Local Artist, 71, Survivor of Malibu Fire, to Publish Lost Photographs; He Carefully Re-creates His Favorite Photos from Memory and Soul for New Book

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"IMAGES … From the Ashes" Celebrates His Resolve; Campaign Now Live on Kickstarter

For me, the book really brings things full circle. You could say it takes me all the way, from devastation to salvation.

Billy Blake knows he is lucky to be alive. A raging fire destroyed 30 years of his work in an instant, and he narrowly escaped himself. He had already been a fine art photographer for 50+ years, dating back to his days as “that kid with the camera.” Despite a long resume in publishing (founder of Millimeter magazine) and producing feature films (among them Pumpkinhead, Rhinestone, and Wisegirls), photography was always his greatest passion.

Blake was beaming, surrounded by friends, when he recently announced plans for the long-awaited release of a collection of his photographs. It is a coffee table book entitled “IMAGES ... From the Ashes – a photographer’s resolve”. The title plays both on Blake’s tragic loss in the fire and his inspirational resolve to rise above it. Blake is raising funds on kickstarter.com, and intends to use the raise to offset costs of publishing and producing oversized prints for several featured gallery exhibitions showcasing works from the book. His Kickstarter project is live.

Galleries in LA, NY, and Toronto have already signed on to showcase month-long featured exhibitions. BOA Gallery, in West Hollywood, will host the debut.

Blake’s photography has been featured in public gallery exhibitions before, on both coasts. It also hangs privately on some very impressive walls. Five pieces from his architecturally themed “Studies in Light” series were recently accepted for display at Santa Monica’s prestigious Bergamot Station.

Friends and peers have long urged him to compile a book. Finally in 2008, at age 66, he dedicated the basement of his Malibu Coast home to the task of digitizing old negatives.

But on July 3, 2008, he awoke to a bright orange glow and a crackling sound. His house was on fire. He woke up Peggy, she grabbed the dog, and as they opened the front door to exit, thick grey smoke billowed inside. They shut their eyes, ran through it, and never came back. On the way out, Blake grabbed a small bag, fortuitously left on the path to the front door, containing disks with his library of digital photographs and the few he had recently digitized.

But nothing else survived. The basement was no more. All the hard drives were melted. That fateful morning, three PCH homes burned to the ground.

Moreover, his insurance had lapsed, so the loss was also financially big. But to Blake, it was the permanent loss of decades of photos that mattered most.

“It was like losing a part of me,” recalls Blake. “I felt despair at first, but I knew I had to do something. I was able to channel the negativity into resolve, and I set my mind to faithfully re-creating some of the lost work. That resolve is what this book is about.”

IMAGES ... From the Ashes contains the photography of Billy Blake. The 112-page book features "re-creations" of his 10 favorite pre-digital photos that were forever destroyed. With painstaking effort, Blake re-captured their essence, and the book tells each story. The book will be a 9 x 12, horizontal, hard cover coffee table book, printed on high quality stock. Its sections (or genres) will include Studies in Light, Reflections, and Abstracts. Each begins with a different re-creation, along with explanatory text, and contains photos also consistent with the genre.

Gallery owners in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto who know his work have embraced it.

"Blake's talent is undeniable,” says Bob Ore, owner of BOA Gallery in West Hollywood, “but I also see this exhibition as testimony to human perseverance."

“The fire showed me there can be a futility to our existence,” opines Blake. “But the human spirit can be indomitable in the face of that futility. I hope to inspire others with that message. For me, the book really brings things full circle. You could say it takes it from devastation to salvation.”

Blake now resides in Santa Monica with Peggy and their dog Chance. His Kickstarter project is http://kck.st/1kTt1qF, and the book’s website is http://www.imagesfromtheashes.com.

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Howard Marks

Billy Blake
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