Markie Baylash reception scheduled for Feb. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.
By Alison Rooney
Markie Baylash isn’t one of those people who wants things to remain just as they were. A Beacon native who at one point spent 10 years away from his hometown before returning, he said he’s seen it “go from good to bad to good again. Now everyone has a positive quality about themselves and the city.”
Baylash has focused on the positive qualities of women, in particular, in an exhibition of his photographs, largely taken in Beacon, titled My Heroes Have Always Been Strong Women, curated by Rick Rogers, currently on view in the Community Room Exhibit Space at Howland Public Library through March 8. An artist reception will he held on Second Saturday, Feb. 21, from 5 to 7 p.m. (rescheduled from Feb. 14).
Baylash, a familiar figure in Beacon spotted frequently walking up and down Main Street with camera in hand, said Beacon was neighborly in his youth, but “things then became a disaster. It stopped being ‘neighbor does for neighbor,’ but now that’s returned. New arrivals, people from the city, have never bothered me. The influx of new people and older people is working — the two generations are caring for each other; it doesn’t need to be conflict. I shovel everybody’s snow, and in exchange they might buy me a cup of coffee. If a store owner has left their light on overnight by accident, I let them know. I’d rather find a little bit of good out there and be happy with the day.”
Baylash is surprised by his own success with the camera, something he didn’t pick up until a mere four years ago, taking a picture of a rainbow with his Blackberry. He happened to show the image to a photographer friend, who told him, “You’ve got the eye.”
Inspired, he went on Craigslist, picked up an inexpensive camera and just started taking pictures, and he pretty much hasn’t stopped. “I always have a camera on me now,” he said.
Spending years in jobs he himself dubbed “menial,” including many years spent doing cooking, Baylash said he was always “looking for a way to be creative, but not finding it. It took 45 years of searching for something, finding nothing, but one day I just found that thing. I never believed that there was such a thing as ‘that thing in life,’ but there is and I found it.”
Attracted most of all to cityscapes, he is drawn to shadows and alleys. “I take what I see: a shadow, a reflection, an interesting scene.” He doesn’t ignore people in his photography, frequently going to someone encountered on Main Street, sometimes taking candids. “It’s not a job,” Baylash noted, “it’s a passion. If someone was to say you can never take another photo again, I’d basically die.”
Even a stroke Baylash suffered in 2013, which caused him to temporarily lose sight in his right eye, didn’t impede him. “I had to train my left eye,” he said. “I wore a patch for seven or eight months, and looked out of my left. I call those my left-eye photos and I can always identify which ones came from that time.”
Baylash said he has an “innate ability to look at a photo — not just mine — and tell you everything about it. I digest photos with my mind: I eat the photos.”
Baylash first showed his photos in a “Windows on Main” display at the Lauren & Riley clothing store, accompanied by a second exhibit at Beacon Yoga. At his very first exhibition, someone walked up to him and told him, referring to one of his images, “I have to have it.”
“I was speechless,” Baylash said. “I hand-delivered it to her the next day.”
Parting with the image brought a tinge of sadness, because it was the only one of that shot that he had, as he doesn’t believe in making multiple prints. “A photo is a slice of the world that’s perfect,” he explained, “a perfect millisecond in history. I don’t want anyone else to have that little slice of perfection.”
Although some wonder why he doesn’t print up larger images, Baylash prefers to work with 8-by-10s, because “everything looks different as you get up close, and I like that.”
Earlier this year Baylash was included in the Howland Center’s This Is Beacon! photography exhibit, and, when asked by Howland Library curator Rogers to put together a new one with a different theme, Baylash was initially stumped, but then it came to him. “All the women I know around town are strong women who deserve something good. Of the people in my life who have helped me the most, 95 percent of them have been women — they’re caring, nurturing and down to earth.”
Baylash gave a quick running commentary of the subjects of the images displayed in the exhibition; here are some excerpts:
This is my sister. She has cerebral palsy. I took care of her for 10 years. … This is at a rally: Miss Flora, a wonderful woman. Her answering machine says, ‘This is Flora, not Fauna, leave a message.’ … Here’s Florence, from the Howland Center. I see her as the First Lady of Beacon. … and Ricki, used to live next door to me, always listened to music with earphones on, no one talked to her because of that, but I just walked right up to her because I talk to everybody … Anik from The Beacon Bagel — she always walks with a double stroller. She has to be two women, so I made sure to get her reflection in the glass …
Here’s Ivy, she’s really involved in the environment; Doreen, works at Bank Square, sticking her tongue out — she wasn’t in a good mood right then. … Heather, hoop class instructor — she told me, ‘Wow, my calves look great’ in the picture so that’s what I titled it. … Carmen, she’s an animal rights activist and some of the photo is out of focus but she’s listening so intently to someone and that’s what I was going for. … my great-niece Madison with her mom, Priscilla. … Kendra, hairdresser to Anastasia, everything’s gold in the photo. … Lauren, Kim’s daughter, my best friends; they’re true friends … she told me to dress nice for this interview!
Baylash’s connection to the community brought him an invitation to provide content for the Humans of Beacon Facebook page, something he has enjoyed doing for the past six months or so. The camera brings Baylash happiness, simple as that.
“You can be happy, no matter what,” he said. “For years I was very sad. You don’t have to be sad. If you walk outside, something fantastic is going to happen, or, if it doesn’t, at least you got outside.”
Howland Public Library is located at 313 Main St. in Beacon. The Community Room Exhibit Space is open during regular library hours, but may not be accessible during some library programs; consult the calendar at beaconlibrary.org.
Photographs courtesy of Markie Baylash