The Artists of San Miguel: Barry Weiss, looking for the light

By Natalie Taylor

Barry Weiss was born in Chicago into a musical family. His mother was a pianist, and his grandmother both a pianist and a strolling accordion player. As a boy, he took piano lessons and went on to study music at Vander Cook College, a private institution in Chicago. After this, he continued his graduate studies at Colorado University, concentrating on all the woodwind instruments. A musical education such as this, not only teaches you how to play a variety of musical instruments, it also instructs you on “how to teach.” 

While in college, Barry became interested in dark room photo development, and began experimenting with different techniques. Following college, he returned to the Midwest and taught High School in a suburb of Chicago for many years. At one of the high schools he had three bands, with one of them becoming very skilled, and winning several awards. He is very proud of those students, many of whom went on to accomplished musical careers. 

During all this time, Barry continued experimenting with photography. One example is black and white reversal, a type of photographic film that produces a positive image on a transparent base, and affords a way to produce transparencies. He also did high intensity infrared photography, and hand painting on film. The latter technique goes back to early cinema, when color on film was achieved by painting the film itself with bright colors, creating uncanny, dramatic effects. There were a number of other techniques in the 1970s and 80s, many coming from Canada, about how to manipulate film to create special effects, and Barry took all of these in. 

He married—his wife is a pianist—and they settled in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. He started recording, and formed an audio production and advertising company, concentrating on photography and sound. One year, he and his wife came to San Miguel on vacation and were enchanted by the city. He recalls sitting in the Jardin and talking to people, becoming aware of the welcoming spirit and the warmth of the environment. It was not just the climate, the warmth came through in different ways, affecting all the senses, visual, tactile, and auditory. He had always loved Latin music and here found it in abundance. After coming to visit for several years, they decided this was the place to settle. They sold their possessions in Illinois and moved to San Miguel in 2012.

In addition to music and photography, Barry had become involved in making pottery. But this was not feasible in San Miguel because his type of pottery required a special clay, and it was not easily available here. So what to do? He knew he couldn’t “just exist,” he does not think of himself as retired from anything, not now, not ever. Barry, like many others who come to San Miguel in late life, are ready to live out a new life with passion. For him, photography was the calling. 

He began doing volunteer work, and became known to people in the city as someone who not only takes photos, but makes something special out of those images. Eventually he started doing quality printing, teaching classes in Photoshop, and in a variety of different techniques. 

Barry’s photos are not simply a recreation of life—whether a landscape, a portrait, or a close up, he manipulates and alters the photos. Instead of a paintbrush, he uses the art of photography to create an alternative reality, his particular way of looking at the world. A fascinating photo in his shop is a winding stairway, which Barry told me was in an old colonial building, and led to a basement. As it was, it was not especially attractive, but he saw beyond what was there, and once embellished, it became an iconic image, a magical place with a mysterious light from above and a pool of light on the concrete floor. 

Light is one of the major themes in Barry’s work, and his compositions often focus on a light source. Sometimes he uses composites: a serene seascape shot in one locale, has a full moon reflected in the water; a separate image superimposed. In many photos of our city, he uses these techniques. Enhancing colors, “lighting” the street lamps even if the shot was taken in mid-day, he can achieve the effect an evening setting. “Day to day,” he said, “look for the light.” His studio in San Antonio is indeed a treat. To visit, contact him at:

Natalie Taylor: BA in English Lit and Journalism, Loyola University, Chicago, 1995. MFA in Creative Writing, Vermont College, Montpelier, VT, 1999. Published writer, editor, journalist. Spanish teacher in the US, English teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Translator. Contact: