It's the journey, not the destination Mel Curtis's thoughts on a life in the world of photography

The Ashen Skies of September


It has been a strange summer around here. Coming of the wettest winter and spring in history we entered into a period of the driest stretch in history. And it has been hot as well. Then there was the eclipse, which was rather cool and then the forest fires that blanket the region in smoke and orange colored skies. And ash as well. the orange fog was kind of pretty in a way, but also a bit frightening considering the source of the fog. The forests are on fire, all up and down the west coast. Very odd.

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Dynamic Range


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SearchingThe Sky_16Aug17

It was late summer of 2012. My mother was dying, Carter was facing open heart surgery and the great recession lingered on. The future was very uncertain. We would sit on the deck or veranda, as I called it, late in the afternoon, early evening. We would watch the planes over head, flying off to exotic places. We knew certain planes by the sounds of their engines. That’s the flight to Dubai. That one to London. The conversation was somber that evening, pondering the immediate future. When the British Air flight came over, we both looked up to gaze at the 747 as it lumbered across the sky. I asked Carter if he would like to be on that plane. Without hesitation, he said yes. Thinking quickly to myself, I thought, maybe not London, but somewhere else in Europe. I had always wanted to take Carter to Spain, I always wanted to return. So I said to him, how about Barcelona? Sure he said, assuming I was kidding. I researched flights and hotels the next day, and went out and got a Barcelona guide book. I planned the trip and gave the book to Carter. What’s this? We’re going, it will be your 80th birthday present. I spent my entire summer earning on that trip, and had the most amazing time. My mother would pass away before the trip, but she was happy for me and wished me great adventures. I am not always that spontaneous, but sometimes you really do have to just go for it and live life like it is your last day on earth.

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But it Doesn’t Look Like a Photograph…

20thStreet Bridge

I have read that the problem with contemporary photography is that we are still concerned with modernism. Still view the photographic image as a facsimile of reality. More or less. To deviate invites both scorn and praise, depending on the level of fame of the artist. If the gods of the art curatorial world smile upon you, then you can do anything you wish, including “borrowing” another artist’s work and claiming yourself to be brilliant. But to those artists that dwell in the realm of the unknown, higher standards are applied. They are held to the standards of the medium, that a photograph is somehow real and somehow factually represent the world around us, as tired, boring and out dated as they are. But it doesn’t look like a photograph…


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Silver Prints Are Durable Things


A gallery dealer I worked with many years ago recently contacted me to say she had all this stuff of mine she wished to return. We haven’t worked together is almost 15 years. What could she have? But she came by my studio, which she had never seen, and brought this wealth of my history of working with her for almost 10 years. Newspaper clippings of reviews of my shows, press releases, slides, invitation cards and several 8×10 toned silver prints that had been used for reproduction purposes. I was pretty impressed, considering she could have chucked the whole lot to the garbage. The prints were in pretty good shape, but then silver prints are pretty durable things. So I matted them and intend to return them to her so that she may have a record of what we did together. This collection represents the 5 shows we did from 1993 to 2000.

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Passion and Perseverance


Thank you for taking the time to view my website. It is dated now and needs a seriously make over. Only the blog is relatively current, the rest dates to 2012 and really needs a re boot. And thank you for your kind words. My life has been an interesting journey. I did take a lot of risks, but I had plenty of support along the way, from my parents, friends and colleagues who believed in what I was doing. I was also able to follow the end of my nose as it were, to explore ventures as they were presented to me. that’s how I got into the White House and the teaching gig in Rome. Had I had a conventional day job, I probably could not have done those. It also helped that I was single, or at least had no kids. I am sure my obligations would have led me to take less risks. I probably would have played it safe. But who knows? And of course some of it is luck or good fortune. Being in the right place at the right time kind of thing. And a lot of it comes down to passion and perseverance. You really do have to love what you do. It’s really that simple.

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Noodling around in my archives of film, I am trying to decide what to trash and what to preserve. I find little ditties like this. It was spring of 1976, in the final days of college at the University of Cincinnati. My best friend  Mark Giambrone and I were about to head out into the world. So to commemorate the occasion we made this goofy self portrait, as it was called back in the day. What were we thinking? Where were we going? Were we forward thinking visionaries? Or clueless kids? Perhaps both? But it appears we, at least, had a sense of humor. And that is always a good start.

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Like an Album cover for a Bluegrass Band


Hey John,

Quiet boring day here. Sunny, which is nice, warm but pleasant. I went to the hardware store to get a new sprinkler for the back yard. Big event of the day. The other fun project was going through old negs and attempting to pull them in some kind of order. Of course it is a futile thing to do. My old film has no written data attached to it. So I am left to analyzing the contact sheets to try and figure out what they are. Mainly today I did OU stuff, so while  there is no data, I recognize the faces and some of the places. There are a lot of funny images of you in bell bottoms and of course, very thin and young too. I slapped them all into new binders and put a general label on it. Who know that information would be so important in the future? What was I thinking? Is your old stuff well labeled?

Then when I reach back to pre OU stuff, it gets tricky. I see stuff that I can only vaguely recall the event. Like this image. I know I took it in winter in rural Virginia I think, maybe 1979. Looks like an album cover from that time doesn’t it? I worked this image as I shot 9 of the 12 frames on the roll of it. The other 3 I was playing with blurs, so they reveal very little, other then a woman friend is in two of them. A college roomie. I recall she visited me in DC twice. But this was a road trip I think? It would make sense that I drove from DC to Cincinnati where she  lived and drove through route 50 all the way through Appalachia,. I think that is where this image is from. I have now spent the last 2 hours dinking around with this neg, scanning and processing and for what reason I don’t have a clue… It seems a lot of my energy these days is spent trying to organize the elements of  my past and fragments of my life, least they disappear.

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An Audience of One


I make images of what makes me feel good, always have. Commercial photography is about problem solving and meeting budges and clients expectations. Making art for me is about fun and exploration or as simple as witnessing a beautiful piece of light illuminate an ordinary street sign. It has always been about the simple act of discovery. I can’t worry about what the market place thinks. I have to do what I do for an audience of one.

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How Did I Get Here?


Took a road trip to easter Washington last week, like I have so many times before in the spring time. For some reason I didn’t really enjoy this trip so much. Maybe it was the cold, gray weather. Maybe it was the long boring drive. Maybe it is my age and I am not into it any more. Or maybe it is  just the same old road I have been down many times and there is little more to see. I find that lately I am asking myself when to stop doing this or that and move on, like I have done so many times in my life. When it just becomes a job, I always told myself, just for a paycheck, then move on to something else. And there was always something else. But not so much lately. Maybe it will pass, but for the moment it is hard to see what is down the road, or get very excited about the possibilities any more.

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