Alumni of NY | Steven Irby aka Steve Sweatpants, Photographer, Creative Director + Co-founder Street Dreams Magazine
alumni of ny ·

Alumni of NY | Steven Irby aka Steve Sweatpants, Photographer, Creative Director + Co-founder Street Dreams Magazine

Where does “Steve Sweatpants” come from and what does that name mean to you now?

The name is kind of my origin story, but at the same time, an evolution to the moniker, you feel me. When I was younger, every time my mom asked me to wash the dishes or take out the garbage, I would always say “let me grab my sweatpants.” It was a way to procrastinate, but at the same time I wanted to be comfortable doing something I didn’t want to be doing in the first place. After a while, it kind of became my super power, in a way, because for maximum efficiency, I needed to be cozy. Now, the older I’ve become, it means that not only I like to be comfortable but I want people to be comfortable around me. 

You talk about how photography allows you to create “on [your] own terms.” What does that mean and why is it so important?

I think it’s important to have some sense of control in a society where it’s definitely not guaranteed. After all the years I’ve worked at retail, as a custodian, and the list goes on, the one consistent theme of my unhappiness was that I was never in control of where my imagination could go. With photography and creative direction, my thoughts are free now. 

Your photographs of the protests this year have garnered much attention and acclaim. Why do you think that work spoke to people?

I feel that we are in the day and age of wanting the truth more than ever. There’s so many different narratives floating around, that everyone (including myself) wants trustworthy people on the ground, just showing what they see. 

In terms of participating vs. observing, what did it feel like to photograph the protests?

It’s a lot to take in and download mentally when you’re documenting a protest. But for the most part, I felt a sense of purpose being there. Especially during the protest during the summer, there were so many memories that I will cherish forever. Just to see New York in unison during a global pandemic felt like something people will be talking about for 100 years.

Just to see New York in unison during a global pandemic felt like something people will be talking about for 100 years.

You have been working with one of the most influential people of our time Ava DuVernay through her Law Enforcement Accountability Project. Could you talk about the background of “41 to ‘99: A Photo Essay”?

Ava DuVernay is hands-down one the most intelligent, empathic and overall just such an incredible person. So, being able to work with her and Array Now, it’s been that subliminal life mission that I wanted to achieve. To be respected by someone like her is the kind of validation money can never buy for me. So, with this project in particular, she wanted to make sure that not only I would help introduce the LEAP program, but focus on a case story that really brings to light the systemic racism that we face in America. One of them being with how lopsided justice really is for the murders of black men and women by police officers. 

With so many important stories to tell about police brutality, why did you choose to tell the story of Amadou Diallo?

Diallo’s case is important to me because, even though this has been happening since the slave patrol days, it doesn’t really resonate until you can comprehend it on your terms. And for me, I was 12 years old when he was killed, and he was 23. Hearing that story as a kid, it horrified me. Still does till this day. That pain doesn’t just go away, and now with all the cameras, it’s way more in your face then ever. So the conversation instead of rotating around the victim, should be focused more on the accountability that none of these police officers face.

Could you talk about Street Dreams Magazine’s various facets?

Right now we have Street Dreams Radio and Street Dreams Visual Agency. We’re working on developing a more New York focused division now and to expand more on what we have started with Radio. The magazine will be back in full strength ASAP.

Could you recommend three artists, photographers, books, podcasts, movies, or video games that have shaped you?

Sheesh, good question. My three favorite photographers are Jamel Shabazz, Ricky Powell and Joseph Rodriguez. That’s like my holy trinity of street, photojournalism and just the scene in general. Favorite books would be Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink and [Shel Silverstein’s] The Giving Tree. Movies, got to go with King of New YorkSilence of the Lambs and Do the Right Thing. Honorable mention to They Live, a fucking classic. Video games, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeMetal Gear Solid 2Mass Effect 1 + and I’m going to cheat and add Dead Space