurrences of young stylish people on the L train more than any other.

Do you think you’d go international? I’d certainly would be interested in that. I’ve always thought it’d be interesting to export the idea to other people’s transit systems, like go to the Tube in London, to Tokyo, Madrid, Berlin, or Paris.

Who would you most want to work with on this? I’d like to start working with local brands and designers, especially designers that are just coming up or aren’t so established. Also, the sort of nexus of my interests in terms of fashion design is Dutch, Belgian, and Danish. Recently, I’ve been loving Walter van Beirendonck, Iris van Herpen, Opening Ceremony, Luar Zepol, Telfar, Ale et Ange, Upstate, and Kotoba. I feel like my sort of approach to street style as a genre is akin to what those types of designer are doing, in terms of it being sort of fringe or weird.

So are you a street style photographer? I never envisioned myself being a street style photographer. I saw the Bill Cunningham documentary last year and I wasn’t really familiar with his work until seeing that movie. I remember seeing it and thinking, “I could never do that”. I don’t know why but just couldn’t picture myself. I feel like there is kind of a grind to it, you have to put a lot of hours in. It is like fishing: a lot of it is waiting for the right person to cross your path, especially when you are doing it in the subway—it’s not the most glamorous or fun thing necessarily. It is like everything else in photography, once you get that picture it is all worthwhile, and it never ceases to surprise you, which is the great thing.

Click through to see more from Standley's Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls Ride the Subway.

All photos by Clay Standley unless otherwise noted.