My name is Steph Thompson. I live in Brooklyn, and I talk to strangers. On subways, in parks, in cafes, and bars. Wherever I travel, there are those people I learn to trust immediately, because they trust me. And we connect. 

Talking to Strangers is a window onto those connections, a view into those conversations and relationships that get formed when hearts and minds meet. 

Join me in making friends out of strangers. 

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John Slattery: Scaling NYC's Fashion World, One Shoot at a Time

John on the streets of NYC with his pug, Boris

The streets of this great city I live in are paved with strangers who came here with a dream. I intersect with some of them, and we are both changed from the experience. John Slattery is one of them.

John’s first fantasy of New York City was watching Spider Man cartoons on his TV in suburban New Brunswick, Canada. As the superhero wove his intricate webs to save the world, John wove his own dreams of someday taking over the tall-towered town.

Fast forward a few years, to the fall of 1987, and he found himself along the shores of the mighty Hudson headed to school at Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village. It was there that he fine-tuned that early fantasy and found that the wall he hoped to scale in the Big City was fashion--as a stylist for those glossy glamorous magazines.

Just out of the gate at Parsons, the young dreamer found himself on shoots for German Vogue, working alongside Italian photographer Tiziano Magni. What followed were a slew of plum assignments he landed after being signed by star photo agent, Brian Bantry, among them a spot on Surface magazine, and a year-long stint in Paris.

In 2002, editor Patti Wilson introduced John to people at the quarterly Amsterdam-based fashion, art and literature publication, Zoo Magazine. During his time with them he famously partnered with Scott Lipps of One Music for a music issue green-lighted by Zoo’s then-publisher, fellow Canadian crooner Bryan Adams. Back and forth he flew to L.A., figuring how to outfit and feature the famous musicians of the day. But the “chaotic and crazy time” produced a wonderfully successful issue that landed him the position of U.S. Photo Editor for Zoo and got him noticed in the industry, scoring him jobs styling top glossies including Harper’s Bazaar and Numero TOKYO.

The dream had become a reality, but—as they do—dreams morph and change. John began to imagine his own magazine, full of the sultry, sumptuous imagery he’d created for others, but also something more rebellious and anti-establishment, a publication that allowed for his own outspoken, angst-y personality to emerge. It is then that I met John, through a neighbor, just after he’d launched, and needed someone to help him write, as he calls them, “journalistic pieces with integrity,” for his target audience: “someone who thinks like me, outside of the box, edgy with a strong personality.”

It was a dream gig. I wrote about the amazing Green Chimneys School for Little Folk, a rehabilitation center for kids with emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities in Brewster, N.Y. And I credit John with introducing me to Change for Kids, a non-profit to aid underserved schools that I wrote about for him and then proceeded to volunteer with at a number of schools in the projects. My work with them was a precursor for starting InspireCorps, my own small arts education organization. I wrote too about Baal Dan, an amazing charity started by a young woman--Tanya Pinto--who—similar to Change for Kids’ beginnings—gathered up funds from people at her office to put them directly toward items needed for children in India. I also, presciently, wrote about the ridiculous reasons our government trumped up to hold back the legalization of marijuana, and how it was fast on its way to becoming the “new old wonder drug.”

John put aWantedmag together on his own dime, getting great clothes from his formidable fashion clients from past shoots. He aimed to establish a distinctive brand and a presence and draw eyeballs before luring advertisers. I loved the look of the magazine, how its early flip pages were designed to feel like reading a great coffee-table book, and how the lush images he cultivated leapt off the page. The content was just as he’d desired, with positive stories about real people changing the world in their own way.

The magazine lasted a full seven issues, from 2009 to 2014, and still lives today through Instagram posts, #aWantedmag. There is talk of a retrospective of the work in a prestigious Chelsea gallery during Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020. It is a testament to his early dreams of Big City Life, and the aesthetic he imagined, that the classic pages he created can still stand the test of time, as does all the new styling work he has created through freelance projects for clients ranging from L’Oreal to The House of Alchemy and editorial projects for magazines including POZ, which serves people affected by HIV/AIDS.

“The thing as a freelancer is that you’re constantly reinventing yourself, yet all my old stuff holds up because the images are timeless,” he said. He has scaled that wall of the fashion world, and stood atop it fearlessly. And he continues to, an inspiration to the superhero he once looked up to, and to me, a one-time stranger, now a friend. Thank you, John.

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