Originally published here and in print at The Triangle on February 6th, 2015.
Brent Luvaas, founder of street-style blog Urban Fieldnotes, balances the life of a blogger, professional anthropologist and assistant professor at Drexel University. He currently teaches two courses, visual anthropology and media anthropology. According to Urban Fieldnotes, the blog is about “street style blogging, an experiment in auto-ethnographic research and open source fieldwork.”
The Triangle: What courses are you teaching at Drexel? Do you have a favorite course to teach?
Brent Luvaas: I’ve taught a number of courses. I would say media anthropology. I’ve done it so many times I feel like it’s my most developed. I am also teaching visual anthropology. It’s about how anthropologists make use of visual media for their work. [The course] relates directly to the blog. Every once in a while I also teach a class on Indonesian pop culture. I like it because I’m often introducing students to a part of a world they typically don’t know anything about.
TT: What do you like about teaching?
BL: Teaching for me is part of being a professor and an academic. It’s a nice gig because you are able to really devote yourself to those kinds of things that you actually feel passionate about and teaching is your opportunity to share it. You can really focus on what is important, and students either pay attention or they don’t.
TT: That is very true. How long have you been teaching at Drexel?
BL: I’ve been at Drexel for five years. This is year six. It’s been a good place. The students at Drexel are incredibly diverse. I can’t say one thing about what students here are like. They are pragmatic, which can be good and bad, but I feel like the student body is getting more intellectually oriented.
TT: Switching gears to your street style blog now. For your Century 21 collaboration, I saw that you have been asking people how they see Philly style. How would you personally define what is the quintessential “Philly style?”
BL: It interested me to discover what it is that defines this place as a fashion city. It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing that is unique to Philly. I think that it’s always in conversation with New York. The thing that separates us from New York style is that it is just a little grittier, edgier and cheaper, frankly.
TT: How do you choose who to approach for street style?
BL: You are reacting as a street style photographer that is something quite difficult to describe about people. I don’t have a list of criteria. It tends to be a certain kind of attitude, something about their internal state that gets communicated externally. I look for people that are considered “cool” and that word is something that is difficult to define. It’s just people that have this thing that most other people don’t have.
TT: When you do approach people, do you typically ask them to pose a certain way?
BL: Yes, yes I do. Stand with their arms at the side, stare straight at the camera, no smile. It’s almost like people are museum objects to be displayed. They are being put into an unnatural position where you are just standing there being evaluated. That is not the trend of street style blogs today. The trend today is candid shots, usually people walking.
TT: Do you think that there are too many street style blogs?
BL: The amount of street style blogs has been about the same since 2009, but I would say that there are too many Fashion Week street style blogs. There are hundreds of them. I know a lot of people that are involved with these blogs, and they are good people, but it’s the same people being photographed in the same way on all sorts of different blogs. I love the street style blogs that are people documenting their own streets, the kinds that genuinely feel like real people.
TT: Do you feel that starting your own street style blog has changed your own personal style?
BL: Yes. Well there is no way to be constantly in tuned to how the clothes people are wearing are affecting you. It definitely has, but I don’t know how it has.
TT: What song or album has been repeating on your playlist lately?
BL: I listen to albums in whole, but I don’t listen to them on repeat. I am very restless. I am very easily bored of music. Lately I’ve been listening to Run the Jewels, D’Angelo’s new album and Sun Kil Moon.
TT: One last random question: If you were a cartoon character and could only be drawn in one outfit, what would that outfit look like?
BL: These days I want myself in a classic professor tweed jacket with elbow patches. Maybe some thick black framed glasses. I would want to look like a caricature of a professor from the 1950s, but with street edge.