During our shoot, StyleLikeU muse Laila Gohar said, “Life is too good not to document.” While trying to pay attention to the camera, I repeated her quote over and over in my head, thinking, “Mona! Remember what she just said!” This happens to me quite frequently while we interview people for StyleLikeU, however, for some reason, Laila’s idea stuck with me in an even more personal way.
I began working at StyleLikeU two and half years ago. Since my first day, while I was transcribing Ronald Sosinski’s video and listening to his stories about curating a Dash Snow show, living down the street from Bob Dylan and his beginnings in the art world when he was given a Winslow Homer water color, I was hooked on StyleLikeU’s concept. Through the lens of clothing, StyleLikeU documents the lives and stories of interesting people, and, as a student of Cultural Anthropology at The New School, I knew that this project, this job, would teach me more than my classroom ever could (I subsequently dropped out of school and have yet to return).
Around the same time of Laila’s shoot I had finished reading, It Chooses You, by Miranda July. Laila reminded me of a part in July’s book where she discusses her first work of art, a play about her written correspondence with a man in prison:
“The gap between a thirty-eight-year-old murderer serving his eighteenth year in Florence, Arizona, and a sixteen-year-old prep-school student in Berkeley, California, is lyrical in scale, like the size of the ocean or outer space. Bridging it seemed like one of the few things I could do that might be holy or transcendent. I’ve been trying for so long now, for decades, to lift the lid a little bit, to see under the edge of life and somehow catch it in the act.”
Laila made me understand July’s determination to capture life, which is also the underlying goal of each StyleLikeU shoot. As we meet each person and learn about his or her world, and by showing our viewers that they can be inspired by someone completely different than themselves, we bridge gaps of class, race, sex, age, etc. Similarly, Miranda’s book tells the journey of her visits with a diverse group of individuals, found through the Pennysaver in LA. Her interactions with these people are very akin to the ones we’ve had at StyleLikeU, walking into unexpected apartments, in unknown neighborhoods and making the most unlikely connections- all for the sake of documenting life.
Laila’s nonchalant and simplistic way of citing how she sees the world made me question my own realities. A connection to her made me realize that with all of the differences between us, she and I are after something similar. When I moved to New York City from Hartford, Connecticut, I wanted to find a home and community of creative individuals, like those I read about in New York Magazine or in Patti Smith’s Just Kids and fantasized about knowing. StyleLikeU has provided me with an outlet through which I can bridge gaps, connect to others and transcend differences through the documentation of life. For this, I’d like to say thank you to Elisa, Lily, Laila and everyone else who has shared their stories with StyleLikeU. I suppose in some way, I am, just as Miranda and Laila are, documenting life in the hopes of creating something larger than myself, that extends outwards, creating a community and changing the world around us.