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Heaven in a Wildflower
Allan Baillie, Botanicals, Photography

Opening, Sat. Feb 18

Feb. 17, 2023

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower" - Wm. Blake

by Phoebe Greyson

I took my first class in photography in 1966, during my junior year at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York. This was before the powers that be decided that art courses were a needless expense and a distraction from the real business of education: reading, writing and arithmetic. I had spent a large part of my sophomore year in the sculpture lab, where I fell in love with the sensual smooth abstractions of Brancusi and Arp. But sculpture was messy and required a studio. I wanted to expand my horizons, couldn't draw, and figured photography would provide a means to nourish my artistic imagination outside the classroom. That's when I was introduced to the work of Edward Weston.

For those of you who have not had the time or inclination to study photography, there are probably as many different schools of photography as there are painting. Weston's photography, particularly his images from the 1930s of shells, vegetables and nudes, captured for me the same smooth sensuality that I had found in the sculpture of Brancusi and Arp.

Fast forward fifty years, a BFA, numerous art exhibitions, and ten years as a gallery owner, and I find myself once again entranced by the same sensuous tonal imagery with which Weston had captured my aesthetic senses. The source of this inspiration is a newcomer to San Miguel, Allan Baillie. Baillie, a New Yorker whose photographic career spans the last half century, arrived in San Miguel three years ago and was almost immediately picked up by Jo Brenzo's Photographic Gallery. Finally, after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, Baillie is presenting his work to the public in a two-week show opening February 18th at the Photographic Gallery.

I recently interviewed Baillie about his upcoming show, which will feature his sepia tone photographs of botanicals.

Q. So tell me a little about yourself and the focus of your current show.

A. I have always loved art of all kinds. I actually did my MFA in painting, eventually studying painting with a well-known abstract expressionist Grace Hartigan. I went to New York City to be close to the art world. Once there I took a workshop class with the photographer Diane Arbus. I pursued painting in my studio on the Bowery for a few years until my son was born and I took up working as a photographer to make a living. After my children were grown and on their own I started exploring the art found in nature.

Q. Can you name any photographers who have influenced you?

A. Yes. The one who has influenced me most is a German photographer named Karl Blosfeldt who, back in the 1920s, started photographing plants and flowers in order to inspire his art students. Photography was not considered an artform at that time. He did not try to exhibit this work until late in his life after publishing a book. Blosfeldt's output was over 6000 images. He said of his work, "Nature educates us into beauty and inwardness and is a source of the most noble pleasure." Other influences are Bret Weston and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Q. Could you talk about what drew you to photographing botanicals and what you would like these photos to do for people who see them?

A. Yes, of course. My hope is that my work will enable people to understand our world in a new and more poetic way. By awakening people to aspects of nature that they have never noticed before I want to help them discover a world that they have never seen. I want to create a link between people and the natural world. I want to leave them with the feeling that they are connected to their environment.

Q. Do you have a slogan or credo you like to go by?

A. Yes. "When my heart aligns with my eyes, the beauty of the world reveals itself." To me this means that I work intuitively and seek out beauty.

Q. Why are all your photos in sepia instead of color?

A. By making my images monochromatic I focus on the luminous tones and graphic quality in the picture and not the distracting emotion found in color.

Q. What sort of process do you use to create your photography?

A. Many years ago I would use a 4x5 view camera and film because that was what I used in my day to day work. Often I would concentrate on one botanical in the studio using strobe lights to take the photo, slowly looking at different angles and adjusting lights and looking at Polaroids until I had the image I felt was just right. Those days are gone, and my old camera fell apart. Digital has taken over, and now I am technically able to get close to the clarity and luminosity that were the quality I strived for when I started. Now I use a 35mm camera and a macro lens stopped down to f36 using available light and processing in Photoshop. I do not consider the effort finished until I make a print. The final print reveals nuances that I cannot see on my computer.

Q. What would you like people to know about your upcoming show?

A. I will be at the gallery on the evening of February 18th, and on set days during the exhibition to answer questions anyone might have. Also I am offering a special edition poster that commemorates the show at a reduced price that I can sign while I am there.

Q. What do you enjoy about being in San Miguel?

A. Well, there is a kind of charming allure that has seduced me after meandering the streets, experiencing the restaurants and watching the traditional celebrations. I love the creative energy that I see everywhere I go: dancing in the streets to loud drums, painted faces for the Day of the Dead and the general old world ambience that has been kept intact. I do not miss the neon lights of New York and stop lights on every corner. I feel right at home in the creative atmosphere in San Miguel. I am proud to be sharing my artwork here.


Allan Baillie: Botanicals
Saturday, February 18, 5-8pm
(exhibit continues through March 6)
The Photographic Gallery, Mesones 57


Phoebe Greyson moved to San Miguel in 2008, following a thirty year career as an attorney, a ten year career as a painter and an on again off again career as an actor. She opened an art gallery in 2010 in the same spot on Mesones currently occupied by the Photographic Gallery and operated it for 10 years before committing herself to acting and directing. She is currently Executive Director of the San Miguel Playhouse where some of her paintings may still be seen and where she also may be seen: acting, directing and producing plays. Her time is divided between San Miguel, New York and Vancouver, B.C.


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