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Photographer Spends 20 Years of Documenting Our Collective 'Sense' of Fashion

Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom captures the way we universally dress like bad extra's in 80's B-films. In his latest project, "People of the Twenty-First Century(Phaidon, $35), the Dutch photographer shares the results of 20 years of skulking around the world's busiest streets. The images tell an amazing story of just how average we all are.


Since 1993, he has worked on his "Photo Notes"— arriving in a city, setting up on a major street, and then, within 10 to 15 minutes, choosing a recurring visual theme before shooting in the same spot for one to two hours. Once he's done, he puts the best examples into a grid, with the place and time at the bottom of the page. He took between 1 and 80 photographs a day, almost every day, 12 months a year. Needless to say, this yielded a stream of bizarre looking shots. You really have to look twice in order judge if it's not just the same person in the image. Some of the examples are Louis Vuitton-style man-purses in 2006 Paris, a pack of Canadian tuxedos (denim on denim) in 2007 Amsterdam, and an army of shirtless rollerbladers in 1997 New York.

All of Eijkelboom's work in this project has now been turned into a book titled "People of the Twenty-First Century." These “anti-sartorial” photographs of everyday people capture specific visual themes that are grouped together with the date, city and time range they were taken. And this combination and repetition is what makes the photographs so powerful. Viewed separately, they would hardly even catch our eye.

“I don’t use this diary to show what happens in my life but as a method of visualizing the development of my world view,” writes the artist. Long before the fashion world coined a term for the idea of intentionally dressing like everybody else, Eijkelboom sensed that people were (accidentally or not) looking more like one another than ever. "You see the same themes in Moscow and São Paulo now," says the photographer.

It's a message Eijkelboom touched on with his 2007 book, "Paris, New York, Shanghai," where boringness reigns in the past, present, and future culture capitals of the world. "In the last 10 years it's really changed. Every shopping center in the world has the same brands now."

One could argue that Eijkelboom's most interesting grids come from Amsterdam, where he currently resides, but he says he has a hard time there composing his photo notes. "For me, Amsterdam is problematic because there are too many tourists."

Lately, Eijkelboom is more interested in smaller cities with limited tourism; he's especially intrigued by England's second biggest city. "Birmingham," he says, "is very inspiring and not so many tourists. There, it is possible to to get the real Englishman only influenced by the culture around him."

A book and exhibit on his work in Birmingham is in the works for 2015. No matter what city strikes his fancy next, Eijkelboom says he has no plans to stop his ongoing project anytime soon.

[via Colossal and Citylab]

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Nathan Hamler's picture

Looks just like what Bill Cunningham does.....

Lars Daniel Terkelsen's picture

This kind of documenting our species is exactly the reason why photographing people in public spaces should never be illegal anywhere on our planet.

Peter Timmer's picture

this has been done by a lot of people, but in my opinion this book -> nailed it.