Cindy Frey - Frey'd At The Edges

Published: 23 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 195, February, 2011

By now, the name Cindy Frey should be synonymous with tattoo aficionados the world over. Notorious for her self portraits and music photography, we recently got together to look over some of her recent work, talk about her never ending series of projects and just how she manages being such a successful loose cannon…

Cindy Frey is just about the most easy-going subject to interview – articulate, focused and with a lot to say – you couldn’t ask for more so, kicking back against a potentially dark and dangerous Belgian sky, we scan through a host of books, mobile phone pictures and websites trying to figure out just how much she has accomplished in comparatively little time. What is clearly evident is that this is only the tip of the iceberg for her – is it possible to pick out something that gave more pleasure than anything else? 

“My favourite project was my last book and expo, ‘Come And Play With Us’. I love children, they are pure and innocent and I get along really well with kids. For this project, I put 78 kids in creepy scenarios but it wasn’t easy to find ideas, clothes, backgrounds, locations and make-up for all the shoots! I didn’t want to repeat myself over and over again, so I tried to be as diverse as possible. I had a make-up artist Noortje who did the make up for 30% of the shoots, but all the others I did myself. 

Photographers always say it’s hard to work with kids, but I don’t think so - you do need a lot of patience to get along with them. I let the kids do their thing, played with them, followed them around, made them laugh and in the end made them act and then it’s just up to you to stay focused and to snap the photos when you think it’s the right time. The kids loved playing in the dirt, to wear the make up, to chase each other, to act like they were in a movie - kids have a lot of fantasy and you would be surprised to see how they come up with their own poses, ideas and expressions.”

…and what of these others?

"I don’t want to go back to projects from the past, each project was valuable to me, the process of making it, the experience, the knowledge, the fun, being creative and the excitement of seeing it progress - it all means a lot to me and I’m proud of them all. I just want to keep doing new projects. I think my next one will be something with tattoos again - maybe a new book or exhibition. At the moment I have two exhibitions running, one in my town Kortrijk - all women portraits and another one in a gallery in Uden, Holland, which is a collection of my work.”

You said in an interview some time ago that you lived your life like you were in a band - that it didn’t really matter where you were as long as you were able to create your art. Is that still true more than ever or do you think sometimes putting roots down would be a good thing to do?

“I still think the same about it. I love to travel and meet people, share my art, make art, discover other art and music and experience new things, but when I get home, I like it too, it’s just nice to come home after touring or traveling. Last year, I was home a lot because I worked on ‘Come and Play With Us’, that took me six months, but I missed traveling! So this year I want to be on the road again more often. It’s also easy for me to do it because I’m single and I have no one that waits for me at home or complains that I’m gone a lot. It’s lonely sometimes, but maybe one day I will meet Mister Right… if he exists!"

If Mister Right does indeed exist, he would need to be something else – perhaps not of this planet! Personally, I think the most suitable candidate would be in a band – quite possibly the only lifestyle that could sustain this sort of artistic pressure, because it’s certainly not going away! I ask Frey if she’s happy with what she has built so far and the subjects that she’s associated with – and even whether there are things still to add: 

“I’m pretty happy with all these subjects, but I’m always open to expand and learn more, to improve, to discover new areas. I think it’s also a challenge to expand. I want to move forward all the time, but it’s not easy. 

Last year I started shooting car racing, not the race itself, but the lifestyle around it - it was fun to experience this event, to see the passion and excitement for this car sport even though I’m not a fan of the racing itself. I would love to be more involved into fashion photography though.”

Is she her own worst critic? Very few are able to be at once happy with their own work when they do so much in isolation. I ask this simply because she makes it look so damn easy - and I know it’s not…

“Yes, 95% of the photos of me are done by myself for covers, postcards, calendars, magazine features, portraits… I actually don’t like modeling, which is hard to believe for some people if they see my self portraits - they think I love it. Some people also can’t believe they are all self portraits and that no one helped me. 

It’s funny - I’m very critical about my photos, I’m not easily happy, not about my looks but about the picture itself, I always see things that could be better, the lighting wasn’t good enough, the camera angle wasn’t right, its not sharp and crisp enough, the pose was too boring and so on… I try to learn from this and do it better next time. And no - its really not easy, it’s much easier to shoot someone else, because you can really see what you are doing! 

The good thing about shooting yourself without anyone around is that you can experiment very well, act silly, try things and no one will laugh. You feel totally comfortable, except of course when you do a shoot on the beach! Believe me, the people that pass by are looking very confused at me and my camera on the tripod, studio lights and no photographer - only a ‘model!’ I just act like I’m waiting for the photographer till they are gone!”

Although Cindy is totally self motivated and self propelled, she doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination live in a bubble – so who are the people that inspire here and move her to better herself everyday? 

“I don’t really have role models or heroes, but I do respect some other photographers a lot. I look at their work, at their achievements, at their art - it inspires me and it motivates me to get better and achieve more. I think it’s good to see people who are better and way better than me, it keeps me sharp and it pushes me to keep going and do things. I have a few favourite photographers, one of them is Matthew Miller (he plays in Most Precious Blood) -, he is amazing, he captures so much energy and his photos are so beautiful, he has a great eye. Another one I like a lot is Marino Parisotto, he is a fashion photographer and Michael Muller is fantastic, I’m also impressed with some young talent like Joey Lawrence and Lara Jade.  

You know, I will never find anything else that I will love as much as this. I photograph and make art with my heart, my enthusiasm for this is still huge. My journey as a photographer/artist is an endless road, there won’t be a day that you can say, ‘I know everything, I learned everything’… there’s no end, you can keep improving and discovering, new styles, new art, different ways of lighting, new ideas, new techniques, new cameras - you also never know what you will discover the next day or who will discover your work, what opportunities you will get, what new jobs are coming your way, what people you will meet, where you will travel to - I live day by day, I try to make the best of each day and then move on to the next. I don’t look back or I don’t look too far ahead either - you never know what will happen. I think it’s exciting. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I’m ready!”

That sounds fair enough to me – everybody should live their life with that ethos, but that cold hearted Belgian sky that’s been hovering above us for the past hour is threatening to unzip itself, so we agree that just this once, we’ll take notice of what the future will bring and move inside…


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Cindy Frey