Friend of the People: An Interview with Steven John Irby
We caught up with Steve to talk photography, his community and the direction he's taken his work...
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
There’s 3 photographers that had a real impact on the way I thought about my work and just the whole scope of photography. Joseph Rodriguez, Jamel Shabazz and the late great Ricky Powell. Each one of them had very specific missions with there documentation, that I was subconsciously already enamored with. For Joseph, it was eye contact with who you’re documenting. For Jamel, it was that he was fighting for love with his work. Finally for Ricky, it was his obligation to document what was happening at the moment, no matter where he was. Each one of those gems that they have dropped on me, I hold closely.
At what point in your career did you choose this path? How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?
I’ve always had the dream of being like my Pops and running my own business. But I didn’t know how to do it honestly. Falling in love with photography and the community that came up together, it gave me a something that I can work with my hands like my Pops, but not as excruciating as an electrician. But I was still working at REI. I pretty much got fired within the year, and I told the manager thank you. I rented my bedroom in my 4 bedroom apartment, and slept on the couch to save money. I was uncomfortable, but I was happy because I was able to pursue photography full time. The more time I put into my work and the community, I was able to build a portfolio through my Instagram, to help get my work out there. It’s been about 9 years now since I started this journey.
What made you focus mainly in black and white?
I’m obsessed with being able to remove all the distractions, and focusing on the image. Color is beautiful, but sometimes black and white just hits harder. That immediate nostalgia, along with the consistency is what I’m immersed with.
What’s on the horizon for Steve Sweatpants? Any exhibitions, campaigns you can share with us?
Really excited to announce that I am coming out with a collaboration with Jeff Staple at the end of August. Finally dropping some sweatpants. Also we have a collaboration with Daily Paper coming out this fall.
The community around you shines through your work. Living in Brooklyn do you find capturing the people around you easy, or hard as you see them everyday…?
I really don’t look at it like as if it’s hard or easy. I’m born and raised from here, and I live in the same community. We’re all neighbors, and we all go the same ebb and flow of humanity. I genuinely try to talk to people and compliment them before I decide to take a photo, unless if I’m just too far. It’s a sharing an inviting process that I don’t take for granted, so I don’t like anyone feeling like I’m using them.
Where did the Sweatpants come from?
My mom always said it was my super power or the power of procrastination, when I was trying to avoid doing any chores. But for me, I like to be comfortable and for people around me to be comfortable.
Comercial or editorial?
I’m down for both, but as long as I can have some sort of creative control. My integrity isn’t for sale.