Afterglow

Okay, does anyone have to go to the bathroom? This is going to be a long blog and now’s the time to go before we get started. Anyone need a drink of water, or a coffee or their cocktail freshened up? Okay, then let’s begin.

Saturday night was one of those nights you know is just going to be incredible, but you’re not really sure how or exactly in what way, and it definitely delivered. After five years of quietly making photographs, trying to grow, attempting to shoot ideas and concepts and visions that were in my head, I finally unwrapped a small part of what I’ve been working on and put it up for anyone to come have a look. Of course the opening at Echo Gallery happened to be the coldest day in Chicago in two years. Nothing like a challenge.

Morgan and I walked in a little bit after 8pm and already her sister Justine and some of her friends were there. It was a nice way to start the evening. Derek and Veronika, the proprietors of the gallery were putting the last touches all around the place and I got a chance to walk in and see my work up on the walls for the first time. I was incredibly happy to see how they had arranged all of my work. Really beautiful.

It’s one thing to spend hours and hours and days and weeks and months going over my photography on my computer screen, editing and retouching and deciding what makes the cut and what doesn’t. But seeing it in a gallery setting is really something else. It’s like you can stand back and soak it all in at once and walk up to it and stand back and just explore it from so many perspectives. As an artist, it’s really a rare thing to get to look sat your work like that. It had been so long since I’d experienced it, I’d forgotten how powerful it can be. And it certainly was that night.

The large pieces were bigger than any I had ever displayed before. They were part of my Underwater theme and they were 32 by 48 inches, and there were ten of them up on the wall. And then I had eight more from my Love and Ecstasy theme that were framed to 16 by 20 inches.

But enough about what was up on the walls. The amazing thing was what came through the doors of the gallery on such a cold night. I’m pretty sure it was one degree out there.

Shortly after we arrived, Morgan and I were beginning to take a lap and see some of the other work by the other artists there when I heard someone say, “Hi Billy.” I turned and recognized the face of a good friend of mine, but I couldn’t place him because there was something wrong with the context. It was my friend Mark Johnson who was really supposed to be in new York as far as I knew, but there he was standing right next to me. He had flown in specifically for the opening. I was blown away. You can see some of his work here if you click on the Fashion Video links.

Another air traveler also came in for the exhibition was my friend Laura Hermann who arrived from her new digs in Washington DC. I first met Laura years ago at the now defunct Feitico Gallery where I was showing for the first time and she was a manager of sorts. We spent a very nice Saturday afternoon getting to know each other and discovered that we were kindred spirits in many ways as people drifted in and out to look at the art that afternoon. But amazingly on this cold February night, there she was, stirring memories of art adventures past.

I cannot find the words to say how humbled I was to see two far off friends like this sharing such an important evening in my life. Getting in a cab on a ridiculously cold night is one thing. Getting on an airplane is going to a whole ‘nother level as far as I’m concerned. Thank you Mark and Laura. You are truly wonderful friends. I do not take your support for granted.

But there was so much more.

Before I even had the chance to finish walking around the gallery to see the other work on display, so many people started pouring in. Some who I see nearly every day and some I haven’t seen in years. I don’t really know how else to put it, but I felt a bit like a bride trying to see everyone at the end of a long receiving line. At least I didn’t have to throw the bouquet! But seriously, it was simply humbling to see everyone and feel so much support from so many people. Did I mention that it was one degree out there that night. Amazing.

There were so many kind words from so many people that hopefully the next time I’m feeling a little down I can break the glass on that particular memory and roll around in all of that fluffy marshmallow goodness that spills out. I really have spent the last two days walking around in a bit of a Happiness Bubble™. So much better than a Misery Silo™!

I sold one of my pieces to a very important Chicago art collector and buyer and she really had some amazing things to say about what she found in my work that made her have to have it. It’s times like that that really inspire me to continue on this path. I shoot what I shoot to please and express myself first and foremost. It’s something I simply have to do as much as breathing, but to get validation like this really makes me know I’m doing the right thing. We artists are sometimes a bit fragile and an encouraging poke from friends and important art buyers are the food we need to keep going when we lose our way.

Saturday, February 18th will be a day I will remember for a long, long time. There were so many things that were special about it, but I think the thing that really made it for me is that I got to share it with so many friends and people that I really care about. It’s like if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? If I was standing in that gallery and I didn’t know anyone there, it would still have been pretty amazing, but it wouldn’t have been the same as… well let me put it this way. All night, no matter which direction I looked I could see the faces of people I knew, talking and laughing and having a great time. And even though sometimes I only had a few minutes to say hello to everyone, just getting a moment here and there to make eye contact and smile an unspoken communication of thank you and nice work and I love you and it’s so good to see you, made me feel so warm and loved and wonderful.

By the time Morgan and I walked out of the gallery after everyone had left and the after party was winding down, I don’t think my feel were touching the ground. We went back to my place and had a few cosmopolitans and talked about all the wonderful things that had happened that night to both of us. Both of us you say? Why yes, but I’ll just say you’ll have to keep an eye on Morgan’s world over the next few months, because I’m not one to steal anyone’s thunder! I think the future holds amazing things for both of us.

This photograph is one that I sold. It’s funny, it’s the only one from the show where we pulled the curtain back and you can actually see a bit more of the setup and how we did everything. You can see the large thirty by ten foot piece of felt that we put on the bottom of the pool to create a backdrop we would shoot against. Melissa, one of the models I was photographing that day said, “Hey, get me doing a back flip into the pool!” And I remember thinking to myself that I wasn’t on my usual perch of on my stomach on the diving board shooting down into the water below, that we would see too much pool area around her, but I decided to give it a try and she did a few dives until we got the timing and composition just right. And when we got the film back, I had to admit, she was right about trying it. It was a really amazing photograph. There was so much happening at that moment from the way the splash almost becomes a skirt to the idea of her breaking through into some other world to her perfect form to the way she is entering the blackness. So many things.

It’s funny, the buyer asked me if it was okay if she could see the photograph turned on it’s side and so I carefully removed it from the wall and turned it sideways. I think she was worried I might be upset that she wanted to change the perspective but I told her I had already turned the image upside down in the first place to get Melissa to be breaking through some imaginary ceiling or something. That’s one nice thing about working with nudes is that you can rotate the images and come up with completely different feelings depending on the perspective. I always rotate the photographs when I’m trying to decide if I really have something in an image.

Well I feel like I rotated my own personal world a bit this weekend. It was nice to look at it from a different perspective. I can promise that it won’t be another five years before my next exhibition. And I think I’ll begin putting feelers out to see about showing in other cities as well. On Saturday I received flowers from my great friends Bob and Sue and two smaller little gifts from Mark and Morgan. Before we left for the opening, Morgan gave me a little eraser with the Eiffel Tower on it. Just a little something to remind us of our time in Paris. And Mark brought me a little souvenir of the Statue of Liberty from New York. No coincidence that those are the two cities at the top of my list to show my work at in the near future. Both of those small gifts will be placed in my sight line at my computer to remind me of my future path that became a little clearer on that very cold Saturday night. But somehow, I never felt warmer.

Thank you all. I love you.

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