Website www.imagesbydennishilke.com– Dennis Hilke-( I am Dennis Hilke: Artist)
I am compelled to begin this writing by expressing my thanks to the staff at Giejo magazine and to their readers who wish to see me and my website, www.imagesbydennishilke.com, featured in the magazine’s Spotlight section. Thank you all so much! My initial thought after being contacted by Giejo’s staff was: what does my Fine-Art Stock Photography website have to do with a Health and Fitness site? But then after perusing Giejo magazine, I found there a great diversity of content and felt my website may fit neatly into Giejo’s Business News section, which itself presents diverse and interesting content. I am thrilled to be here and view this as a great compliment to my work.
Among the various points that I was asked to cover in this writing, was this: what motivated me to start? For me this is not a simple concept to describe. Most succinctly, I could say that my website is a natural step in a progression that is both my career as well as my life…and which is also my passion. That is succinct. Now let me take you through some of the journey, please.
Having always been a creative, I chose to pursue an Art degree and earned a Bachelor of Fine-Art degree at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. After Graduation and moving around some and taking employment where I could utilize creative skills to some degree, custom picture framing, for instance, I was fortunate to find employment working under the tutelage of a master photographer/artist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here I quickly progressed from an internship, specializing in the fine-portraiture this studio was noted for, to the role of this studio’s primary photographer.
The gentleman that I was employed by at this time had earned Mastership several times (and please forgive me, I have not been in contact with this man in many years so I will refrain from using his name and refer to him as the gentleman or the master, thank you). He had begun as a photographer with the U.S. Airforce in England during World War Two, and his background included working with photographers in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Hollywood photographing Hollywood Stars. I addition, before I was with him, he had served as past president of both the South East Wisconsin Chapter and the North East Illinois Chapter of Professional Photographers of America. I recall fondly attending Professional Photographers of America meetings with him. He was a highly respected individual and it was somewhat humorous that he wore around his neck the three or four ribbons with gold medallions, each signifying a mastership award. It was a great privilege for me.
You have likely guessed that when I joined the Milwaukee studio, this master was a senior gentleman. This is true. Seeing in me a protégé, he quickly turned more of the running of the business to me. Working closely together in the camera room, teacher and student, for some years, the master began to more and more enjoy his life in semi-retirement; and I progressed more and more to filling the role of the sole photographer in the house of a master.
Something else must be mentioned here at this point, something almost inexplicable. In a discussion of one’s background and what motivates one to begin a business one must ask of the forces that work on an individual to make some beginning. When one writes a resume and lists skills acquired on a particular job those skills are no more than words on paper to the reader, meaningless to all but to those who experience the gaining of those skills. The experience.
During my time in Milwaukee, at the beginning of my internship, when working with the master in the camera room, in this highly creative environment (remember, this is fine-portraiture, the stuff of Hollywood), the reaction and feedback from the clientele was astounding to me.
Clients were in awe at what had transpired during the creation of their portraits. They’d never experienced anything like this before. I had watched them thank the master profusely and tell him as much. Then, after a time, Clients included me in this exuberance. “You two were wonderful!” they’d exclaim. “You two are just the best!” and on and on. And yes, please permit me to say that that exuberance of praise continued after I had progressed to the role of that studio’s sole photographer; praise that I had worked very hard to earn. Tell me, just how does one list such accomplishment on a resume? The advice I would give at this point to those who wish to build a business or a website: Know your skills and what they mean to you.
I wish to add that something else happened for me at this time, also. You must understand that the camera room is only one part of the photography business. There is phone work and lab work and, most important, sales. The master’s studio and reputation presented as the fine-art photography studio that it was and its sales philosophy was presentation based. Hour-long presentations were conducted for the client of a client’s imagery and introduction of the studio’s products. The studio also specialized in large-sized prints which sold in the multi-thousand-dollar range. It was in this arena, too, that performing as the studio’s primary sales person in addition to photographer, that the exuberant praise for my work continued. It was here, as well as in the camera room, that clientele began to label me a certain thing, another compliment, perhaps the greatest I’ve known:
Before I relate this thing to you, allow me this first, please: I mentioned that I had always been a creative and chose to walk this path and it is important to me to make you understand that like the praise I mentioned above, some aspects of ourselves that we posses must be earned. When writing a resume and listing your skills or designing your own business around your skills, you must understand how your experiences and skills shape who you are. When in college I did not call myself this ‘thing’ that I had been labeled when in Milwaukee; even though I had earned a Fine-Arts Award, exhibited my work in two juried exhibitions as well as in the senior exhibition (not all seniors are honored in this way). It was not until performing some years in this Milwaukee studio for a discriminating and paying clientele, who were moved deeply by my efforts and abilities to quite naturally pin this label to me, that I began to accept this label and wear it.
It is because this label has been earned and pinned to me in this way that I do wear it, proudly: I am Dennis Hilke: Artist.
After this period in Milwaukee, I relocated to the South-Central Wisconsin region where I was invited to bring my background to a couple of local photographers. One simply did not have the initiative to implement the practices I could have introduce here; another simply failed altogether, although, in this instance I was able to introduce in a small community the same philosophies and practices I had honed in my experience in Milwaukee with some success.
After another period I sought to and succeeded in opening my own small multi-faceted business which housed an art gallery that promoted local and regional artists, that offered fine-portrait photography, picture framing and photographic copy and restoration services to a number of small communities, again, in the South-Central Wisconsin region. Each of these services are skill-sets that I have honed to a fine degree throughout my history that have provided me with a sense of great personal satisfaction.
It is interesting to note that my time working with the master in Milwaukee, the late 1980’s through the mid 1990’s was a transitional time in photography. This studio worked with film and medium format cameras, primarily, for the high resolution and photo quality they provided, at that time. During this period, I carried a subscription to Professional Photographers of America Magazine and I literally watched the evolution of the digital camera. In the early 1990’s the magazine wrote that digital would never replace film; it would never have the same quality of resolution. Shortly the magazine added a dedicated Digital Section with reviews continually reflecting improvements in digital performance in relation to film. Not much later, Kodak stopped manufacturing film altogether. When I opened my business, I opened a digital world with digital photography, digital copy and restoration services and digital printing, as well.
Before this business ended it had, as mentioned, promoted the work of local and regional artists, continued the tradition of the fine-portraiture I carried with me from Milwaukee, motivated the populations of these localities to search their attics for their old and precious photographs from which to create new family heirlooms, and made several community-felt contributions.
After the end of this business, I took work as a custom woodworker for several years and began my move away from fine-portraiture to capturing the beauty of the world around us; with a desire to return to my home town.
Which I did in the year 2007, accepting part-time work as an apartment manager. I had effectively placed myself into semi-retirement which afforded me the time to pursue that ‘natural progression’ that I spoke of way back in the second paragraph of this writing: the creation of an outlet for presenting the portfolio of photographic work I was amassing, the creation of a web-gallery. In addition, I wanted to sell my work online. I began my research.
The tasks I had set before myself were daunting: I needed to research stock photography in its various forms; the outlets there are that provide stock imagery; other photographers that sell stock photographs and how; how are Photos delivered once they are purchased? How are stock photographs priced? I needed to edit my work and select the best from roughly 1000 images. I worked through a comprehensive, 30-hour series of Photoshop training videos greatly improving the skills I already possessed, then used this knowledge to create the near 300 fine-art photographs you find on display on my website. And, if that isn’t enough, I taught myself HTML code and actually built my own first website.
While engaged in the deep research I had undertaken, I ran across a resource that I recommend to all who are beginning with the idea of a website. I had come across the site of the World Wide Web Consortium or w3c. The consortium sets global standards for the web and offers free tutorials, among many other services. It is here that I used free online HTML tutorials which allowed me to build a perfectly workable website. The consortium also offers guidance on choosing web hosting services and domain information which I followed closely and helped greatly. Using this gained knowledge I launched my first Images by Dennis Hilke, which worked perfectly. It was completely my design and my work was presented nicely just as it is now in thirteen individual galleries with the Landing Page introducing each gallery just as you find on the current site. What that first we gallery did not have, though, was a way to make payments and downloads. These functionalities were beyond my abilities. I needed help.
My website stayed like this, perfectly displaying my work, for some years while I sought, then engaged, a group of professionals who rebuilt the original site following my design specifications adding the more complex functionality I required making www.imagesbydennishilke.com the unique, completely self-service and award-winning website that it is. I take pride in pointing out that my site has been honored with one of Acquisition International Magazine’s Business Excellence awards: “Best Online Fine Art Photography Retailer – USA 2020”. A link to Acquisition International’s official listing of this award can be found on the “Testimonials” page of my website; please pay a visit.
Currently I am working a robust marketing/research project as well as editing a later batch of photographic work and preparing this body for display on the website. It will be some time before I begin to add this imagery to the site. It is my intention, however, to present previews of this work in my Facebook pages; a link to these pages can also be found on my site, on the “Contact Me” page. Keep an eye out for the new work, some is really exciting!
So, to summarize, what should someone who seeks to start a business, online or other glean from the foregoing? The answer: gain experience and understand that experiences are more than simply a list of skills that you itemize on a resume. Understand just what it was that you had to give, to live, to attain the skills that you possess and learn how to speak and to write that living for you and for others. Understand what it is you wish to do with your skills and know the world in which you wish to put those skills to work for you. This will likely mean research. This will likely take time and lots of it. This will likely mean that you will not open your business or begin your website this year. That’s real! That’s great! Go ahead!
Lastly, I thank all at Giejo Magazine for their wish to feature myself and my website, Images by Dennis Hilke.com in their Spotlight section, my warm thanks. And an equally warm thanks to all who read and enjoy this piece. Thank you all.
Owner/Designer: Images by Dennis Hilke.com