Lee Oliveira: The World Is His Catwalk
The average person may look at their favorite websites once or twice a week but they look at Instagram 20 times a day.
Where most of us just see crowds of people and the occasional well-dressed pedestrian, Lee Oliveira sees opportunity – and a living, breathing catwalk of street style. Born in Brazil and now based in Australia, Lee worked in retail management in the fashion industry and then started taking photographs of street style and posting it on his site LeeOliveira.com in 2010. Since then his photography has appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, Glamour, Grazia, and The New York Times – and he's worked with upscale fashion label Gucci to provide brand-focused, street style images for social media campaigns. Today he also travels to international Fashion Weeks around the world to capture what he sees on the runway and on the streets outside the shows. He has also has a lot of fun on Instagram.
As one of the top influencers in the SAY 100 Fashion channel, we checked in with Lee to find out what shapes his view of fashion now, where he finds his best subjects, and what he looks for in a great shot.
What's your particular take on street style photography that's different from other street style watchers? I generally take pictures of what I personally like. I am finding a lot of the newer street style photographers are taking photos of what’s on trend, which is fine but I find it’s more interesting to see something that I haven’t personally seen before.
What do you think street style brings to the table that you don't get from the traditional fashion sources? The thing that I admire about street style is the individual putting together something that they wear without a team of stylists. Something from different trends. Mixing it up. From fast fashion to high end. Things that are from their own wardrobe. Most fashion sources publish pictures of models. Street style is real people wearing real fashion.
When you're scouting street style subjects, what do you look for? A sense of confidence without arrogance. That is generally the first thing I see. Then it is of course, something that I haven’t personally seen. Although I do take images of still subjects I do get excited when I capture movement. That second when I get a perfect flow of fabric in the breeze is just priceless. I do a little jump inside when I get it.
Where do you find most of your best subjects? And how do you approach them to take their picture? I travel to Fashion Weeks globally for a reason. This is where I can see new things. You get a high concentration of people who are involved somewhere in the fashion industry. From fashion editors to bloggers, you see it all. Most of these people generally don’t mind being photographed and they understand street style photography. If I’m not at fashion week somewhere, I generally just grab my camera and go walking. Some people understand street style when you stop them but some people don’t. I'll never forget one time when I stopped someone and before I could say anything, she replied…. I have no spare change. After that I was questioning myself as to whether I dressed like a homeless person (which I don't … haha).
You use Instagram a lot – what appeals to you about working in that medium? First of all, can I say that if I came up with that idea I would be one wealthy person. How brilliant is Instagram? So simple, but yet so powerful. Because my work is visual, it just works for me. I started using it over a year ago. I was seeing street style on the Web but nothing really on mobile devices so I thought I would test it. The average person may look at their favorite websites once or twice a week but they look at Instagram 20 times a day. I have gained a lot of support through Instagram and have made some amazing connections.
You see a lot of street style – what do you think epitomizes style right now? I don’t think there is one single thing that epitomizes style right now. It is the differences that I find the most fascinating. Not long after I started, I photographed a girl in a beautiful orange dress. After chatting with her, she told me that she found it in her grandmother's wardrobe. She wore it with style. These are the differences that I love the most.
What are your all-time most popular posts? There are many, but there are couple of shots that I never stop looking at and still fall in love every time I see them. These two images were so popular that they were featured at The New York Times. That was like… M-A-J-O-R.
What other street style photographer blogs do you admire? Unfortunately I don’t really look so much these days as I am working on a few projects and am a little time poor. When I do, it's like having a "virtual date" with the blogs by Tamu McPherson (All the Pretty Birds) and Vanessa Jackman. I know these girls personally and they are so down to earth. A freshness that it hard to find in the fashion industry generally. This down to earth attitude makes me want to see what they are photographing.
What would your readers be surprised to learn about you when it comes to fashion? Probably that I didn’t grow up in fashion. I grew up in a very small town in Brazil and my family led a very simple life. I always was fascinated with fashion but we couldn’t afford much. I use to sell cakes on the street that my mother would make for some extra cash. I guess it’s kind of the same….haha. I worked on the street then, and I’m still working on the street now.