“I need to look like a successful artist. Could you pick out something suitable?”
This is the question New York-based photographer James Pomerantz asked the sales clerks of various clothing retailers in a curious experiment that reflects on the meaning of success and appearance in society.
Pomerantz himself has been published in print extensively, working for such high profile clients as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and The London Sunday Times. His photographs have also been exhibited at various galleries all over the world, from The National Portrait Gallery in London to the San Antonio Art Museum.
Turning 40 earlier this year made him take a moment to think about the meaning of success. As the father of two young children, he certainly recognises the importance of financial security, but deep down he felt true artistic achievement went beyond that. He realised that in order to grasp artistic success he had to be “true to my ideas, able to do it, and keep doing it. If I didn’t have to worry about the finance, I’d have the freedom to just create.”
Up to his neck in commercial commissions, he decided to move outside of his comfort zone and got back to work on personal projects. He placed himself as the subject matter of his photography and created the series A Successful Artist. Despite his discomfort at being in front of the camera for the first time in his career, he says “I was curious about anyone’s thoughts of how a successful artist should look and I was just a mannequin.”
Pomerantz went to various clothing stores like Zara, Topman and J Crew, as well as to niche boutiques like India Sari Palace and The Kimono House. He dropped the key question and just purchased whatever the clerks suggested, spending as little as $124.98 at Prato Fine Men’s Wear on a three-piece suit, and as much as $1,790 at Barney’s on casual street attire.
The series serves as curious commentary on appearances in a time where our self image is more omnipresent and relevant than ever. How does the outside world really perceive us? How believable is our external posture to the world? Is there some truth in the popular saying “fake it till you make it?“
Curiously, when Pomerantz went into one store just wearing a beat-up jacket, t-shirt and dirty sneakers ,the sales clerk answered him with another question. “Why don’t you just wear that?”