By Bunmi Ishola
Transcript Staff Writer
His favorite are the ones made in Italy.
He also has some that are rustic, distressed, elegant and ornate.
These are just some of the different frame molding styles Konrad Eek now has to offer his customers when they come into his store.
His showroom is lined with displays featuring a large variety of choices which are produced all over the world.
Maxwell Eek Design Photography has branched out its services, now offering custom framing. Their slogan, “A new approach to a timeless craft.”
Having spent about 20 years in photography, with almost a decade dedicated to running his own business, Eek said framing has “been a real nice compliment” to what he already does. It was a logical progression from making photographs to presenting art, he said.
Eek specializes in commercial photography, doing catalog work, as well as some art projects with Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
What makes commercial photography so much fun, Eek said is that he gets to see things that a lot of people don’t get to see. When working for museums, he gets to be in close proximity to the art work, while if he were a regular visitor a velvet rope would create distance.
“Just being in a small room with a Van Gogh is a treat,” he said.
However, a lot of things have changed in the business of photography since Eek first started. Finding new clients and making a large profit was becoming a little difficult.
“Revenues were slipping because of the cheap digital cameras coming out,” Eek said.
While he and his wife, Darra Maxwell-Eek, who helps with the business, have been able to keep overhead costs down by working by appointment only and generally doing most projects without outside help — there is even a kitchen in the studio for Eek to prepare food for certain projects — the changes in technology required that they extended their services.
Eek said most of his knowledge has been replaced by software. With Adobe Photoshop, anyone can make a mediocre picture look great. A lot of clients began moving photography in-house, since the digital system made it easier and cheaper.
When he first saw Photoshop 1.0 about a decade ago, Eek said he thought, “this will never change our industry … Boy was I wrong.”
The invention of Photoshop and digital cameras have really hit the commercial photography industry hard, he said. And while he has been blessed with a lot of “real loyal” clients, “that’s a lot of what prompted us to go into the framing business,” Eek said.
And so far, he said, it’s been successful as well as very satisfying.
“People bring things to us that are precious to them,” Eek said. “And we put it in a frame that preserves it. So we take something that means something and if we do our job right, we give it back to them looking beautiful.”
As a full-time art teacher at Briarwood Elementary in Moore, Eek’s wife Darra offers her interior design background to the business, adding a special dimension. Eek said she has really good vision and color, which while in contrast with his architecture and photography background, remains a “nice complement.”
“We have different styles in the way we approach things,” he said. They are able to offer a wide array of ideas to customers this way, keeping things fresh.
They initially thought to have a commercial photography and interior design firm, combining their talents — hence the name Maxwell Eek. However, they decided one of them needed to have a job that will bring in a predictable and steady income.
“She helps on the design aspect, while I do the bulk of the work,” Eek said. “But she’s been a big help with the framing business.”
Eek, himself, has some architectural background, which he feels adds yet another point of view to the business. While he was in school, he took a photography elective and got hooked.
“I found myself spending all my time in the darkroom instead of my art board,” he said.
After changing his major, Eek said the transition from the College of Architecture to the College of Fine Arts was interesting since the two schools have a “real different way of looking at the creative process.” With architecture, everything is about formulas and there is a mathematical approach to art. With the art school, it was more of an emotional impact.
“I think the balance of the two helps me look at projects from multiple point of views,” Eek said.
Extending his business beyond photography wasn’t something Eek anticipated, nor did he anticipate the reason for the shift. Photography has changed so much in the last 10 years, especially in the way it’s done and the tools used.
“I still shoot film for myself, but I look at what we can offer clients digitally that we couldn’t do with film and it’s amazing,” Eek said.
But while he finds the technology amazing, he feels its widespread use comes at a price.
“I think a level of craftsmanship is lost,” he said. “(We’re) losing the high quality in photography, which breaks my heart. … But I’m lucky, I (still) get to work on projects where they want high quality.”
He said Maxwell Eek’s photo revenue saw growth within this past year, “which is an encouragement” that consumers, tastes are leaning to the more sophisticated.
Through the art classes Eek teaches at the Oklahoma Arts Institute and Oklahoma City Community College, he’s able to keep up with any changes that photography faces, while still promoting the “old way” of doing things.
“Technology is changing so rapidly,” he said. “The continuing education it requires is a challenge, but it keeps me from getting stale, keeps me from getting bored.”
Framing has also given Eek a challenge and keeps him from getting bored.
“Anytime anybody brings stuff to us, it’s fun,” he said. They get the stories that lie behind each painting or picture, and Eek said he feels he gets “a little taste” of the client relationship personal photographers often get.
He’s had the opportunity to work on things for the Chickasaw Nation and recently helped frame work for a JRB Art Gallery exhibit of Native American author N. Scott Momaday’s work.
“He was very complimentary,” Eek said of Momaday. “For a man of that stature to say, ‘Thank you, I love how you made my work look,’ that got my heart beating a little faster.”
His favorite project to date has been framing the work of Dan Kiacz. Kiacz was a faculty member of OU’s School of Art. He was considered one of the country’s most outstanding printmakers and artists in the academic environment.
When Kiacz died unexpectedly in 2004, his work was put together for an exhibit at JRB Art Gallery in Oklahoma City. The exhibit, “Dan Kiacz Retrospective,” opened in 2006 and Eek was asked to frame all of the works to be displayed.
When he was in school at OU, Eek said he took some printmaking classes with Kiacz. Their relationship grew beyond that of teacher-student, and the two remained friends after Eek graduated.
“He was a great teacher and mentor to me,” Eek said. Kiacz was who got him involved with Oklahoma Arts Institute, which Eek says is “the best thing that happened to me.”
“So to work with his stuff … that was just extremely satisfying for me,” he said. “And I think it helped me deal with (his death).”
He feels privileged to be able to work with so many “cool things” that people ask him to frame. He also worked on photo restoration and digitalizing paintings for mass distribution. He puts a lot of work into each project he does, making sure his craftsmanship and his respect for the work given to him remain at the top of the scale, he said.
“The best frame is when at your first glimpse of it, you really look at the art and notice how beautiful it is,” he said. “Later, you notice the frame.”
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