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A Fashion Lens Brightened Up by Passion

May 12, 2009 by · 1 comment

Interview with Jeff Fryer by trilby*foxglove

Jeff Fryer has had a long affair with photography, which he never made official. The 25-year-old self-taught photographer from Colorado, with a university degree in Computer Science, became acquainted with this art in his teens. After trying out various genres, he developed a passion for fashion photography. And indeed, “passion” is the buzzword when it comes to Jeff’s art – emotion flowing freely between photographer and model, unrestricted by formality or prearrangement. Another remarkable fact: Jeff’s interest in politics also finds its expression in photography.

How did your passion for photography begin? Is it a childhood dream, a way to make a living, a hobby?

I started at the age of around 15, but I don’t think I really got a passion for it until about four years ago, when I started shooting local fashion photography. It has progressed into a hobby that I make a little money off each year, but I still have a day job that pays for new lenses and things of that nature.

How did the way you take photos develop over those ten years you have been a photographer?

My mother initially taught me how to use an old Pentax ME-Super film camera and back then I mostly shot nature photography. After the first few years as an occasional nature photographer I got into doing a little bit of portrait photography and painting with light. It was rather difficult learning how to do something like painting with light on a film camera, but the creativity involved in that sparked my interest. I finally started doing fashion my last year of college, when I was about 21. Using strobes in photos opened a whole new dimension to me, which made it feel like a creative and technical challenge.

Political and fashion photography is a peculiar combination. Tell me about it.

My passion lies in fashion photography, but I am also really passionate about politics. I spent a very large amount of my time last year volunteering on the Obama campaign. Since I was going to these speeches and rallies, it felt only natural to bring my camera along with me. The interesting thing is shooting political photography has taught me a lot about composition because I don’t really have anything else I can control in the photo – it’s usually hard to change the lighting or your position. This lesson in composition has definitely transferred over to my fashion photography.

What first strikes me in your fashion photos is their vibrancy, freshness and dynamics. These features suggest that you take your photos spontaneously rather than spending a lot of time planning and executing them. Am I right?

Yes, you are right. When I was getting started with fashion, I tried planning out every little detail of a shoot, but that would invariably fall apart. Whatever I had in my mind would just not work with the locations, the model wouldn’t be able to pull off the poses I wanted, or I couldn’t get the lighting right. In the end this just frustrated me. So now I try and just show up to a location; think on my feet and try to be fluid with the model. Usually I am working with 10+ models in a short span of time in a location that is sometimes unfamiliar to me. Planning for that sort of situation is an exercise in futility.

Tell me about the communication between you and your models during photo shoots. How do you establish the bond that the artistic process requires? How much of the idea, composition, emotion of the photo is created by you and how much by the model?

A lot of the time I am working in the corner of a noisy club, so I have gotten rather good at communicating with body language to try and show a model how I want them to pose. In the local fashion scene maybe one out of every five models is really good and can pose on their own or take a pose idea of mine and elaborate to make it their own. With these types of models I can usually give them abstract ideas or feelings and collaborate with them on the photo. With the less experienced models, I usually give more coaching on the poses. I’m sure I look like an idiot when trying to show a model how to do a sultry pose on a couch, but it gets the job done.

How important is formal training for a photographer? Do you think your photos would look different if you had formal training?

I think formal training for photographers is HIGHLY overrated. I think all you really need is a passion for it and a desire to learn. I have seen both great photographers come from backgrounds with no training and some with formal training. I’ve also seen horrible photographers come from both backgrounds. Also, I do wish there were classes available on the business aspects of photography. Somehow I don’t think a generic business/MBA class would teach the necessary skills to sell yourself and your work. I’m sure I could make a living off senior portraits, weddings, and journalism, but that aren’t the types of photography that interest me.

What are your inspirations/influences? Do you sometimes take photos with the idea of paying tribute to a photographer you admire?

I am very inspired by magazines that contain high-end fashion photos like W, Vanity Fair, and to a lesser extent GQ. I love going through these periodicals and picking apart how the lighting was done in some of my favorite photos. Inspiration of my style comes from Jill Greenberg, Joey Lawrence, Patrick Ecclesine, Raymond Meier, and Chris Borgman, to name a few. I certainly don’t think of my style or quality as being on par with any of those names, but I like to think of it as a rather toned down variation that is progressing in that direction. Generally I don’t try and take pictures with the intent of paying tribute to a photographer.

What other types of art are you interested in and/or have you tried your hand at?

I like drawing various things with a set of micron pens, but I am certainly not very good at it.

Is there any celebrity or anyone in particular that you would like to photograph?

I really haven’t thought about it, but it does seem like photos are made at least ten times better when a celebrity is on them. To me, it seems like people care less about lighting, composition, etc. when the subject is famous. If I had to choose someone, I would pick someone like Gisele Bündchen, not for her beauty but just to see what it is like working with a supermodel, to see how she poses and works with me on an idea. I hate to say this, but I used to watch America’s Next Top Model just so I could see how the photographers worked with the models. Sadly, that isn’t the focus of the show but you do see the occasional interesting tidbit.

Categories: Lifestyle · Visual Arts


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