Adam Katz Sinding seems to have it all. He is young, talented and wanted by every major fashion week from New York to Tokyo. Having started his website Le 21eme in 2007 as a way to share his passion for photography, Adam now travels the world providing the best street-style coverage to clients such as W Magazine, Style.com, Vogue.com, New York Magazine, Who What Wear and many more. This weekend he’s in town to cover Prague Fashion Weekend and I caught up with him at Emblem to talk about Prague, his views on Czech fashion, the key to his success and the fierce competition among street-style photographers.
How many interviews have you done in the past year?
Oh man, I don’t know. A lot. The majority of them are email interviews. I’d say maybe 30-40.
Did any particular stand out?
Well, my friend Stefan probably asks me the most indepth interviews. That actually has substance but that’s because he knows me. He already knew the questions to ask before. Normally it’s just the same questions all the time and I’m answering them in pretty much the same way because the answer doesn’t really change. It’s still interesting though to talk about it, because sometimes when I’m speaking or answering in the same way I realize something new or something changed, so it’s interesting.
Tell me how are you enjoying Prague? Did you have a chance to go out and explore?
It’s beautiful. I haven’t really had time to go out as much. I walked down to the Dancing House, I wanted to see that. I plan to go out tomorrow, because yesterday the weather wasn’t great and I had a lot of work to do. It has been fun, I mean everybody says it’s a really beautiful city. I knew it was going to be nice but I didn’t realize it would be like that, it’s like overwhelming. It’s incredible.
Did you take any pictures?
Yeah, a little bit. As I walked down to the Dancing House but I’d like to do more. I had the wrong camera with me so I have my proper camera now. I hope to go around tomorrow. My priority here is to shoot the Fashion week stuff that’s what comes first.
I saw you on Saturday outside Prague Fashion Week. What’s your impression of Czech street fashion?
A lot of the small fashion weeks I go to are not as developed as New York, London, Milan or Paris. I don’t think it has so much of an identity. You will see people wearing Czech designers, of course, but it’s not like everyone is running around dressed in them. When you go to Stockholm everyone is wearing Swedish designers, Paris everyone is in French designers, it doesn’t have that identity. It’s more commercial, but then you see a couple of people wearing the Czech designers and look amazing and very unique but I don’t think I could see someone and be like “oh, they are dressed like they are from Prague”, it’s not like Paris, however it’s normal as it’s not a major fashion capital.
As for the shows, was there anything particular that impressed you?
I think my favorite show was Daniela Pešková, I really liked that. I liked Martina Špetlová, I think that was really strong, Petra Ptáčková was cool too, especially the last two or three looks were very strong. Also ODIVI, La Formela and Chatty. I was really surprised, the ratio of interesting things. Normally when you go to a small fashion week, they are overwhelmingly not interesting. You might have one or two designers that are strong but then the rest just don’t do anything. Here when it first came out I thought “Oh that’s actually really cool, I like that”. It’s funny because I posted a video of Daniela’s final runway and my friend Laura, from Seattle, who is one of the most adventurous dressed people ever, saw the video and commented “Wow, this is amazing”. Yeah, I was impressed. I mean I’m not a fashion critic; probably the majority of the pieces are completely unwearable but the presentation was great. It was definitely something different from what you see on other runways.
Adam, let’s talk a little bit about you. What did you do before going into photography?
I worked in hotels for 10 years. I started off as a valet then bell man then concierge then I managed restaurants in hotels so I’ve worked in hospitality for years.
Did you enjoy that?
Yes, I enjoyed all of it except managing the restaurant. I hated it there. The turnover is too fast, I didn’t feel like I had an opportunity to make an impression on anybody. You know people usually come to a restaurant for one and a half hours, whereas in a hotel, people are there for a day or two and you can really make an impression. You can change their view on the entire city, say, someone comes to Seattle and you give them a really excellent service, just based on your service they can think that the city is amazing, whereas if you go to a city and everyone treats you like shit you’re probably not going to like the city, right? I thought I had an important role, maybe it wasn’t that important, but I took a lot of pride in my job when I did it.
Why did you stop?
I moved to New York and I just didn’t love it anymore. I mean, working in those jobs, generally speaking, mean you are working for tips; I don’t like relying on tips. At the end I was working at a very cool hotel in New York. I was the concierge, it was 2012 when the economy just started to bounce back, I would work 12 hours a day, but there were days when nobody would come to use a concierge, it was frustrating because you don’t want to go to work and do nothing. It wasn’t stimulating anymore.
Have you always done photography on the side?
I started doing photography as a hobby in 2004, and I started working at the hotels in 2001, so nearly. I didn’t start doing what I do now until 2007, when I started my website Le 21eme. Ever since 2007 I would always have a camera with me wherever I go to work or take my lunch break and go out trying to find people to take photos of.
Did you have a goal when you started Le 21eme at the beginning?
No, not really. I just wanted to take photos, I remember I went to Garance Dore’s website, Scott Schuman’s ex-girlfriend, she used to be a street-style photographer. Her photos were so beautiful; I thought to myself “I want to take photos like that”. I didn’t really care about the Sartorialist much, I’d check the website though because it was the same genre, but I was never terribly impressed, except with a couple of photos, but then I’d look at Tommy’s and thought “Wow, that’s what I want to do”. I never wanted to do it for a living, never thought I could do it for a living, I also never realized what fashion week was like. I remember I used to go to Street Peeper, (a blog run by a street-style photographer Phil Oh), and say to my friends “there is no way he can take all these photos, he must be paying people around the world to take his photos”, he would post 40 people a day and then I went to my first fashion week and I would easily take 350 photos just in one day. I didn’t realize you can do that until I did it.
Adam, I know that you’ve lived in Paris. How was that for you?
Yeah, for 6 months. That’s how all of this started. I was always interested in fashion but I was very much a consumer, I mean, I still am, but then I was buying things for the wrong reasons. I thought if I spend $500 on something somebody should know that I’ve spent $500 on it, which is not the approach anybody should go by. I remember when I was in Paris; I became obsessed with Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme. It changed my view on fashion completely. It was more about the details and understated silhouettes. At that time Dior Homme was inspired by Seattle, grand scene and rock-n-roll, it became my taste for years. I still try to find the old pieces that I liked in 2004 on Ebay.
When it comes to clothing do you buy new or vintage?
I buy new almost all the time, except for Dior and some other designers. I buy used clothes; I have no problem with that, if it’s a rare piece. I buy a lot of clothes from my friends and they buy from me. We get tired of things and we trade them among one another. I like to buy new stuff. I don’t have the patience to vintage shop; I also have trouble to find what I want. Even if I go to a designer vintage store, I never find what I want and even if I do it’s never the right size. I’m not really good at styling myself, I just throw on a t-shirt, jeans and a jacket, it’s very basic. I don’t need to wear three t-shirts at once. I don’t have time for that. I think you have to be a little bit more creative than me to be able to vintage shop.
Adam, you are a respected and well-known photographer now. What was your break?
Moving to New York, I guess, more than anything. I’m just working really hard. My friend Laura was the first person to recognize me, she wrote a small article about me back in 2007 in a local newspaper in Seattle. From there it picked up a little momentum in Seattle but I never made any money from it. She would call me whenever there was a cool event and I would come, hang out and shoot people. I don’t know if there was ever really a break, just slow momentum really, just working really hard and making sure I’m everywhere. There definitely were a lot of integral people who made everything possible. My boss in a hotel was this guy Tommy, he is a big deal nightlife guy in New York and he introduced me to tons of important people I never would have met otherwise. I’m not really good at networking, however it opened my eyes at the world and how important the connections are and the people you know. I’m still really bad at it.
How social are you?
I’m very antisocial. I host a lot of parties with Tommy in New York, London, Paris and I just don’t talk to anybody. I think everyone thinks that I’m too cool to speak to them, but I’m actually really shy. I have a hard time meeting with people. People probably think that I’m a snob, maybe I’m but I just don’t know how to talk to people.
You are doing well now. How do you push yourself to become better?
I think I could do more to push myself to be better. I make a lot of mistakes, you learn from your mistakes. If I screw up an amazing photo, I will never forget it and I’m never going to make that mistake again, hopefully.
Practice makes perfect?
I guess. Practice makes better. Definitely always try my best. I’m never half asked to take a photo, it doesn’t make any sense. The same when I worked at hotels, I would never give half of the service. If you put your name on something, do your best otherwise don’t waste your time. I mean, travel half the world to a fashion week to just stand, not run around and sweat. That’s the exciting part, running through traffic and yelling. It’s a little bit aggressive, and maybe not very professional, but we are the ones to get the photo.
So is it about who is the quickest?
Yeah, definitely who was there first. If you were there first, you can’t choose your angle and set it all up. If you are there 10th and all those guys are standing in front of you, you don’t really have any options. I have adapted to that and I actually like it. Sometimes you would be sitting there watching as something amazing is happening but you can’t do anything about it because there is a bunch of people right in front of you. It’s like “Damn, I’d love to have that photo. I can do it much better and I know it”. Half the time they are there with a camera looking at their photos as the person doing things in front of them and I’m like “Man, are you going to shoot or what? If you not going to shoot get out the way and let other people do their job”. As soon as I’m done shooting, I’m the first one out. I will never put myself as more of a priority as any photographer, whether it’s somebody no one has heard of or something. It’s equally important to have a chance. Nobody should be thinking that they are better than other people.
So it’s not as friendly as it might seem?
There’s definitely a rift between the groups. Generally speaking, we all have sort of respect for one another. If I’m in someone else’s photo, I will apologize profusely and if it means I have to miss a photo because I’m going to screw somebody else’s shot, I’d get out the way. There are some guys who would just shoot no matter what because it’s more important that they get the photo. I hate this mentality. I mean, for a lot of these guys it’s driven by making sales. If you ever watch paparazzi shoot they would elbow one another. I’ve been hit in a face by many paparazzi, just for being too close to them. I had a guy step on my foot and pushed me over intentionally in London. I mean those guys can make $50 000 by getting a controversial photo and that’s not what I’m out there to shoot.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
Oh, God, no, I can’t imagine. Well, maybe. I mean, on paper, yeah, sure. I travel a lot, I take a lot of pictures, I work with magazines. What people need to understand that a lot of it is a facade, it’s not nearly as cool as it looks on Instagram. Yes, I travel all the time, yes I take pictures of very cool people but we work like 20 hours a day. Every day. For a month. We stay up late, we eat pizza on our lap in a studio apartment with six guys in it, we take turns sleeping because there’s not enough beds. It’s not glamorous at all. I think the one thing I want to be a role model for is a strong work ethic. We work like crazy. I’m the first person to say to somebody who says how do I start this, just do it, book your tickets, buy the best camera you can and just be there. You can’t buy your way there, you have to do it, and you have to run, hustle, stay up late and work hard.
If you could go back and speak to young Adam, what advice would you give him?
I guess I would have moved to New York sooner. In 2008 or something like that. I don’t think I would have listened to myself then. The last years of my life in Seattle were my favorite. I was really into hiking and cycling, you simply don’t do those things in New York. I don’t know, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.
Adam, last question. If you were not doing photography for a living, what would you be doing?
I would still be doing it. I would do these fashion weeks if I didn’t get paid. As long as I could survive. I really love street-photography. I get offered doing fashion weeks and I get offered to go and do real jobs like campaigns and look books that actually pay real money but I say no every time, well, not every time, if it happens that I’m in the same city then yeah, I will do it. I had an offer to go to Miami for Tommy Hilfiger during Paris Fashion Week. I would have made two times what I make for the whole month in one day but I would have missed one day of Paris Fashion Week and I didn’t even want to miss a day – it doesn’t make sense to me. Everyone is like go do it, but I’m like no way. One time I was doing a job with a client and I missed half of the exit of one show, so I missed one photo and I’m never going to forgive myself for that. Everybody else had it and I’m like “I wish I had that photo”.
What photo was it?
It was a photo of Hanne Gaby and Binx Walton. Hanne Gaby wore this red patent Junya Watanabi belted coat numerous times during the fashion week and I have zero photos of it. I think she actually wore it three times and I missed it all three occasions. I mean, it’s a bright red patterned leather jacket, so I don’t know how I missed it. I don’t really like posed photos but she’s so crazy. It’s just so cool to have that photo but I wasn’t there. It sucks. If I was in Miami, can you imagine, I would have had nothing from that day. Absolutely nothing. I feel like when you come to my website or to WWD it’s almost like news, and if you had your favorite news channel and they just missed a story, a very important story, as far as the industry is concerned, it’s like news. And when I’m not there I feel like I missed a story. It’s not worth it for me.