A Life in Pictures: Q&A With Daniel Carrillo, Seattle Photographer and Gallery Frames Owner

Daniel Carrillo welcomes a good frame job.

SURPRISE DEVELOPMENT. Daniel Carrillo, a photographer who acquired Gallery Frames three years ago, never expected to own a business.

This article appears in print in the October 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Seattle photographer Daniel Carrillo specializes in antique picture-making processes. He has owned Gallery Frames in Pioneer Square since 2015.

Did you ever think you would own your own business? I did not. Never even considered it a possibility.

Because? Because I’d always thought that being an artist was what I wanted to do as a job.  

How did you end up owning Gallery Frames? Larry Yocom hired me in 2000 and we worked really well together — I consider him a friend now — and when he decided to retire in 2015, he suggested I take over. I wasn’t sure at first because there were things I didn’t know, but when I talked to my wife about it she was like, “Uh, yeah!”

What things didn’t you know? The financials. Accounting, billing, all that kind of stuff. 

The day Gallery Frames became legally yours, what was your dominant feeling? Relief and a sense of freedom. I was ready. 

What’s been the hardest part of owning a business? Being the boss. It was hard, especially in the beginning, telling people what to do. 

Who cleans the bathroom at Gallery Frames? I don’t keep track of who does what. If it’s dirty, I’ll clean it.

Why does framing matter? Framing is the finishing touch, the final step in getting a piece of art onto a wall in somebody’s home.

Does Gallery Frames have a particular philosophy? We want the frame to give a finished look without getting in the way visually. The art is the main attraction, not the frame. 

Have you ever been in someone’s house and thought a piece of art could be framed a lot better and then said something? Yes! (Laughs.) I’ve done that a bunch of times, but I never suggest that I reframe it. I just want them to know that somebody should do something because that piece is dying!

How do you balance your artistic mind with your business mind? Not very well. If I was more business-minded, I’d be trying to get as much money as I could out of customers, but that’s not who I am. 

Are your employees free to make decisions that you might disagree with? When people start here, I try to let them make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes cost money, but that’s how you learn. I do weigh in if they’re completely off the mark. 

When a customer walks in with a piece of art, how do you start the conversation? Since I haven’t been to their house and don’t know what’s on their walls or how they frame things, I need input, so I’ll ask how they want it to look. A customer came in a while back and when I asked what she had in mind, she said, “You’re the expert!!!” Needless to say, it didn’t go well. 

You work in a style of photography called “antique processes.” Yeah. I make daguerreotypes, I do the collodion [cellulose nitrate] process and I do tintypes.

Are you fascinated with the past? I’m fascinated how, with a limited amount of resources, the early pioneers in photography were able to come up with something so amazing. 

Did you go to school for photography? No, I’m mostly self-taught. I did go to the Art Institute of Seattle for graphic design but dropped out after a year and a half. Still paying for the loan, though! 

How would you describe your relationship to money? Money is a tough one for me. I didn’t have a lot of it when I was little and now that I have a little bit, I’m not very careful with it. My wife is the money person in our house and she isn’t that great with it, either! (Laughs.)

Would you rather be creativity satisfied or filthy rich? Oh, gosh. (Long pause.) Because I have kids, I feel like it would be filthy rich.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Start your own business and keep at it because it will grow and it will be yours. 

When do you know when someone else’s work is good? It’s a gut thing. I feel it.

Is there anything you cannot live without? My wife. Can’t live without her.

What does success look like? Success would be to grow old and see my kids’ kids.

Did having immigrant parents affect your work ethic? Yes. My parents were all about work and that’s what they instilled in me: work. 

Finish this sentence, “Daniel Carrillo is …” “... an all-right guy.” 

You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record and one food. Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti; McConnell’s brand of lemon and marionberry ice cream; and I don’t read all that much, so the book would be no book. 

What inspires you? Nature, how beautiful it can be and also how horrific.

What law or rule would you most like to enforce? No hate. 

For more on artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Zone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel.

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