The Photographer Giving The World's Most Stylish Men A Voice
Following the launch of his second book ‘Garcon Style’, Jonathan Daniel Pryce talks Paul Smith, photography books, and the importance of giving ordinary men in style a voice.
Popularly known as ‘Garcon Jon’, Jonathan Daniel Pryce is a 31-year-old Scotsman who has been able to amass over 100,000 followers on Instagram solely based on an impression only so few have been able to cumulate with his profile type: award winning men’s style photographer.
Celebrated for continuously creating a signature and compelling body of work in men’s style that can be referenced without looking at the credits over the last few years, Pryce has been able to garner the support and endorsement of industry leaders like Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ, and MR PORTER.
In addition, with highly accomplished men in fashion like Sir Paul Smith openly acclaiming that Pryce has "raised the bar for international street style photography", it’s admissible to deem Pryce a heavy weight in the work of choice we know as photography. However, he doesn’t necessarily dwell on the idea - a conclusion I came to after meeting and working with him in Florence, Italy this past summer.
At the core of Pryce’s photography work, “giving a voice to the ordinary man” showcasing lives, struggles, and successes with style as a gateway is the goal.
With the recent release of his latest book, ‘Garcon Style’, a celebration of his finest men’s style, and editorial work, Pryce hopes to continue the conversation. With focus on all four fashion capitals - New York, London, Milano, and Paris, Pryce has curated a book inclusive of over 500 diverse groups of men - accompanied with 12 laid out profiles, and several short interviews. It’s really distinctive. Honorable, even.
I spoke with Pryce about all of it, including the one of a kind compliment from Sir Paul Smith, and the Mario Testino exhibit that had a huge impact on his perspective. Below, his as-told-to story.
You're one of the most notable editorial and street style photographers in the fashion industry today and your resume extends like no other. You already have one book under your name, ‘100 Beards 100 Days’. Why did you decide to publish a second book?
Thank you for that glowing introduction! Books are a huge part of my life. I love photography books, it’s the only thing I collect. Having my work printed and bound is a great experience. I was approached by my publisher in 2015 and after pitching a few concepts, they selected the idea of a book on men’s style from the main fashion capitals. I already had a lot of images to work with and over 2017 and 2018, I added to that with profiles and interviews of inspiring men.
Upon realization, how did you decide to tackle it? Obviously, you'd had some experience from doing the first book. Coming back around this time, was the business of publishing and content construction easier?
It was a long and challenging process - quite different to ‘100 Beards, 100 Days’. The monolith of 100 Beards in 2012 was single portraits in chronological order so compiling it was easy. There are over 500 photographs in this new book and I was looking at 5 years worth of shooting on the street. I slowly went through my archive with my assistant Jim over 6 months, then sent my shortlist for each city to my editor who helped me narrow that to the best. The actual process involved a big team at the publishing house so there were lots of meetings and email chains that went on forever. They were incredibly professional and had a 24 month plan. At the start of the process, I couldn’t imagine it would take that long but as I was also working full time with clients as I usually do, we actually ran over schedule slightly. I took most of November and December 2018 off to get the book in order.
The title of the book, 'Garcon Style' suggests style content preferences that most would assume are subjective to you. What do you brand as 'Garcon Style' and how easy is it to achieve?
Garçon Style is a broad term. I hope the book reflects a diverse mixture of men from different backgrounds, ages and races. I am drawn to a particular way of dressing. For example, I love vintage clothing and American workwear, so there are quite a few men who fit that profile. I love functionality in clothing and the idea that dressing well is democratic. You can wear something as basic as a white shirt and jeans, and if you wear it with personality, I could still want to make a photograph. I was conscious of making each city have a distinct feeling so hopefully you can see that in the characters that we selected.
You have the one and only Sir Paul Smith on the Foreword of your book. Influential validation there. How did this come about?
I’ve worked with the Paul Smith brand a few times over the years. I mentioned the book in passing to one of the team members and they suggested it. I feel very grateful to have had such a strong seal of approval from someone I admire.
He says you have "raised the bar for international street style photography" and I agree as would many others, I’m sure. Why do you think this perception has come to be and is it easy for you to accept such an accolade?
As a Scotsman, I find it very hard to accept praise in general. I feel honored that someone with such great taste would think that about my work. If anything, I would say it could be the effort I put in that makes me stand out. I’m a hard worker and I’m always looking to make my photography the best it can be.
Which fashion book had the most impact on you as a photographer and now, author?
When I was 15, I went to see Mario Testino’s Portraits exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland and that had a huge impact on me. I remember the colorful photo of Jude Law baring his teeth and a washed Gwyneth Paltrow glowing in the sunshine. At the time, I couldn’t afford the accompanying book but I’ve subsequently bought it and I’m brought right back to that time of wonder. In general though, it’s not fashion books I love to read today. I would say “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” with photographs by Walker Evans has been the most impactful.
Touch on a bit about your photography technique - how do you like to photograph? Any signature surrounding or lighting techniques to look out for?
Light is probably the most important thing above anything else. With good light, you can make anyone look incredible. If I’m shooting street style, I’m always on the look for how the light is creating shadows and reflecting off buildings. I try not to be “snap-happy” and be as selective as possible. Over-shooting can kill the creative process and can also make too much work in the edit. Overall, if I’m honest, I use my gut – most of my decision making in terms of who to shoot and when is instinctive.
Do you have a favorite photograph in the book? If so, which one and why?
“It’s an almost impossible task and it changes so frequently. I love the cover image - a man called Luke photographed in London wearing a dispatch rider's coat from 1944, made by the British military. That was an obvious choice for the cover.”
“I have to say today, I really love this photo taken outside the Dior Hommes show in Paris. A journalist mentioned it to me when we were discussing the book and it’s reawakened my appreciation for its simplicity and his youthful gaze.”
Getting a chance to read the book myself, I am most enamored by the structure and layout of the book. Usually, with street style books, all you get are images. You've taken it up a notch by not only telling the stories of your subjects but also highlighting special clothing items you favor. What value do you think this brings your readers?
A huge part of why I became a photographer is because I love talking to people. With a camera in hand, people will open up and tell you all about their lives, struggles and successes. That could be a stranger on the street or a celebrity in a studio. I have had so many interesting conversations with the men I’ve met over the years. I knew I had to include some of them in the book. There are 12 profiles of inspiring individuals and many more anecdotes that accompany other photographs.
Why men's style?
When I studied photography, it was womenswear that interested me most actually. I started out shooting more of that and in 2012 after the 100 Beards project, I began shooting a lot more menswear brands. That took a natural course and it became a big part of my narrative. I didn’t have many influential men in my life as a child and I think I still play out a search for that to this day. I wrote in the foreword “I understand men, their likes and dislikes” and this is true. I feel I understand the male brain more than female so that’s one reason also. Having said that, it’s people of all creeds that I love and although my online portfolio and Instagram feature men mostly, for clients, I very often shoot women.
New York, London, Milano, Paris are all the cities you've highlighted in your book. Which city is your favorite? and why?
I live in London and I’m British, so there will also be a special place in my heart for the Big Smoke. It’s a soft culture of politeness and also irreverence which I appreciate. Despite Brexit and the move towards xenophobia in the world, London itself still feels like a very open and accepting city. I have to say though, I have a soft spot for New York. It’s the first city away from Scotland I ever lived in and it’s where I took my first photography class. The direct communication and the desire to uplift yourself and each other in the city is something I’m drawn to.
You say in your introduction that you're not setting out to document celebrity. You're just here to document the times. What's your conclusion on the men of our time in regards to what you've been able to photograph in the last seven years?
That statement is a reflection of what I said previously about people. I’m drawn to the underdog and giving a voice to the ordinary man. Over the past few years, we have seen a big cultural shift in the conversation around men. The #metoo movement gave a voice to so many who had been silenced and that really shone a light on inequality and the experience of outsiders. I hope we’re now in a time where men can be more open with their vulnerabilities, hold no shame over insecurity, and not have the societal pressure of being in control stoically at all times.
Best photography and style motto to live by?
I have “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” printed and framed on my wall.
What's next for Garcon Jon?
I’ve done book signings in New York at Rizolli and Bergdorf Goodman. There’ll be more events across Europe with Paul Smith which will be exciting. Fashion week will dominate my next month also and I’ll be shooting the shows for Vogue again. After then, I plan to hit the road and continue promoting my book in Asia and South America, then hopefully find some time to work on my personal projects.