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As in NY, a street photog puts this city’s stylish residents in his best light

December 7, 2015

Chancelor Humphrey is a Pittsburgh-based photographer whose site Keep Pittsburgh Dope has become synonymous with Pittsburgh street style.

PITTSBURGH — Chancelor Humphrey knows Pittsburgh’s streets well. He scours them often in search of people whose personal style he can capture on camera.

In just over a year, Humphrey, his website KeepPittsburghDope.com and his social media feeds have become to Pittsburgh what New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham’s "On the Street" features are to the Big Apple’s fashion community. What Humphrey has curated in this short time is arguably the most comprehensive portrait of modern Pittsburgh style.

The idea of a street style photographer in Pittsburgh might make some snicker. This is, after all, the city that’s landed on its share of fashion-flop lists. But this 27-year-old North Sider knows better.

"There’s a difference between fashion and style. We got a unique style here," he says. "In the pictures, I’ll guide a person, but when they make that turn to look at the camera, that’s their expression and it’s always no nonsense. … It’s like, this is Pittsburgh."

On a recent afternoon downtown, Humphrey (a thin, towering guy whose own style is a mix of relaxed and refined) spotted a blonde in a pencil skirt and blouse at the corner of Fifth and Liberty avenues. He darted to the curb to snap a quick picture of her from behind as she crossed the street, unaware that she was his muse for the moment. On another street, a young man’s sleek sneakers got his attention. A couple of others Humphrey approached that day smiled but declined to be photographed.

A few blocks away from Point Park University, he stopped a young woman in active wear topped with a fringed eternity scarf and sunglasses. She not only agreed to have her photo taken, she recognized him.

"I love it," he says about the slice of local fame he’s gotten since launching Keep Pittsburgh Dope. On Instagram and Twitter combined, his following exceeds 11,000. "Man, it’s like what I do affects people."

For now, he shoots most of his street style photography downtown, but he also enjoys scouting other neighborhoods.

"I love to go to Oakland and see the high-fashion finds along with the thrift finds," he says. "There’s always just awesome style."

Since the summer, photography has become his full-time gig. He left his day job as a loan document specialist at PNC Firstside Center to build up Keep Pittsburgh Dope and pursue opportunities to shoot campaigns for other brands, such as BikePittsburgh and Chromos Eyewear.

Becoming a photographer, however, was never something he envisioned for himself.

"I thought I was going to be an NBA player," he says.

A native of Aliquippa, Pa., he grew up playing basketball, including two years at Penn State Beaver before transferring to the university’s State College campus. There he switched his major from business to communications and got interested in radio, even landing a job at a local station.

Back in Pittsburgh, he found himself at a crossroads. He started a website that covered local events and newsmakers, but it failed to get traction. Plus, sometimes his photographers wouldn’t show up. That’s when Humphrey decided to get a camera and teach himself how to take photos. Soon after came Keep Pittsburgh Dope.

"I noticed a void as far as street photography and street style photography here in Pittsburgh," he says. "I’ve always been a fan of street style photography in New York, so it just seemed like kind of a no-brainer."

And the name? He credits that to a shot in the opening credits of the comedy TV series "Portlandia" that reads "Keep Portland Weird" in graffiti.

"It kind of just hit me, Keep Pittsburgh Dope, because I always use ‘dope’ in my everyday slang," he says. "It just made sense."

He’s been inspired along the way by the likes of Cunningham and Scott Schuman, the fashion photographer known for his street style blog and books called "The Sartorialist." He also gets ideas from collaborating with other young local photographers, such as Cody Baker. But one of his biggest motivations is his mom. Growing up, it was just the two of them, he says, so he sees photography not only as a way to build a life for himself but also to take care of her someday.

While he’s made a lot of progress so far, he’s just getting started, he says. He hopes to evolve Keep Pittsburgh Dope into a lifestyle brand that includes events, branded goods and more.

"I’m just learning as I go," he says. "The time is now to do anything creative in Pittsburgh."

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