am Billy Blake, and I have been a fine art photographer for over 50 years. I am
now 71, and definitely not the typical age demographic for Kickstarter. I am not
a techie, I don’t play video games, and I know nothing of the latest gadgetry.
am an artist who lost a home, 30 years of work, and almost everything I had in the
flash of a raging fire. It took me down emotionally, way down. But I summoned the resolve, and “rose above it,”
and I want to share the story.
Since getting off my depressed butt, I have re-created
lost photos, and now I am finally doing it – publishing a book of my work.
course, I needed financial assistance to do it now, so I launched a project on Kickstarter
and I have to say – I am loving my time in the crowd funding community as their
resident senior citizen.
grew up in NY as “that kid with the camera.” I was a street photographer, and I
once spent a day with John Lennon, another with a then-funny Woody Allen.
photographed Mel Brooks and Alfred Hitchcock together, the only time they met.
All of it is gone. I then had a long career in entertainment as the publisher
of Millimeter magazine, and then as a
producer of feature films based on song titles.
Yes, I am the Einstein-like genius who conceived of a film called Rhinestone where Sylvester Stallone would sing country – one critic said "I saw
it on an airplane and walked out." But all through my life, fine
art photography always was, and always will be my greatest passion.
had acclaim – awards and featured gallery exhibitions on both coasts. But I never
did a book. Despite urgings from friends and publicists, I just never did.
in 2008, I was ready, so I cleared out my basement and began the arduous task
of digitizing thousands of negatives in preparation for my book, at long last.
Then, on July 3, 2008, I awoke in the middle of the night
with a start. I don’t know if I heard something, smelled something, or maybe it
was just simply one of those eerie premonitions that comes from a place all its
own. There was an orange glow. And while we had experienced many shades of the
color orange since Peggy and I made our home renting a modest place on the
beautiful Malibu beachfront, I never before saw orange at 3:30 am!
began to dip and dive and I soon realized my neighbor’s house was on fire and
it was heading our way.
My first inclination was to go get my camera to
document the moment. But there was no time. I woke up Peggy, she grabbed the
dog and we stopped for nothing. Less than a minute from the time I awoke, we
opened the front door to exit, and thick grey smoke billowed inside.
closed our eyes, took a deep breath, and ran blindly through the smoke. We
never came back. On the way out, there was a small bag, fortuitously left on
the path to the front door, which contained disks comprising my digital library
of photographs. I am thankful for that. But nothing else survived, and the
basement with all the negatives was no more.
The fire destroyed everything, even
melted the computer hard drives. That fateful day, three PCH homes burned to
I spent months kicking myself over the loss of all my work (not
to mention an insurance lapse, which buried me economically).
Peggy – a practicing
Buddhist and more grounded than me – impressed upon me that I should be
thankful I had awakened when I did, and that I needed to stop feeling sorry for
myself and do something proactive and constructive.
Well, I may not listen to
reason right away, but I like to think I listen eventually.
to re-create my favorite lost photos, and do it in a faithful way, capturing
their original essence. It took 3 plus years and was cathartic. Now, I am going to
publish my first-ever book of photography entitled IMAGES … From the Ashes. The book will feature the re-creations
along with narratives about each, stories that will immortalize the originals.
kickstarter campaign has been a marvelous experience. I have not yet reached
the target, but the process of engaging others, and belonging to such a cool community
– it’s made me younger.
the story. Is the message here about my personal journey? No, I think it’s
larger than that. I believe we all experience futility,
a force beyond our control. But nothing can beat us down for good if we won’t
let it. The human spirit can truly be indomitable. And if we seek that spirit
from within and embrace it, we can rise above anything. When the book is
published, I will feel like it’s come full circle – from devastation to
blessed with two great kids and three grandkids. Peggy and I reside in Santa Monica with our dog Chance, who was rescued from
the fire, and has generously pledged three bone-ys to my kickstarter campaign. The
category. You can contact me there too, and if you have any similar tale of
resolve, I’d really love to hear it. Thanks for listening.
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