This year’s Boneyard Arts Festival, my first event as Arts Editor, introduced me to the work of many talented local artists. One of my favorite things that I encountered was quite simple in theory: a photograph of a lemon. Yet, the photograph was vibrant, clear, intricate, refreshing, and above all, memorable. The close-up shot was the work of Fraya Replinger, a photographer born and raised in Urbana. Replinger’s family has long been a part of the C-U art community: her grandfather, Jack Replinger, was a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois from 1950s through the 80s, and built many houses in the community. Her grandmother, Dot, was an art teacher and prolific fiber artist. Although Replinger moved away from C-U for several years, she “felt called back to Champaign-Urbana.”
Since Boneyard, I’ve encountered Replinger’s work at other venues around C-U, and likely you have as well. She had work at Art Around the Block, Crystal Lake Art Fair, and currently has a collaborative billboard up as part of 40 North’s Sky Gallery. Replinger’s work is interesting, and her portfolio is quite diverse: you can tell that she isn’t afraid to try new things. I recently corresponded with Replinger about that lemon photograph, her billboard for Sky Gallery, and more.
Some responses have edited for length and clarity
Smile Politely: How long have you been a photographer? How did you get started?
Replinger: I have been a photographer for as long as I can remember. My father is a photographer and I recall following him with my pink 35mm point-and-shoot camera, taking pictures of flowers, clouds, and people. I contribute my love and passion for photography to him. I also took photography classes in high school and college. Over time, my perspective and style began to crystalize. In 2009 I entered the Champaign County Camera Club Best in Show Competition and participated each year until 2018. Part of the competition is a critique moderated by the judges. I found this incredibly valuable and I applied much of what I learned into my photographic style. Thanks to encouragement from my family and a number of artists I admire, I continued to evolve and began showing my work in 2017.
SP: I first saw your work at Boneyard; you had this incredible close-up photo of a lemon called Citrus, and I felt it was this perfect example of an artist taking something that we see every day and elevating it to this higher level. What inspired you to photograph food in this way?
Replinger: Each year I take part in the Boneyard Arts Festival, I try to come up with something different — something outside of my usual landscapes and colorful sunsets. Last year I focused on close-up, colorful images of rock formations and printed the images on aluminum. This year I explored macro photography. While shooting landscapes takes me outside of my home and usual daily routine, shooting food and other everyday items reminded me of the energy and delight that can flow from something as simple as a lemon.
SP: I noticed a lot of your work skews either very large scale or very small scale: you photograph wide open landscapes and also have photographs showing the end of a crayon, or a single thin piece of garlic skin. Do you deliberately set up this juxtaposition with your displays? What draws you to each?
Replinger: Shooting macro has opened a new side of my work. The contrast between a wide, expansive landscape and the tiny details of a vegetable demonstrates that there’s beauty everywhere, in big places and in small ones. When I set up my macro shots, the challenge is in planning the shots while leaving room for experimentation. I’m always thinking about color and form. For my garlic pieces, for example, I emphasized the purples of the peel. There’s a whimsical softness to garlic that I discovered and played up through observing and capturing the way the peels reacted to the light. As for my landscapes, it’s all about capturing the right moment. I love to shoot dramatic cloud formations — the challenge with that is that I’m a little weary of thunderstorms. Capturing a scene with the perfect light is also a challenge, and so is maintaining restraint in the post-production process. But each time I go out and explore the world around me with my camera in my hand, I return having learned something new.
SP: Is there a difference with large versus small scale when it comes to planning and experimentation/improvisation?
Replinger: With my large-scale landscapes, I often have no plan. It’s almost always spontaneous. The weather can change in an instant, especially on those late afternoons in the summer. The small-scale, close-up images are planned set-ups with room to adjust on the fly. As I have grown in my artmaking practice, I’ve realized I approach the work in the same way a painter might. I have my still-life-esq works, shot in my home using what I have around, allowing me to hone my technique and take my time capturing details. I also have my landscapes, each one captured as a plein-air artist would, each click of my shutter a brand-new moment, like brushstrokes. There’s a time for planning and crafting. And there’s also a time to abandon your plan and go where the land and the sky takes you.
SP: You currently have a mural up as part of Sky Gallery. Congratulations! I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of these around town. Yours is a collaborative piece with Greg Stallmeyer. How did that collaboration come about? As you were working on the piece, did you ever envision it on a billboard?
Replinger: Thank you! Greg and I started working on our collaboration in 2019 with the intention of it being displayed in a large format. It began with an image I created of Greg’s welding table and blossomed from there. Working with Greg inspired me to explore abstract photography more.
SP: Do you have more plans for future collaborations?
Replinger: Greg and I talk often and have ideas, but no solid plans yet. As my friends and family could tell you, I spend much of my time at my shows chatting with other artists, exchanging inspiration and learning more about their processes. I hope to explore more collaborations with my network of art friends in the future.
SP: If you had to choose, which fruit or vegetable do you think is the most interesting to photograph?
Replinger: My current favorite is the kiwi. The vibrant color and the thin, radiating lines make for an energetic image. My first favorite was raw artichoke. An image I created years ago, with the help of my mother, that highlights the rich magenta and fresh green of the heart makes me smile every time I see it.
SP: What are you currently working on?
Replinger: My wheels are always turning. Lately, I have been exploring nostalgia and my own personal images and symbols from childhood and adolescence. I have also started examining old barns and farmhouses around the Champaign-Urbana area. I have several shows coming up and am in a constant flow of preparation for these events.
SP: Is there any place around C-U where people can check out your photography?
Replinger: I am currently showing work at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in the Mansion and in the Greenhouse Café. I am also showing work at Po’Boys in Urbana.
This fall, you can also find Replinger at West Side Arts, Sugar Creek Arts Festival, and the Craft League of Champaign Urbana 40th Annual Art Fair.