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July 16, 2009 11:56 AM

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Straight Shooter

David Scott Smithphoto by Sarah Stolfa When someone bellies up to a bar by themselves, they're usually looking for the bartender to pour them a drink and lend them an ear -- not bust out a camera and pop...

David Scott Smith
photo by Sarah Stolfa
When someone bellies up to a bar by themselves, they're usually looking for the bartender to pour them a drink and lend them an ear -- not bust out a camera and pop a flashbulb.

Photographer Sarah Stolfa, who worked for almost a decade at Philadelphia dive McGlinchey's, didn't use quite such guerilla tactics when shooting her loyal customers for her book "The Regulars," but she does shed light on what are otherwise private moments.

"I was very interested in photographing people in this public space where it's okay to go alone but also wanting interaction with other people," she says. "I would take my time [between shots] to try and see if I could get that public mask that people have to kind of dissolve." Stolfa's not the first artist to find barflies poetic (Joseph Mitchell published "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" about the famous New York City watering hole in 1945) but her photographs do allow McGlinchey's regulars to speak for themselves. And many were pleased with the results.

"People that are in the book were very supportive and excited about it," Stolfa said. "I had a book signing in Philadelphia and Christopher Doyle [who appears in the book] came and I said, 'Do you know who owns your picture? The Houston Museum of Fine Art,' and he just couldn't believe it."

These days Stolfa, 34, spends more time in art institutions than she does slinging whiskey shots. She received a master's degree in fine arts from Yale and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. She also is busy founding the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, a non-profit that opens Aug. 11.

As Stolfa puts it: "At this point in my life, it's a rarity if I go to a bar more than every two or three weeks."

Tonight, Stolfa signs books from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo.
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