Kelsey Fugere

Kelsey Fugere is a Los Angeles-based artist with a BFA in Photography and Art History from Loyola Marymount University. She has a background in the beauty industry, and her work challenges traditional beauty standards with unconventional use of color, texture, and shape. Fugere’s work lives in fantastical worlds of vibrant and clashing colors, rich textures, and unexpected accents, and her subjects are the characters who inhabit these worlds. She is interested in the relationship between gender and photography, and her latest work explores the intersection of expectation and possibility.

Artist Statement for Hueman

There is a colorful world inside us all, and I created Hueman as an expression of this world. When I work with models, I often find myself posing men against subdued neutrals and saving the exotic color schemes for women. But why? I want to challenge this assumption: that color indicates gender, by giving men an opportunity to explore color in a way they were never encouraged – or allowed. I want Hueman to inspire everyone to unleash their color identities, regardless of gender.

Read below the interview our Art Director, Finn Schult, had with the artist!

Finn: This body of work is super tactile and I was wondering if you could talk to me about the correlation between color, texture, and shape within the series?

Kelsey: I guess in my work there’s a big theme of the senses. I like to stimulate all the senses because personally, tactility really appeals to me visually. I think that naturally comes out in the work. The patterns and shapes are important in terms of adding certain elements of design and when it’s paired with the colors it helps make everything pop. I guess the thing about photographs that can be hard sometimes is that they are flat, and then ideally I hope to create something with more of a sense of dimensionality with them.

Finn: Yeah, definitely. I understand how it can be hard to make things like that happen on a two-dimensional space.

Kelsey: I was even working on an image yesterday and I said to myself ‘wow the cool thing about this is that it's flat, but at the same time it's not.’ I was just shooting flowers and they sort of pop out at you and I think that speaks to how well color and texture can really change a photograph’s depth.

Finn: So when you’re coming up with color schemes for your shoots, do you usually end up picking them out yourself or is it more of a collaborative effort between you and the model?

Kelsey: Well for Hueman, it was definitely more of a collaborative effort. I just told the models to bring colorful items for me to work with and then we would just figure it out when they got to the shoot. For some of the models I had ideas of how I wanted to shoot them but it ended up still being semi-dependent on what they brought clothing-wise. For the most part a lot of the styling happens on the spot. I also have a lot of funky fabrics and props in my studio so that helps a lot.

Finn: It seems like you guys probably have a great time during the shoots to say the least.

Kelsey: Yeah and it was interesting in that series because some of them are friends and some of them are models. I feel like a lot of the time you can’t really tell which is which though because all the models had a large amount of respect and trust for me and the project from the get-go. It’s so interesting to me that they trusted me enough to let me shoot them for this.

Finn: So have most of the models you work with seen your work prior to shooting with you?

Kelsey: Yeah most of the time. But this body of work was kind of different. I haven’t released it anywhere. I held it close because it's sort of how I see the world. And I’d like to photograph everyone like that but a lot of people don’t trust me enough as a photographer to do that because they’re used to me doing fashion or beauty images.  

Finn: I feel that. I think it comes through in the work because especially when you talk about color and gender the way that you do in the artist statement and how it applies to this work, there has to be a level of trust. I mean even in terms you trusting them as a model. You have to trust that they have enough faith in you to let you impose your vision onto them.

Kelsey: Yeah, that’s true. I’m pretty selective with the models I choose because there are people that you can just tell wouldn’t be as down for it. And I don’t really want those people to be part of it. But for the most part one of the things that came out of that series is that half of the people in the series identify as gay and the other half identify as straight and you can’t really tell who is who in regards to that.

Finn: It’s funny to me that you mention that because looking at the work, I’m not even really thinking about sexuality which is weird because I feel like we’re at this point societally where we kind of tend to associate everything with sexuality. To me it reads as the models associating with color and design and that being that without the viewer having to be forced into hyper-sexualizing the images. It's refreshing.

Kelsey: I’m glad you saw it that way because that’s kind of the point I want people to get to when they’re viewing the work… Ideally they’re not even thinking about the work in the context of sexuality.

Finn: So I know in your bio that you have a background in art history, and I’m wondering if when you were making the work if you had placed it in any historical context in regard to gender and color or if it was more of you doing your own thing without needing any sort of historical background?

Kelsey: I think it’s really me doing my own thing because, like I said earlier, this is just kind of how I see. I see the world in color so comes naturally for me to shoot that way. I think art history comes in because I like shooting the model in a way that is very formal and typical of classic portraiture. I like sitting the model and having them stare at me and the camera. I mean for thousands of years people have been sitting for portraits and I think it's interesting to see the differences between then and now, but then also to see the similarities.  

Finn: That totally makes sense and comes through in the images. I mean there’s one image in Hueman, and not to sound cliché or anything, but it's so reminiscent of Van-Gogh. And I think that the unintentional reference is great.

Kelsey: He does look like Van-Gogh! It’s so funny because I didn’t even realize it until after the fact. And don’t get me wrong, I love him and his work but I never would have consciously been like, ‘I’m gonna make a Van-Gogh replica.”

Finn: Yeah definitely, and I don’t think it’s a replica of his work by any means, but to me at least, it reads as a sort of homage and reference to him, and I think it's smart. On another and almost similar note, do you feel like that given the current social and political climate, did you feel that it was important to be making this work now as opposed to maybe a few years ago?  

Kelsey: I actually created most of this series in 2015 and the beginning of 2016. I’ve been sitting on it for a while and I know I should let it go. Sometimes when you create something you don’t want to just arbitrarily post your work on social media though, you know? For me Hueman is just so close to me that it’s been hard to figure out the right place for it. When you contacted me I was really excited because I felt like I had finally found the right platform for it.

Finn: Well we’re really excited to be able to be the first one’s to show it. It’s a solid body of work I think it’s really pertinent to the theme as well.

Kelsey: And yeah to answer your question, yes, I think now is more important than ever to be making and showing the work. I think it speaks to our truths. We’re living in a time where we’re being told what to believe in and what’s right or wrong and I think it’s so important to be making art in general right now.

Finn: I agree with that. And especially given how as a society we seem to be making a lot of progress in terms of understanding the complexity of gender and sexuality. I feel like your work is really pertinent to that and I appreciate that about it as well.

Kelsey: It seems like a lot of things right now are over-sexualized. People are losing sight of what is okay, and I’m not here to say what is and isn’t okay, but as artists it's our responsibility to make work in a moral and ethical manner. We set the tone in a sense and I think that there are ways for us as artists to have conversations about sexuality that doesn't just involve hyper-sexualized naked women.

Finn: Hueman seems to do a great job of talking about gender without making it sexual. Because for some reason it’s hard. It’s hard for a lot of people to differentiate between gender and sexuality and I think that this work has managed to start a conversation about gender without bringing the topic of sexuality into it at all.

Anyways, the last thing I’m curious about, is that you said you made most of this series in 2015 and 2016. Do you plan on continuing it at all or do you have any new projects that you’d like to start working on?

Kelsey: My dream and goal as an artist is to just travel internationally and make work about the men and women all over the world from different cultures. Specifically work about the ways that different cultures think about beauty and how they represent that. I would love to travel to places like Ethiopia and the Nordic countries and really just all over the world and shoot people in a similar way to the way I did in Hueman, but with more of a focus on culture and tradition.

Finn: I hope you can do that at some point because I know that I would be super interested and excited to see the work that would come out of that. Well, that answers all of my questions for you. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!

If you would like to see more of her work check out her website here, and if you would like to follow Kelsey on her adventures follow her on Instagram at kelseyfugere