Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Art and Beer

Eugene is an odd place to be a photographer. It's sort of a last-stop town which tends to attracts recluses and iconoclasts. There are many bright people here and even a few geniuses hiding in the woodwork but you'd never know it because people keep to themselves. Do your thing. Live and let live. Earn a Fulbright. Go topless. Whatever. It's very nonsocial in some ways, and that's especially true about the photo scene. There's no center and few galleries. I've lived here 8 years and I know very few photographers still, but that's mostly on me.

That's how I never realized until this week that David Bayles was my neighbor. He lives part-time just up the road on Spencer Hollow. I've had David's book on my shelf for many years and I consider it something of a classic. It's sort of about photography but mostly about other topics. And David too is sort of about photography but he's also a conservationist, writer, fly fisher, boater, and many other things. He stopped exhibiting photographs back in the 1980s, he has no photo website, and he lives happily off the photo radar. Search for an Oregon David Bayles online and you're likely to wind up at this site, but that's not him. One of his few online references is an old newspaper profile from 1980 which describes him living in the woods outside of town, with not much interaction with Eugene or the outer world. Thirty-four years later that news article is still pretty accurate.

So his photo show up now at Capper's caught me by surprise. A world-class photographer crammed into a hastily cleared back room of a busy frame shop with no advertising or fuss. Typical Eugene. For Bayles it's his first photo show in 30+ years. They are color landscapes shot in various places, some as recently as two weeks ago. The photos are very quiet and contemplative. They have a sort of elderly presence like an old cliff watching over a beach of youngsters. Nothing too flashy, but they're well seen. Plus it's David Bayles. The David Bayles. I found his email address in the show's accompanying text, asked him out for a beer, and two nights ago we met for a while to talk shop. 

I'd suggested The Beer Stein because it's central with a good tap selection. Unwittingly I'd picked the same building where David had written much of Art and Fear many years ago. Back then it had been an odd jumble of restaurants stabled under one collective roof. Now it was just one establishment, a large open pub. David had come here because someone had advised him it was easier to write in public settings. Less distractions. And it had worked for him back then. But looking around the pub I wasn't so sure. The wet hopped pale ale in front of me seemed like at least one possible distraction.

It turns out David and I have some things in common aside from being neighbors. Like me, he greatly values his monthly art salon where he can engage with friends and get feedback about current work. And like me, he has to travel to his. It's in Carmel, California. He spends about 40% of his time down there. The Center For Photographic Art (awesome URL) is the focus for most of his photo connections. Yikes. Carmel! And I thought Portland was a helluva commute. Anything for the cause though. 

David came to Eugene originally to pursue his MFA. That didn't work out so well. He soured on grad school, soured on exhibiting photos, and eventually found his muse at home in the woods, with the occasional photo/fishing trip thrown in. He met everyone in the biz back in the 1970s, and those connections still allow him to do workshops, mostly in California. Art and Fear has never fallen out of print and has just been translated into its eighth language —David's t-shirt read Kunst und Angst. He's got a pretty good setup. The world comes to him, not vice versa.

Listening to him talk I found myself again and again nodding my head. Why yeah... That makes sense. And that. And that and that and that. I've basically come to the same place as him independently. I'm basically done pushing my photos on photoland, done trying to convince anyone else to care about them. I'm just gonna hang out in the woods and deal with them on my own terms. Typical Eugene. 

I think we're putting a local salon together beginning in January. We'll each keep our distant groups but it'll be nice to have something local. Eventually we may have to tell some others. Do our thing. Live and let live. Earn a Fulbright. Go topless. Whatever.


Hernan Zenteno said...

Why you was nodding your head. Tell more about that, I am interested in that conversation. Eugene could be a country with another language, a fictional place like I feel the one I am, sometimes.

Blake Andrews said...

I was nodding my head because there was good music in the room. Yes, Eugene is another language sometimes.