Fashion! Turn to the left! Fashion! Turn to the right! Oooh, fashion! We are the goon squad and we're coming to town, beep-beep! ~David Bowie
My fashion photography - and trying to make it a profitable part of my career again - has been a long and winding road in recent years, to say the least.
Perhaps roller coaster ride would be more accurate...
Semantics aside, on a recent Monday - June 1st to be precise - that ride went from an incredibly slow uphill chug to a speedy downhill thrill complete with unexpected twists and turns, all in the blink of an eye.
What happened? I styled and shot some vintage looks for local clothing boutique FRUGALS, the images to be used for ads, promotions and of course, portfolios, and it has never felt better to be doing this again - shooting fashion, a genre of photography that I feel I do extremely well.
With the exception of one styled "fashion-like" shoot I did for a Pulse the Magazine story locally in 2012, my last full blown fashion test with a model, stylist and wardrobe was all the way back in the fall of 2011!
That was nearly four years ago! That gap in time, even considering that I took a year off to rehab a medical condition in 2013, is truly unbelievable. And it was not from apathy or a lack of trying. Quite the opposite. It was the result of a complete absence of enthusiasm or cooperation from local talent, a frustration I'd had to deal with continually since I've lived in Central Florida.
Miami spoiled me in so many ways when I lived there. Fashion came easy, and I completely took that for granted. Energy was everywhere, talent was everywhere, ideas were everywhere, clients were everywhere. Folks were professional and inspired to work all the time. And my photo studio was immersed smack dab in the middle of it all on South Beach. Everyone came to me.
My experiences in the Orlando area have been nothing like that. Central Florida lags far behind as a fashion market, and truth is, most people here are clueless about how the industry really works, especially when it comes to anything artistic or creative. Many tend to be wishy-washy when is it comes to responding to requests, answering messages, or just communicating in general
Most whom consider themselves in the industry here actually make the majority of their income doing other things, not shooting fashion for clients and publications. So when push comes to shove, few here make fashion shoots a real priority, and they rarely want to trade-out test (trading time for images), something we did in Miami all the time.
Then consider that I am actually in the suburbs of Orlando, rural Lake County, which is even farther removed from urban civilization, and you quickly understand how hard it is finding anyone who is even remotely interested in editorial fashion testing or trying to get published, and is professional enough to be dependable.
A big break came for me after meeting Ben and Lindy of FRUGALS Vintage Boutique. They have two shops in the Lake County area, Mount Dora and Leesburg, and both locations have a wonderful assortment of women's clothing and accessories from decades past. They're good people, and we hit it off immediately.
In fact, right after meeting Ben for the first time, He let me pull (borrow) an older wedding dress which I used to great effect in my Ice Witch shoot for Pulse that I mentioned earlier (see photo). After that, they knew they could trust me to always make their clothes look great in photos...
"Living in the past" has never been an MO for my fashion photography, and vintage clothing is used a little too often for my taste here in Central Florida, a market that has little access to cutting edge, couture, or emerging designer pieces. Still, when that's what's available, and the quality and quantity so abundant, my mind and my eye eventually turned towards using it to my advantage. And after all, great looks are great looks, no matter when the clothing was made, right?
Most all fashion shoots begin with the clothes. Sadly, in smaller markets, wardrobe is often an afterthought, but true professionals shooting with a purpose (or a client) have specific themes, looks, and concepts in mind when they plan their work, and the first order of business is often chosing and putting together great pieces of clothing to create a look.
Having stylish clothes available from FRUGALS was a crucial first step in giving me the confidence to reach out to the others I would need if I was to start shooting fashion again. Considering I agreed to allow FRUGALS to use images resulting from my shoots, I decided to treat this whole project as an advertising campaign for the stores, adding more purpose and motivation to it to bring in others to help.
You'd think that would have been enough...
Not to dwell on the negative, as anyone in this business has to deal with these issues from time to time, but even with these fabulous clothes available, and me shooting (and promising great photos), it took me many months to find a model and stylists nearby that were not only interested, but ones who wouldn't flake out on me, or simply lose interest and stop communicating.
It was an exercise in perseverance, and those who failed me are not even worth mentioning.
It took some time, but eventually, the rest of the pieces fell into place. I found very talented professionals to work with, and the results were worth the wait. Here is who made this shoot possible:
Photography/styling - Ok, I'll skip the photography, for obvious reasons. And while I rarely expect credit for styling a shoot (I'd much rather have an actual stylist), in this case I made every decision regarding every look: every detail about every piece of clothing and every piece of jewelry. I cast and booked the model, the mua, and the hair. I decided the makeup and hair for each look, and even coordinated the nails to match. I scouted and found the shooting location, and also providing the prop vintage cameras to tie the shots together.
It was by the sheer force of my will that this particular shoot even came to be, so in that sense, I am happy to accept styling credits. It's good to know I can do all of this if I have to, and in this case...well, I had to.
Model - After lengthy casting online, and hearing many excuses from women including some who felt traveling "all the way" from Orlando here to lil' ole' Leesburg was either beneath them or not worth the effort, I was lucky enough to find beautiful Olivia Ashton right nearby in Mount Dora! An agency model with Mega in Miami, she stepped in at the eleventh hour, right when I was close to postponing this shoot for a third time. It was as if the Photo Gods smiled upon me...
Mua - Makeup was done by Bray with Lilmonsta Artistry, with video shot by teammate Vene. Bray has extensive experience with effects makeup as well as dramatic and artistic fashion looks. We met through a mutual friend, and I hope we will continue to create great images together in the future.
Hair/nails - Longtime friend Vickie Chilla runs Salon Therapy in nearby Eustis. She took care of hair and nails for this shoot.
Photo assistant - Kareen Rashelle, a photo-artist in her own right, helped assist me with a shoot that involved quite a bit of technical elements, as we shot both studio flash as well available lighting on location, and had little time to move around and set up.
Wardrobe - as previously stated, clothes and accessories were provided by FRUGALS Vintage Boutique in Mount Dora, and FRUGALS "The Collection" in Leesburg.
Location - Akers Media in Leesburg was kind enough to let us use their photo studio as well as the old windows and hallways in their building. Special thanks to Fred Lopez, Jamie Ezra Mark, and Steve Codraro at Akers for their help and support.
When the day finally came and we actually got started, memories of shoots past came flooding back to me. Both the joys as well as the problems. Everything went fairly smoothly, which in this business means things took much longer than I had expected them to! That also meant I ended up with fewer looks and shots than I had originally planned.
The nature of the beast...
Photographers will tell you these are nice problems to have (assuming you're not on deadline with a client), as it is usually better to have too many clothes and not get to them all, than not enough.
The day went by quickly, and while none of us wanted to stop, at some point Akers closed up shop, and politely had to kick us out.
Exhaustion never felt so good...
And with some early edits done, I'm extremely pleased with the results. We all have some new porftolio shots, FRUGALS has images for ads and promotion, and most importantly, I'm back on the horse again with a renewed confidence in my fashion abilities.
The fantastic success of this shoot means getting right back to the drawing board planning new ideas, meeting and networking with new people in the business, and approaching new clients. It's a great feeling to have fresh images that you're really proud of to show to people.
I will be adding additional pics of Olivia here as I finish editing and they become available. You can also view the new work on the FASHION PORTFOLIO section here in The Photo Asylum (links at the top of the page).
A very heartfelt thanks to all who helped me and supported me, and especially those who continued to believe in me during this intense struggle. And of course, those who were actually with me and instrumental to making this shoot finally happen! Hopefully, we all move onward and upward from here, and remember this fondly a turning point in my career. I'm sure it will be...
As always, your comments and suggestions are more than welcome!