Written by Roger McCredie | Photos by Anthony Harden
Inside the oftentimes-fantasy world of Patrice and Manny
The word “camera” is Latin for “room.” This is because the first ones actually were. Rooms, that is.
They were called camera obscura, and they were chambers with a tiny hole in one wall, placed so that a light from outside could strike a translucent image in the center of the chamber and be reproduced, albeit upside down, on the opposite wall. Mirrors on the ceiling were later used to turn the illuminated image right-side up so that it could then be traced onto paper. By applying some basic math and physics, later experimenters were able to reduce the camera obscura from a room or closed booth to an easily portable gadget that could be used on any steady surface. And, in 1816 Nicéphore Niépce successfully projected an image directly onto a piece of paper coated with silver chloride, which darkened where the light hit it. Niépce’s student and partner, Louis Daguerre, perfected this process, gave his name to it, and launched the careers of Matthew Brady, Ansel Adams, and Hugh Hefner.
From early on, and possibly because of its origin as a drawing tool, the camera became known for its ability not only to capture images but also to manipulate them. Special effects are as old as photography. In 1920 two teenage English girls, using an outdated camera and watercolored cutouts mounted on hatpins, convinced a good many Brits that they (the girls) had successfully photographed the fairies lurking in their back yard. Among those famously taken in by this skillful and imaginative prank was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the most savagely rational and hardest-to-fool character in all literature: Sherlock Holmes.
So when Patrice Kennedy-Murillo’s mother gifted her with an old camera, Patrice determined at once to get to know the instrument so well that she could bend it to the will of her fertile imagination and restless creativity. She didn’t realize at the time that she was opening the door to a challenging career and a multi-faceted business.
“The camera was a dinosaur,” she recalls, “and it was my textbook.”
This was 1989 and the young Patrice was working as a nanny in upstate New York. She decided to commit some of her precious free time to attending a photography class at a local community college, and she brought along the dinosaur. “It turns out it was the very camera to bring to that class,” she says. “It was so basic, and the class was geared to a very basic understanding of photography. It was really easy to apply the things I was learning to operating my own camera. I don’t think I would have gotten that good a foundation in photography if I’d gotten ahead of myself and walked in with some really sophisticated camera. There [would] have been holes in my education. As it was, I learned from the ground up.”
But although Patrice became a fairly proficient photographer, she viewed her new skill set as nothing more than a hobby. Nannying was her profession, and she looked after other people’s kids on a contract basis in a succession of states—Colorado, Texas, New York, and Connecticut—before landing a position in Florida. And that was when everything changed.
“I’ve always written poetry,” she says, “and I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading my own poetry. So one night I was at a poetry jam in this club in Florida, and there was this guy reading his poetry—[she pauses for effect]—and his poetry was really good, and he was really good looking, but he looked like he was about seventeen and I thought, ‘Forget it, no way’—I was twenty-six at the time—and so I went to the bar.
“And at the bar I met a really nice man, and we started talking about poetry in general, and then I said how much I liked the guy who was performing, both his poetry and himself, but then I laughed and said, ‘I’m too old for him, though.’ Well, the man I was talking to said, ‘That’s my son, Manuel—Manny—and he’s twenty-one.’”
That put a different light on things.
“He finished his reading and came over and joined us,” she says. “His dad told him I was skeptical about his legal age. He started going through his wallet and pulling out his driver’s license, his library card, whatever had his birthday on it. His father told me, ‘Trust me. He’s twenty-one.’ Then he turned to Manny and said, ‘Would you just go ahead and ask the girl out?’ That was in September. By November we had moved in together. That was 19 years ago.”
Shortly after Patrice and Manny set up housekeeping, the family she was nannying for announced they were moving to Asheville, North Carolina. They asked Patrice if she could be induced to come with them.
“There was really nothing to keep us in Florida,” Patrice says. “Manny was working in his father’s cabinet business, but he was basically just marking time while he figured out what he really wanted to do. We had heard great things about Asheville and we said, ‘Why not?’ So we did.”
Creating a Niche
A few months after moving to Asheville, Manny and Patrice got married. They had already made a good many friends who shared their creative interests, so instead of having a traditional wedding they decided to say their vows at their very own masked ball. “It was glorious,” Patrice remembers. “Our friends outdid themselves putting together all sorts of elaborate, fantastic costumes. And of course we wanted to memorialize everything, so we hired a photographer to shoot the whole evening.” And thus befell one of those fortuitous disappointments that sometimes propel people into taking charge of their future, with no plan-killing pause to reconsider or look back.
“The wedding photos were awful,” Patrice says. “Really terrible. After the beautiful wedding masquerade, to get these yucky photos—it was a major disappointment. I just wanted to sit down and cry. We looked at each other and said, ‘We can do better than this ourselves.’”
That’s how it all began.
“We had no plan at all,” Patrice laughs. “We did know we had some skills we could bring to the table, and we were fortunate enough to have made friends in the arts community. We just started putting the word out. I did several freebie shoots just for the sake of getting people to know me and my work, and then lo and behold, people started paying us.
Through all of this Manny acted as general factotum, keeping his nine-to-five job while assisting at shoots and helping build the business. To pay the light bill, the couple depended on the usual commercial photography categories—weddings and family gatherings, office parties and other commercial events, and portraits—but they found themselves injecting their own innovative and sometimes edgy approach into photographing these normally mundane subjects. “I don’t think we could have done Olan Mills even if we’d tried,” Patrice says, adding that their customers seemed to like their fresh, candid, let-it-happen approach, so much so that when they needed a name for the business “Indulge” suggested itself.
Through friends they had made in the local drama and music scene they found themselves shooting live performances, both from out front and backstage.
“I love doing live performance work,” Patrice says. “The excitement and the spontaneity—it’s all infectious. You get totally caught up in it, and that comes out in the work.”
Perhaps inevitably, Manny and Patrice found that if they wanted to pursue what had by now become a clear vision of the kinds of work they wanted to do, there would be conflicts and they would have to make choices.
“There was one company that hired us to do Santa Claus photos for them,” Patrice recalls. “It was going to be a five-day shoot, with us getting in close to sort of eavesdrop visually on the kids’ conversations with Santa. We love to do that. It’s wonderful when you can capture the moment that some wide-eyed kid tells Santa exactly what he or she wants for Christmas—all the awe and wonder and excitement. And if I do say, we had done well and gotten some really delightful shots—keepsake stuff.
“Then, on the fifth morning, the phone rang early. It was the site management, and they wanted to know if we could come in right away. They sounded upset.
“When we went in to talk with them, they were really awkward and apologetic. They said they were going to have to terminate our gig right then, on the spot. Naturally we asked why.
“They said, ‘We’ve had word from some people who have been looking at your website. You do porn.’”
“No we don’t,” said Patrice, considerably taken aback. Then the penny dropped.
“I realized somebody must have checked out the ‘Boudoir’ section on our site,” she says. “That’s where we highlight the glamour stuff. There’s some semi-nudity on it, but the last thing it is, is pornography.”
Indeed, the more “adult” end of Indulge’s services spectrum is on the website, IndulgeImages.com, for all to see, right along with the wedding, maternity, and family sections, “because it, too, is a niche,” says Patrice. “Most commercial studios who claim to be creative offer something like it; it’s actually pretty mainstream, and we’re as proud of our work in that genre as we are of anything else we do.”
The gauzy, moody, glamour-boudoir work they do is driven in part by models looking to expand their portfolios, and also by a steady if oh-so-quiet demand from ordinary people.
“Brides, particularly, like to give their new husbands a glamour shot as a wedding present,” Patrice says. “Maybe they want to remind them that they’re lucky to be getting what they’re getting. And guys will sometimes give their fiancées a present of a shoot before the wedding, particularly for a pin-up.” (Indulge’s “pin-up” category is a lighthearted homage to the leggy glamour shots of the 1930s and ‘40s, with costumes—or lack thereof—that on the titillation scale is north of Betty Grable but south of Betty Page.)
“And any number of times,” she continues, “I’ve been in the middle of a family portrait gig or a wedding shoot and had one of the women—even older ones—sidle up to me and say, ‘Uh… you know those sexy glamour photos you do? Do you… um … think I could…’” Patrice laughs. “It’s so dear. And one man gave his wife a glamour session as a fiftieth anniversary present.”
Green Screen Work
But Indulge Images’ long suit—their biggest business generator and the biggest showcase for their photographic creativity—is their green screen work.
Green screen photography, a technique originally developed by motion picture studios, subsequently perfected by the advertising industry, and now used extensively for in-studio backdrops, is the technique of filming a person or an object against a green monochrome backdrop and then replacing the plain green background with a moving or still image projected from another source. This is how actors appear to be in a moving car when they’re sitting in a stationary set; or a locomotive appears to be bearing down on hapless Little Nell, who is bound to the railroad tracks; or the genial weatherperson who casts no clumsy shadow while pointing to the low pressure system that’s about to mess up your weekend.
It’s a very portable, easily set up process that lends itself handily to event photography.
And Patrice and Manny discovered, once their business began to take off, that they had hit the mother lode in Asheville, where bumper stickers still urge people to “Keep Asheville Weird,” and where the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred.
Ashevillians dearly love to put on fancy dress and have a party. Anytime. For anything. And whether it’s a one-evening gala or a week-long convention, the event-goers want themselves, their getups, and their good times memorialized in pictures. With just a green backdrop and a projector, an Indulge photographer can provide Asheville’s elves and with backdrops from woodland glades to enchanted caves to magical hollows filled with fireflies. Or put “ancient warriors” into a burning castle, or yucky zombies into a creepy crypt.
Hence, Patrice and Manny have found themselves chronicling such fantasy-driven gatherings as the Asheville Faerie Arts Festival and the Asheville Zombie Walk. And since success begets success, and like begets like (and referrals), they have progressed from local-level conventions to regional and national ones—going, for instance, from the comic book themed Asheville ComicCon to national ComicCon/AnimeCon events up and down the East Coast. They’ve even worked one-on-one with several cast members of the Starz TV series Spartacus, in connection with that franchise’s convention spinoff, SpartaCon, held, in of all places, a baseball stadium. Their glamour work has opened national doors for them as well, getting them gigs at regional and national burlesque and pin-up conventions. (In addition to photo galleries of the many events Indulge has documented, the website includes a section called “Burlesque Reviews” featuring a wealth of provocative and eye-catching photos.) All this while they’ve been pulling down gigs for such prestigious, if less exotic, clients as Publix, New Belgium Beer, and the conservation advocacy group Dogwood Alliance.
Getting the TEXTure right
And that’s not all.
Indulge Images’ office/studio is housed, along with several other art-related businesses, in a former textile mill at 2004 Riverside Drive in Asheville. But the space is also home to TEXTure Gallery, Studio and Art Bar, a combination school, showcase, and clubhouse for graphic artists of all stripes, and especially calligraphers. This end of the business is presided over by Manny, a gifted calligrapher in his own right, who also teaches classes and gives individual lessons, guiding devotees of the art of forming letters through the mechanics of shaping uncials (as in medieval manucripts), roman fonts (as in temple inscriptions), and copperplate script (as in “ye Purfuit of Happinefs”).
TEXTure started as a one-man operation, but as word spread and interest increased, it now hosts workshops and seminars conducted by other artists, many of them nationally known. The TEXTure space also houses a retail calligraphy supply store, which features a comprehensive line of papers, inks, pens, and brushes. A unique twist is the Art Bar concept: For a flat fee patrons can come in, help themselves to the studio’s materials, access the extensive library of books and manuals, and spend several hours creating whatever they want to create.
This all takes place whether Patrice and Manny themselves are there in person or not—and “not,” these days, is increasingly the case, with them regularly packing up their screens and gear to travel to events across the region and country.
“We did twelve conventions last year,” Patrice says, “and ten of them have asked us back this year. We’ll also be shooting at three belly dancing conventions in Canada.” In fact, as Capital at Play’s own photo shoot draws to a close, a local belly dancer arrives for a session.
In front of a green screen, of course.
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