A Chat with Matthew Choi

July 2021 | Written by john-simons-team

Matthew Choi is a self-taught menswear photographer who’s career to date has taken him around the globe, from Auckland, New Zealand, to London, England, and finally, to Seoul, Korea. Matt’s work is born from a love of all things menswear, coupled with a fascination for the more technical aspects of photography. Having previously worked just down the road from John Simons, at neighbouring menswear store, Trunk, Matt is a familiar face to both staff and customers on Chiltern Street. We sat down with Matt for an insightful conversation, covering the birth of online menswear photography and journalism, the beauty of analogue photography and the cornerstones of any successful wardrobe.

Matt 1

How did you begin your career as a Menswear photographer?

I was shooting for a while in New Zealand and I used to work for a boutique tailoring company there. I would shoot a lot of fun stuff, candid images back stage and the like. It was all beautiful menswear, expertly tailored in Italy. Then I came to London and began shooting for Trunk and it all spiralled from there! Brands would come along and ask me to work for them, as did influencers, and this really is how I got into photography. My background in menswear was a massive advantage as I knew what to look for when shooting. I would instinctively know which details to focus on. Similarly, I am a bit of a camera nerd and became very interested in photography from an equipment point of view. This combined with my love of menswear, meant that photography was a natural direction for me to head in. I love menswear, cameras and capturing beautiful images.

Do you remember the first photo you took?

This goes right back to when I was in college, probably around sixteen years of age. My parents are divorced and I met my father for the first time in fifteen years. During this reconciliatory meeting he bought me this CyberShot Sony camera, which at the time was great, although looking back it was tiny and could only shoot up to four mega pixels, which is less than a current iPhone. However, it was my favourite thing in the world at the time, my treasure if you will. I would take it everywhere, just shooting my friends. I cannot remember my first photo, but that was definitely the first camera and was with me all the time up until it was later stolen in an internet café.

I got heavily into photography whilst at University. I bought my first DSLR and this was around the same time I became obsessed with fashion. I was spending a lot of money on clothes! I started this street fashion blog with a few friends, we were heavily influenced by bloggers like the Sartorialist, who at the time had just begun posting on Blogspot, as well as a blogger named FaceHunter, who was a very influential street photographer at the time. We would stop individuals with interesting style, ask them what they were wearing, photograph them and upload it to the blog. It was all random encounters but I made a lot of great friends through the blog and although it didn’t really generate any revenue, I didn’t mind particularly as I was super-motivated and passionate. I would see someone in a pair of rare jeans, which at the time in Auckland was unthinkable, that would get my heart racing, and I would chase them down for a photo.

Ivy and Seoul cake 2
Rancourt 2

Do you have a favourite camera in your arsenal?

My favourite camera to shoot on is my Leica MII film camera. There are no fancy settings, but it does everything it is supposed to. I have my commercial Digital camera, which I need to have for a faster developing process, but if I was to pick one camera it would be a Leica. If I could afford to, I would probably upgrade it with a £3000 lens, but that is a pipe dream for the time being! I have shot a few commercial projects on the Leica too, as some clients prefer an analogue approach. It is totally different from shooting on a digital camera. You get this amazing tonality with analogue photos which of course comes from the chemical treatment in the developing process, which the digital process cannot replicate. A lot of my friends who work in Menswear photography love to shoot on analogue, but in truth it is a massive inconvenience. The sacrifice you make in convenience pays off aesthetically but at the same time it can be a massive gamble if you are not on top of your lighting. I suppose in that sense it teaches you a level of discipline that you do not get with digital photography.

Do you have a specific artist or photographer that influenced your work in your formative years?

I used to love Scott Schuman’s street portraits when I first got into photography. His subjects always look natural and comfortable in front of the camera. That is a real skill to have as a street photographer, if you are able to make your model feel at ease within only a few minutes of meeting them. Recently, I have been following the work of Tyler Shields, he has become a fairly established fine art photographer, but he also works a lot in fashion. I was recently watching a documentary on him, and his story is inspiring, from couch surfing to reaching the heights he is at now. His approach to the way in which his work is displayed is also atypical. Unlike, the fashion photographers of the 1980s and 90’s, who’s work would almost entirely be limited to the pages of a glossy magazine, I admire his dedication to exhibiting his work as a physical printed photo on a wall. I think every photo is truly valuable when it is printed. His whole approach to photography is amazing, because he can visualise how it will look on an individual’s unique wall.

John Simons Made in London Ivy Jacket Green Moleskin
John Simons Made in London Mingus Jacket

Do you remember the first article of clothing you bought with your first paycheck?

It was a pair of Loake 1886 brogues. They were about £300 if I am not mistaken. I justified making this stretch to a pair of leather shoes as I had just landed a job in tailoring. Previously, I had been working at a department store and they had this terrible rule that you could only wear black shoes. I remember hating that as I wanted to wear brown shoes with my navy suit! As soon as I got the tailoring job, I knew I had to purchase a pair of brown dress shoes. I wore them to death for about six years.

Do you have a specific article of clothing that you cannot live without?

Thats a tricky question! Whilst it is not an article of clothing as such, I would go with my glasses. I am crazy about glasses and I literally cannot live without them. I have about eight pairs. Right now I am wearing a pair by a company called Article 1, they are handmade in Italy and they are a lovely pair of tortoise shell prescription glasses. I love the Wayfarer shape but I hate the modern Rayban logo, so these are my go to as they have a very similar profile.

What would be your number one style tip?

My style tip is “If you like it, try wearing it”. If you keep trying things, you will quickly figure out what works for you. I always make the distinction between style and fashion because style is an all encompassing term, it can mean your natural looks and attitude too, so I feel that your aesthetic should match who you are and you will only ever know if you try things out. I have tried wearing a lot of different styles over the years and I think I have figured out what suits my personality at this point, but the process took a while and I got there through trial and error. Be brave and try it out!

I would also recommend having a few staple items in the wardrobe. Have a pair of decently priced leather shoes. A pair of well-fitting 501 selvedge jeans. A well tailored jacket and a very nice white shirt. This is a failsafe look any guy can look stylish in. It is elevated but it is nonchalant.

Do you have a style icon?

Yes, Kamoshita, the former creative director at United Arrows in Japan. I have been following his style for years. He has an amazing sense of style, a great smile and his personality shines through in photos and interviews. I was lucky enough to spend the day with him when I was in Tokyo, Japan. He is an extremely generous and laid back man and was kind enough to show me around Harujuku. He dresses immaculately and always appropriately for the occasion but at the same time looks entirely relaxed. He has a great sense of what suits him. He has an amazing clothing range and I am lucky enough to have a few pieces from his collection.

Can you remember your first visit to our store?

This would have been shortly after I moved to London. I started working at Trunk on the second day I arrived in London, I was extremely jet lagged and I remember asking my colleagues for food and clothing recommendations in the nearby area. One of the first shops they recommended was John Simons. I walked in and the atmosphere was just so different to that of Trunk. It was like walking into a super cool vintage store where you can find amazing archival pieces as well as great new stuff at the same time. The whole vibe as well as the smell of the store, the posters, the art … it all worked together so well and there is definitely something special about it.

Finally, was there a particular piece that stood out?

Yes, I have quite a few pieces from you but my favourite is the Vetra navy lightweight corduroy blazer I have. It is already becoming quite tatty in places, particularly on the elbows where it is quite washed out. But I just love it, it has so much character. You can ball it up and chuck it in your tote bag. It is quite loose so you can wear it with wider trousers in Spring, and it lends itself well to layering. It is just so versatile! I love corduroy in general, but this garment in particular encapsulates that relaxed Vetra vibe.

This article includes images from Matt’s latest series of prints called ‘Maltese Summer’. The first series of prints are of the calm peaceful moments he has experienced on the islands of Valetta, Comino and Gozo.

The Prints are available via his instagram handle @zungzin

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