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

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

CurtisPaintings

Sorry Mel.

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Paint the Sky Pink

SpaceNeedleWith MagentaSky

Did you know that of our five senses, in terms of memory, that sight is our worst? Smell is our best. Something I learned in college when I read Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color. He states that take a color we all are familiar with, like Coke a Cola red and lay out a bunch of red samples and ask 10 people to pic Coke Red, you would get 10 different answers and probably none of them correct. Our visual memory isn’t that great. My approach to color has always been color pleasing, not color matching. Though I must say that mostly I push color to please me. I tend to get push back at times, when people think I have gone too far and the color is weird. I envy painters who can paint the sky pink and it’s cool. But heaven forbit I do that. I am often asked to see the original. Recently a guy wanted one of my iPhone pics to make a little desk top print to pin to his wall. He’s musician and said the image (he saw it on Instagram) made him feel good. I don’t normally give out files to folks who want to make their own prints, but in this case, the version he wanted was not the final, so I considered an out take. A nice out take, but not then final. So I passed it on to him. But then he said he wished to “correct” and could he get a copy of the original. I ignored him as his request offended me. It’s like, can I have one of your songs? I want to change the lyrics, and correct it. Sheeess…and he is supposed to be an artist too. I guess my point is that photographers not often allowed to be interpretive like other artists are. Invariably the question come up, did you photoshop that? Ok end of rant…

 

The real point is that color is personal, and our memories of a place and what it looked like and what the color looked like are very much tied to our other senses. Our visual memories are fuzzy, so we can never get the exact color in a photograph. I never tried. I never cared to make a photograph that replicated what I saw. I wanted to make an imaged that captured what I felt.

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Kindred Spirits

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Perhaps our connection is that we are kindred spirits in a visual sense. That we both share a poetic view of the universe. And that we use our art to make sense of this crazy world we live in. And though we live on opposite sides of the planet, we can look up into the skies at night and see the same stars.

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I was Here

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I have always had a burning desire to make photographs. Even now, after almost 40 years. I love everything about the process, the seeing, the  discovering, then framing and ultimately capturing. And then in processing or as we now call it, editing, seeing if my little caterpillar will become a beautiful butterfly. I have also always enjoyed seeing the ordinary things around me. The mundane little things, that for some reason catch my eye. Or sometimes I want to make an image, simply to say I was here, at this moment in time, knowing that life is ephemeral and that image may be the only evidence of your presence.

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What Would Louis Daguerre Have Done?

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If there is any current work I am taking my most pride in, it is my portrait work. Especially if I get to do it here in my studio, my space, my light, my simple set up that ultimately becomes about the individual and what they bring to the party. Photography in its most simple form. Me, my camera, a subject and light. What would Louis Daguerre have done?

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A Lush Blend of Chemistry and Magic

The thing is about the old stuff and new stuff is that it can be hard to match. Always had that problem in the darkroom. You make one beautiful print and there is no guarantee that you can make a second matching one. Mine were always one of a kind. And when I went digital, I found it hard and still do, to match the subtilties that that I could achieve in the darkroom, especially when I toned prints. There was always this serendipitous, je ne sais qua that would happen when the print hit the trays of chemicals, especially the toners. More times than not it was awful, but then the planets aligned and I was in the zone I would get this…

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A lush blend of chemistry and magic that made my prints simmer and come to life. Not that I ever wish to return to the darkroom and inhale it’s stinky chemicals, but I have to ask myself why I still have that box of unopened photo paper and packages of chemicals and toner?

 

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But Does That Cheapen Them?

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When I first started the project and the box was the final presentation, the panoramic work did not fit, format wise, so I decided that would be a separate project. I am going to let things stew a bit to see what might be a more integrated coup of work. Or it just may remain separate groups. Need to think about it. I dug up some 20 year old silver prints I made of some the recently scanned images. I was amazed how similar my approach was to the scanning and final photoshop work was to the original silver prints made in the darkroom. The biggest difference was the dynamic range. The scanned work was smoother and both the shadows and highlights were open and full of detail. The silver prints, however have a really rich, velvety quality. Kind of like a vinyl record vs a CD. I am not surprised. But the biggest difference of all is the silver prints are one of a kind, locked in to their printed size and color. The digitized versions can be scaled up or down, altered and printed a 1000 times. But does that cheapen them?

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Quirky Compositions

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Yes, those two are among my favorites. I am even glad the compositions were disturbing for you. At least you noticed them, at least they got your attention. And hopefully that means, at least they weren’t boring. It is hard to photograph things and places that have been photographed a gazillion times before and the question becomes how does one put their own spin on it. I always did it with quirky compositions. I also love to take objects or monuments and try to isolate them and remove them from the context of seeing them at street level. Remove all the noise and see this thing against a vast, moody, negative space. It is something I first did back in 1980 with the DC works, and for better or worse, I still see that way.

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