By Karilyn Prisco
Over the years NYC street style fashion and award winning portrait photographer, Robbie Quinn, has been capturing images of those who brighten up our city streets with vibrant colors and bold patterns, a welcome change against the backdrop of conformity of grey business suits. These individuals use their bodies as a canvas to express their art. Over the years, Robbie has collected these images for his new book, Street UnicornsTM which will be available at the end of March.
Always a fan of his, and Instagram follower, I caught up with him to discuss this new project.
Tell us a little about the path that led you to your book on street fashion, Street Unicorns.
I moved back to New York almost seven years now. When I first arrived, I took the opportunity between commercial photo sessions to do what many photographers have done in the past, let the streets speak to me. When I started meeting and photographing people that were styled in a unique way, I wanted to know about their style. How did they arrive at it? What did it mean to them? How did it make them feel and what were they looking to communicate with it? I have lots of images of other things I’ve photographed in the city, but these photos of those I would come to call ’Street Unicorns’ resonated with me. And their stories have touched me in a way, giving me a greater understanding that we all want to be true to ourselves, accepted and appreciated. At some point, I realized that I wasn’t gathering photos that were just for a photography or style book, I could see that the stories being shared were more about diversity and inclusion. That’s when I felt that this was meaningful work that I wanted to share and a book seemed like the best way to do that.
What is your description or definition of a “Street Unicorn”?
To me, a “Street Unicorn” is someone who, in an effort to express their most authentic self, goes beyond social norms in the way they present themselves with their personal style. This can be perceived as subtle or extreme by others, but the point is that the person is making a real effort to express that there’s only one of them and that they matter. Also, there’s an aspect of it in which the person is willing to risk criticism in order to not only feel like themselves, but to be happy with themselves.
Explain how you go about finding and capturing these images of people who you refer to as “Street Unicorns”?
Sometimes, people find me on social media or I find them and we arrange to meet, but mostly I really enjoy happening upon the unexpected person on the street. The spontaneity is so exciting and the moment carries this almost magical quality that translates over into the images.
New York is a big city with many diverse neighborhoods. Is there a particular section of the city where you are more likely to find your subjects?
I’m always surprised where a “Street Unicorn” might pop up. The West Village, the rest of Greenwich Village along with SoHo are areas that I often wander around in, but I have had many chance meetings in other neighborhoods all around Manhattan. I plan to venture out to the outer boroughs more. I’ve found some great unique styles in Brooklyn. Also, it looks like traveling could increase again. During a recent commercial work trip to LA, I photographed a couple of people that really inspired me. And although the book is mainly photographed in NYC, I’ve included a number of people from abroad. People from places like Amsterdam, London, Paris, Mumbai, Sydney, Toronto and a few others are included in the book.
How has social media influenced your work?
Sure I care if a post gets a good response. But social media doesn’t have any strong influence on my work. If it did, I wouldn’t be doing anything outside the box. It’s just a tool to help share my work. When anyone posts on social media, it’s like having a paper graded after it’s turned in. People either like or ignore a post and some of them can even be cruel. Of course, I love it when people share wonderful comments about how a post has brightened their day. But I look at it like it’s just one touch point, not an absolute litmus test of the value of a photo. Social media’s influence is not nearly as important as the influence of the city itself and the people in it. Nothing is more influential than real life. When I’m out with my camera, it’s impossible not to respond to the visuals I encounter. I have to trust my own instincts and appreciate the genuine interactions with the people around me. And having the trust of people I photograph and to be able to help amplify their voices not only influences and inspires me, it helps me learn and grow.
Street UnicornsTM can be purchased on Amazon. Pre-Order is available.
Karilyn Prisco is the Fashion Director of WestView News and Social Media Manager for WestView News’ “Style on the Street” IG @styleonthestreet_westviewnews. Karilyn is a full-time Fashion Stylist and graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology. Her latest projects include LaQuan Smith Fall 2022 NYFW runway show. Karilyn has called the West Village her home for over 15 years. You may have seen her working the local elections polls or ushering at the Cherry Lane Theatre.