Where fashion, beauty, art and photography meet…
Played on loop, the videos engrossed her: the poised directives of a woman who knows exactly what she wants. “Put your left hand on your waist and whip your shoulder towards me,” orders the acclaimed Australian photographer. “I need you to create as much space through here as you can, and turn this hand away from me—that’s the one! Triangles and angles. Don’t lose the shoulder towards me—I really like it. Sit up tall; bring your shoulder towards me. Relax this hand, and I want you to bring your chin around to the shoulder. Now, it’s really important: all day, all you’re going to hear from me is ‘chin forward and down.’”
As she directs a model in this online portrait session, Sue Bryce has already mapped out the next hour and half in sketches—thinking through the right angles and lighting for each shot and garment. Her terse commands earn the model’s respect without resentment; her confidence translates into each pose.
“I watched [videos like this] over and over and over and over,” says Peoria-based artist, Tracey Frugoli. “The more it gets in, the more repertoire you have to pull from to tell [models] what’s going to look good on camera, what I need their hips to do, how I need them to bend.” It’s all about the art of the pose, she suggests.
Once a Painter, Always a Painter
“I’m not a fashion photographer,” Frugoli says more than once. But here in the warm, inviting studio space she shares with painter Ken Tiessen, that’s what she often photographs. To be a “true” fashion photog, she says, she’d probably need to live on one of the coasts, where access to agency models and high-end labels is easier. But more than that, the title comes with unwanted constraints for Frugoli, who defines herself by the dual nature of her work: both painting and photography.
She began with oil landscapes 15 years ago, after working for years in the field of art therapy. She started painting portraits in an effort to improve her landscapes, and soon found herself enamored by the challenge of capturing expression, sometimes dressing up models to portray varying personas. No one buys portraits unless they know the subject, she explains. “But if you can make them a character they can relate to, they’re more likely to buy it; it’s also more artistically satisfying.”
Frugoli’s paintings hang over the opening she and Tiessen cut to join their two studios into one larger space—“a place we’d actually want to go make art,” she notes. Friends for years, the two started a weekly portrait group where artists could meet to paint a shared model. Sketching a “live” subject is always preferable over drawing from a photograph, Frugoli explains. “There are so many subtle color contrasts and changes in value… that the photograph is just not going to pick up,” she says. “It’s going to flatten all your darks and blow out your lights, so working from life is really valuable.”
And there is something very lifelike about Frugoli’s paintings. She captures the weight of the sun through the fabric of a painted dress; the warmth of its rays on the face of a woman seated near a window; its golden glare glistening through the leaves of a tree. This interpretation of light pulls the models from the canvas, and her love for the work is evident in each. But four years ago, Frugoli picked up a camera just for fun, and with it, she muses, came “two full-time jobs.”
Behind the Lens
She was just helping an artist-friend promote her handmade feather headpieces by taking some artistic shots of the garments. But along the way, she became a bit obsessed. “The more I learned about retouching and posing and lighting,” she recalls, “the more I got excited about it.”
Her sudden infatuation with photography injected a new energy into Frugoli’s art, and more room for risk-taking. “[In] painting… you have to think out everything because you’re going to invest so much time in it,” she says. “With photography, you can risk so much more, much more quickly, and change things really fast. It gives you instant feedback.”
With photography, Frugoli found she had to use “both halves” of her brain, in a challenging new way. “There’s numbers and math and technology,” she explains. “Getting the tech to actually work the way you want it to work is really challenging… and I [still] have the artistic [side]—especially with the fashion photography.” And then, a weird thing happened. As she continued to pursue photography, her paintings improved. “I started to think differently as a painter,” she explains, reinterpreting image composition, lights and darks, highlighting and shadowing.
Frugoli was hooked. “I decided that if I want to learn this, I want to learn this right.” With little desire for “more letters behind her name” (already a BFA in fine art and MA in art therapy), she set to the task of educating herself. Soon, she was immersed in the trade, watching videos to expand her knowledge, and shooting as often as possible to gain the confidence needed to direct models and make women—“no matter their size or shape”—look and feel great.
A few years ago, she began targeting high school seniors, offering unique photo shoots tailored to the subjects’ personalities. Through her connections with local designers and fiber artists, she also started photographing fashion shoots for fun. At first, she arranged the shoots by herself—a daunting task. “It was so much work—I would do all the hair, makeup, everything,” she laughs. “Then I realized there were people who would come out and do the hair and makeup… and there actually are designers around here who can source [clothing].” Bolstered by the power of collaboration, the pace of her shoots picked up, and she began submitting her teams’ editorial work to independent fashion magazines.
It all starts with the garment. Though she’s not tied to the designer’s vision per se, Frugoli often uses their stories to determine how to conduct the shoot—fleshing out theme, storyline and mood. Meanwhile, her team utilizes Pinterest as a “mood board” to share ideas for the overall feel and vision—a cooperative effort that painting would never allow for, she notes. All the while, Frugoli conducts her orchestra, melding the team members’ distinct visions—for clothing, hair, makeup, nails, jewelry, props, light, pose—into a cohesive statement before the lens. And the world is noticing. So far, she and her team's work has been published in Jute Fashion Magazine, Elléments Magazine, Flawless Magazine and The Retriever Journal.
A Theater of Fashion
It was hard to explain. The event—a live photoshoot extravaganza—had never been done before. But as last year’s submission deadline for IGNITE Peoria—the city’s inaugural “celebration of creativity”—approached, Frugoli pitched the idea for Fashion Ignite. Far from just a booth to showcase her work, she wanted to share her passion for photography with the public in a whole new way. Thinking about her own obsession watching photoshoot videos, she asked, “Why wouldn’t the public want to see fashion photography actually happening?”
That August, Fashion Ignite took attendees behind the scenes with this team of photography, art, fashion and beauty professionals to see how the creative vision comes to life. Directing the ensemble, Frugoli narrated the event on the mic while the rest of her team was projected on screen in real time for attendees—a public not necessarily privy to the inside world of fashion photography.
It was a huge success. With instant images, tips and tricks through presentations, and local artists showcasing their fiber art, makeup, hair, products and services, Fashion Ignite took over the Peoria Civic Center’s fourth-floor ballroom. Downstairs, models in impressive gowns and extravagant headpieces traversed the crowd—nearly 6,500 strong—beckoning them up to see the action.
In its first year, Fashion Ignite went off with few hitches, yet arranging the event felt like planning two huge weddings, Frugoli says, chuckling at her bridezilla tendencies. This year, she formed a Fashion Ignite committee to better organize and plan the event in advance—a casting call for models in February, wardrobe styling sessions in April, a trial run in late July—all before the August 8th event.
Naturally, this year’s event has grown. It’s set to feature some 15 models, eight clothing and jewelr
y designers, five hair stylists, five makeup artists, six photographers, and a “red carpet” of sorts, allowing participants to have their photo taken like celebrities amidst the action. But the event is not a runway show, and that, Frugoli says, has been her biggest challenge.
“People hear the word fashion and automatically assume it’s a runway show,” she says. “It’s difficult to market something that nobody’s ever seen or heard of before.”
In fact, Fashion Ignite is something no one’s ever seen before. While there have been fashion shoots open to the public, to her knowledge, nothing has ever been done at this scale, with hair, makeup, fashion and art coming together for a public audience. While she’s quick to eschew credit—it’s the product of a wonderful team of artists, she stresses—it’s clear that without Frugoli’s vision, there’d be no Fashion Ignite.
“My feeling is, anything worth doing is worth obsessing about,” she says. “I knew if I was going to become a photographer, then I would obsess about it enough to get all the knowledge I needed… to do it well… I’m obsessed about this stuff. I’m up all night editing because I can’t go to bed—because I love this.
“I want [Fashion Ignite attendees] to get a window into what all goes into it,” she adds. “I want them to get that excitement… walk[ing] into the room, like ‘Wow! This is so cool! Look at that! Look at that!’ … [and] just bring them into the experience.” For Frugoli, it’s about sharing the capture of the theater.
“I tell this to my portrait clients as well: it’s all theater. That jacket doesn’t usually fit that model… The pants are not tailored perfectly to his legs—we’re clipping them in the back. That’s what fashion photography is: all illusion.” And Frugoli is the director bringing this illusion to life through the lens—a distorted truth in portrait form. a&s
The second annual Fashion Ignite event takes place at IGNITE Peoria on August 8th at the Peoria Civic Center. For more information, visit fashionignite.com. To learn more about Tracey Frugoli’s art, visit traceyfrugoli.com.