|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
|The Carmel Gallery is where Elizabeth Carmel shares her work with artists, collectors and other visitors.|
So how's the gallery doing? This is another open-ended question I commonly get from visitors to our galleries in Truckee and Calistoga, California. My husband Olof Carmel and I started our photography business doing art shows over 10 years ago, and opened our first gallery in our hometown of Truckee in 2006. We converted the downstairs of an old historic house that we had acquired near Truckee's historic downtown. Thanks to the construction skills of Olof, we were able to upgrade the old house to a commercial space that complied with all the local building and zoning laws. We put up our Carmel Gallery sign out front shortly after Christmas 2006 and waited for our customers. Since we were known in the community through the various art shows and the local arts center, we had a following of people who supported our new gallery and helped us spread the word.
We had many days when no customers came in, but slowly business built up and we were able to hire our first employee, Georgette, who's still with us today. In 2008, we constructed and opened a new larger building that faced out onto Truckee's main street. Again, Olof's building skills made it possible—he constructed our new 2,600-square-foot gallery with a few helpers and a lot of resourcefulness. We built the new gallery in the backyard of our old historic building. Almost every stick and nail in the new gallery was paid for by print purchases from our customers. I've always felt that it was a community "barn raising" of sorts—only by the support of our wonderful customers were we able to build the larger gallery. We opened our new building shortly after the economic meltdown of 2008. Fortunately, we're a mom-and-pop operation and were able to keep costs low and survive the worst of the recession with our business intact. Since we owned our building and didn't have to pay rent, we were able to make ends meet. I often tell people that if you want to be a professional landscape photographer, make sure you have a good real-estate investment first.
As self-employed landscape photographers, we rely on our ability to see and capture images that people enjoy and connect with on an emotional level. Ultimately, we're in the business of making people happy by bringing the beauty of nature into their homes and offices. As gallery owners, we have the unending responsibilities of day-to-day retail management, from handling payroll to marketing to making sure the windows are clean. Since we do our own printing, framing and digital image development, we have to make sure we're up on the latest in framing, printing and camera and computer technology so we can produce a final product that we're proud of. Only by the support of a great team of people—we now have six employees—can we make our galleries operate successfully. Olof and I have moved from a small operation where we were the ones manning the store to a larger enterprise that supports our employees and has two locations. Needless to say, there's never a dull moment and rarely a break from the demands of running a business. We love being able to share our work as artists with our network of collectors and gallery visitors. It's incredibly fulfilling to hear people express gratitude to us for our work and for our galleries that are open to the public. This positive feedback from others is what keeps us going on the 14-plus-hour days that it takes to run a photography gallery business.
I have to be sure to schedule time for the photography that's the lifeblood of the galleries, otherwise the weeks go by taken up with the more mundane tasks of business management and I've missed a season. When I'm out photographing, I feel that I'm on a mission to capture events and scenes so I can share them with others. I realize many people aren't so fortunate to have the ability or time to go where I can. There's also the pressure to produce work that's of gallery-exhibition caliber, that's up to the demanding standards of a client, and that will be true to my personal vision as an artist. It's by no means a secure, straightforward or simple way of making a living.
So whenever I'm asked, "How's the gallery doing?" I invariably feel that the gallery is going great—there's nothing I would rather be doing. Working in our galleries has allowed me to meet some of the most wonderful people in the world and has, in fact, made me more optimistic about humanity. I see daily that people do connect with the beauty of our planet. Most people are willing to support the arts in their communities, even if it's just through simple appreciation or expressions of gratitude. The two-way street of artist and art appreciator is a relationship as old as humanity, and I feel honored to be traveling its winding route.