Sunday, September 05, 2021

A splash of color, please.

This is a lightly edited version of Telling Stories : A splash of color, please my latest article in Shadow and Light Magazine

Adobe at Ranchos Plaza, Ranchos de Taos, NM

When I walked into Wilder Nightingale Galley in December, I couldn’t have foreseen that the framed print I was carrying would transform my sleepy photographic career. I was playing a hunch.

Owner Rob Nightingale greeted me warmly despite my meager contribution to gallery sales over the last decade. There have been years when I was Rob’s best-selling photographer but at least one year when I sold zero photographs and one two person show with nada zip zilch. I had always chalked up the lackluster results to the fact that “Photographs are a tough sell.” Or “Everybody’s a photographer so photography has been devalued.” While there’s a measure of truth to both rationalizations, Adobe at Ranchos Plaza cast doubt on my years of excuse making. It may actually be the work, stupid.

When I showed Adobe to Rob, I told him. “I’ve got something that might sell.” I really had that feeling. He accepted the photograph and told me, “I’ll find a place for it.” He simply signed the consignment sheet and that was that.

The very next day he called me. He reported that, “I posted it on Facebook yesterday.  I sold one 24” x 30” last night and another one this morning.” It’s a good thing I was sitting down. For a decade I've contended that photography should sell online, that it's an electronic medium. Finally, my thesis is supported with some facts.

The secret ingredient to Adobe is that it’s a toned black and white print in which I had reserved an area of color. The treatment is called Spot Color.

Encouraged by that flurry of interest I started to assemble a portfolio of images employing Spot Color. Almost twenty years ago I had a dalliance with the technique but dismissed it as a gimmick. That was then.

Reflected Sky, Bartlett, NH

My first experiment with it was in 2002 shortly after I switched to digital from large format film. In the village of Bartlett, NH, hard against the railroad tracks, was a long shuttered general store. I was drawn to the patterns of the weathered clapboard siding. Only later when I was processing the images did I see the reflection of the cloudy sky in the window panes. I rendered the photograph in color as I always do. Then using Colorize in Hue and Saturation, I created a toned black and white print. But I still had the color version so, when I recognized the powerful sky reflected in the windows, I selected the window frame, clicked Select and Inverse and toned the remainder of the image as described above. I liked the results but thought it was overkill.

Fresh Oven Bread, Taos Pueblo

My second effort came a decade ago when I processed Fresh Oven Bread from Taos Pueblo. Like Adobe it began as a color photograph and was converted into a toned black and white using the methodology above. The distressed blue door in the color version grabbed me by the scruff of the neck so that I returned to the color version of the image, preserved the blue door, and colorized the remainder in toned black and white.

In early December 2020 when I was looking for a Christmas card image I revisited the color version of Adobe at Ranchos Plaza that I had taken in January. Finally, I saw the potential of Adobe using spot color. The response to my holiday card was instantaneous and passionate. Man, did people like that card.

Puerta Turqueza, Mineral de Pozos, Mexico

Welcome. We're closed, Rice, CA

Pine Tree Café, Lone Pine, CA

When my Peggy and I started planning our fourth bi-annual show at Wilder Nightingale we decided to call the exhibition Immel + Immel New Perspectives. It was meant to suggest that something new and different was forthcoming. Part of the new was that we would work exclusively in squares. After decades of photographs in the digital 3x2 aspect ratio squares brought creative tension to the process. But the wrinkle that worked was spot color. 15% of my photographs in the show featured spot color but yet the spot color prints represented 60% of sales.

The work flew off the wall. And, amazingly, it was the aggressively priced big pieces that sold.

Last week when I brought Rob Nightingale replacements prints, he told me that he had sold two the previous day, both to young couples. They were both spot color images, of course. He observed that "young people gravitate to those images", and that I should print all the spot color images as 15”x15” images on 24”x24” paper. In other words, the big ones.

Never let it be said that this old dog can’t learn new tricks


Blacks Crossing said...

First and foremost, congratulations on the great sales at Wilder Nightingale, and the interest among younger buyers in your "spot colored" pieces. The original photographs were great to begin with, but the added pop of color obviously has attracted people. They are all wonderful. I loved seeing the Barlett, New Hampshire reflection, but am honestly quite fond of the adobe at Ranchos Plaza. And your statement "Never let it be said that you can't teach old dogs new tricks" has hardly been as relevant as it is now among our generation. Your work encourages others, myself included. Gracias, Amigo!

j. Madison Rink said...