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

Positively Bohemian

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I tried to go for classic looks as well. Linen, khakis, cotton. And some of my shirts especially are still very cool. I just have little cause to wear them. And since they are not wash and wear, I don’t wear them every day, only to have an expensive dry cleaning bill at the end of the month. Plus the major problem is the floating waist I have carried over the years. Currently at 37”. They don’t make 37” waist pants. So depending where I am in the ever changing weight continuum, 36” are too tight or 38” are too loose. So I have a closet full of ill-fitting pants. I also have a lot of great clothes I got in Europe that were trendy there, mostly coats, sweaters or leather jackets. I even have this vintage, thrift shop chic 1950’s over coat that when worn with a scarf and my beret, I look positively bohemian. It was a good look in the 80s. I don’t wear the coat anymore, but I do wear the beret and I am allover scarves. It seems I am mostly jeans and sweaters these days or in summer, jeans and polo shirts. Maybe khaki shorts if the temperature is up there. Dressing up these days is tricky. A lot of the things that fit nicely don’t go together. I must say, I do have nice shoes still. I have one classic pair I got in London that still kill it. A London friend of mine called them proper British school boy shoes. I’ll leave it at that.

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They Must Have Meaning to Someone

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Let me know how it goes with your professional organizer. I might need one. I tend to be mostly ok with letting go of things and I am pretty good these days with not accumulating more. Christmas was kind of depressing shopping for Carter and me too. We just don’t need anything, so what fun is shopping? Fortunately we have a friend who needs everything, so I had fun shopping for him. In the mean time I have 2 boxes of clothes ready to go out the door. And Carter has way more. But I hesitate pushing him to get rid of stuff. His age and health has already forced him to give up a lot already. Things like driving, and independence. Giving up his fine clothes (he always had better taste than me) and his fine ties is like admitting death is on the door step. For me, it is not just clothes and stuff, but all my files and boxes and drawers of art works, and shelves of books and more books. Frankly the clothes could be gone in a heartbeat. But the autographed books, paintings and prints of other artists? How do you let those go? I have small collection of photos of an old friend of mine. Maybe 25 years of photos sessions we did together. With her then boyfriends, her cats, her horse, even travels we took together. A year ago she decided she didn’t want to be friends anymore and stopped communicating. I am still processing the loss. What do I do with her photos? She doesn’t want them…so do I trash them? It has always been hard for me to throw away perfectly good film and photos, even when they have ceased to have any meaning. It just seems wrong to toss them in a land fill. They must have meaning to someone. And in a nutshell, that is my plight right now with my work. Does it mean anything to anyone but me?

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Especially in Europe

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Oh about that Carter image. It was meant to be just a snap shot. Carter and I were roaming around in the damp autumn day and I was looking for images when I turned around and there he was, intently reading his tourist guide. I framed him up with the Eiffel Tower in the back ground and said hey… He looked up and I snapped the shot. I was using my Hasse, which used 120 film and had twelve exposures. When I was back in Seattle I turned the contact sheet over to my editor who circled it for inclusion in the library. I though he was joking, that he was just doing that because he knew he was my partner. But no, he said he really liked the image. I thought ok, but it probably won’t sell. But it did, big time. Especially in Europe. Who knew? Once when I was in Paris having dinner with my French editors, they asked me who this man was and was he German. I no he wasn’t German, he was my boyfriend. They just started laughing. I asked what was so funny. He said they thought he was a German tourist and had made a 4×4’ print of it and were lugging it over Europe to their trade shows. Yes, that was funny.

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The Leap of Faith Aspect

 

64-Brasserie#2_Paris_Oct00Good to hear from you. I hope things, air quality wise are improving on your side of the planet. Seattle is just wet and more or less normal here.

I have attached a contact sheet from my Il de France project. It is a look back at my time in France from 1997 to 2003. All black and white, all film. I will be curious as to what you think. It is very typical of what I was doing then. In many ways the work is so much better than what I am doing now. Or maybe it is just different. I have my theories about now and then, but essentially I have a strong fondness for my old works as it was so much for difficult to make strong work back then. The process was so much more mysterious back then. Imagine traveling around for 4 or 6 weeks, shooting film every day, not knowing what you were getting, but hoping you captured some nice moments. You shoot a roll a film, make a few notes as to it contents and throw it in a bag. You get home and send the film off to the lab in small batches (to avoid a disaster when the lab has a melt down, and yes it has happened to me) and about 2 months after you left for your trip, you begin to see your results. Some cool things, some not so cool things, things you forgot about and other things you forget where you shot it and have to refer to you notes. But mostly you get to re-experience your trip and the things you saw. It is better than the instantaneous experience we have now? Part of me thinks so. Perhaps it is the leap of faith aspect that was most exciting. It’s hard to say, I just know that my older works seem more unique somehow and feel more precious to me. Anyway, I welcome your thoughts.

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A Mysterious Roll of the Dice

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Hey man, how are you doing? And yes, that image is reminiscent of my earlier work, probably because it is my earlier work. That angel was in a cemetery in Hannover, Germany and taken in the spring of 1999. I was shooting only film then, obviously, and still working with my usually stuff. Infrared film, Widelux camera, almost all black and white. Whenever I revisit that work I always think it is the best work I have ever done and why did I give up on film? Clearly from a commercial standpoint I had to go digital or I would be working at Walmart now. But I could have continued to shoot film for my personal work, but chose to move on. Also forces in the market place made working with film more difficult. My favorite films and papers were discontinued. The darkroom became arduous to not only work in, but to maintain. And of course there is the expense of it all, not to mention the storage of analog work. The thing is, I don’t really regret giving up film, but I do miss the look of film and the process of working with film. It was a slower, more thoughtful experience and to a certain extent, a mysterious roll of the dice. Did you get it? Did you get something? Or did you miss the moment? There was also a period of time that would lag between when you hit the shutter and when you saw the image on a contact sheet. And in the time frame, you sort of would forget what you shot or your memory of that moment might change. Would the contact sheet reveal the image etched in my memory? Or something different altogether. I tended to enjoy being surprised by my contact sheets. The act of capturing the image with a camera was one experience. Pouring through contact sheets was another and the darkroom became the moment it all came together. A performance as it were. The nice thing about digital, in regards to film, is that I can make better “performances” with some of my old work. Negs that were too difficult to print in the darkroom can now come to life in Photoshop. Which is why I am revisiting my old film work. I can bring them to life without all the stinky darkroom chemicals. So perhaps going forward I will spend more time in the past.

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A Sign of Progress

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After 75 years University Seafood is closing. I wasn’t a regular customer, but I did go there occasionally for mussels, a Christmas goose or capon. I often passed by the store on my walks through the University District. I loved their neon sign and the fact they had been around so long. But times change and sooner or later all things come to an end. I stopped by to give them a print I had made back in 2012 when I did my Winter book. The place was mobbed by well wishers and patrons. They seemed hopping busy. Why close? But on the street was no parking to be found and there was a construction mess from the 24 story building going up literally across the street. A sign of progress I guess.

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Maybe Tomorrow…

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On Friday we woke up to a dense fog shrouding the area. I was to take Barney to the groomer and drove down by the U. The big W at the entrance was engulfed in fog and I thought I should try and photograph it. I dropped on the dog, and thought about grabbing my camera and racing back to the U, but hummed and hawed over it. Maybe tomorrow … knowing there was no tomorrow. The younger me would have been all over it. So I mustered up the spirit of old and ran back with the big camera. The fog was lifting and the mood I saw earlier was gone. But still, it was pretty so worked it best I could. I was kind of disappointed, so decided to make some parting shots with the iPhone and my do my painting app thing. I can decide now which version I like better, but I am thinking the iPhone version. What do you think?

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A True Artist

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Did you know Paul Dalquist passed away? I suspect you did, but it was news to me. And I found out on Facebook. Someone posted a tribute to him and a person in my circle of “friends” was tagged in the photo. But no details. I am not surprised really, he was what? 87 years old or more. Still I guess I was surprised a bit. It seems at our age, the deaths of friends and people we know happen more and more often. I wonder what became of his ginormous photo collection? I have quite a few of his prints hanging around. I always liked this photo I took of him in 1990 when I visited him in Portland.

I loved his apartment and that part of town. It was very bohemian then. Of course now that apartment building is an upscale condo and the neighborhood has been overrun by Starbucks and Banana Republicans and groovy cafes. But change happens, eh? I am glad I knew him back in the day. He was a true photographer, a true artist.

 

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My Print Day

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My print day with my friend went well, although he was not at all organized and the day was twice as long as I expected. I found myself not only being printer, but also editor and post production assistant as well. Fortunately I enjoy those roles, so it all worked out. I liked his work as well. But he thinks of himself as a commercial photographer and doesn’t get the “art thing”. I have known several such types throughout my career. Photographers who see photography as a job and why do it if you aren’t getting paid. Or if the work isn’t in an ad or on the cover of an annual report, then why do it? Especially when I confess to making only enough income from print sales to pay for my habit. My simplest answer is that my assignment work feeds my bank account, my art works feeds my soul. And I often refer to my work as emotional book marks. I can look at an image I made 20 years ago and immediately be transported to the time and place I snapped the shutter. And cool is that?

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I Don’t Have an Audience for This

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Sorry Mel.

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