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

Homogenous Pile of Sameness


Thank you for the link to the Browness website. It is interesting. At first I was impressed by the thumbnails of the 2019 finalist. Looked like a nice collection of diverse work. But the more I dug in the individuals and their websites, the less impressed I became. Some didn’t even have a website, and those who did were most often academic artists, those who teach and routinely apply for grant work. It was nice to see some commercial shooters. One, a woman I think, did some very nice food photography. But for the most part the images on the website, the thumbnails, didn’t reflect the whole of their work. It was like, here’s the one cool image I made and it got me to the shortlist… And while all the work I have seen so far was strong, nothing took my breathe away. But then it has been awhile since that happened, frankly. I also stopped on a black and white image from Yosemite, a clear homage to Ansel Adams. The artist statement said he was inspired by the “captures” of Ansel. Captures? And odd word to me, especially describing Ansel’s work. It is a relatively new photo term, a way of distinguishing, I guess the difference between film and digital. We now said analog capture and digital capture. But when looking at someone’s work, I would never say, I love your captures. I would say I love your images. To say capture is too mechanical sounding. At least to me. He also didn’t have a website and so I tracked him down on Instagram. His work was all over the map and uninspiring to me. I know that sounds snarky, but I was hoping to see evidence that the photo world is not the homogenous pile of sameness it seem sot have become. More and more, I find myself drawn to older works, especially black and white. Work that has depth, both physically and emotionally speaking. And created with skill and true vision. I suppose that is why I have spent so much time working on my older works. I am not that inspired by much of what I see these days. But maybe it takes the test of time, to allow the cream to rise to the top.

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Remember this Photo from October 2010?



Sounds like you are doing ok, and have things pretty well worked out for your future. I think you told me at some point about building your new home. I have forgotten how large your property was and that it could be sub divided to accommodate so many more homes. Will new homes crowd you and take away that private wilderness feel you have always had, or will you welcome new neighbors? The plan for your new home and rendering of it look pretty cool. Single level, barrier free and room for a care taker. How nice. I have thought often about when and where to move, but never have come up with any definitive answers. Given it is an older home, I have done as much as I can to make it safe and comfortable. Rails and grab bars everywhere. A chair life for Carter that may serve me well one day. And my studio could be a future care takers home as well. I always felt as long as I was working in a commercial sense I didn’t want to move. But all that may be abruptly over now. And even if things do really open up again soon, will I want to go back to work? My assignment work has always involved working with people in close quarters. Will I want to do that anymore? Time will tell, I guess. For now I lay low. But like you, this pandemic hasn’t really changed my life much. We have been social distancing since Carter’s falls almost 2 years ago. I saw my work diminishing and prepared for life on a fixed income by paying off debt, and cutting monthly household expenses. When the stock market was high, I converted some stocks to cash to survive a dip in things. So it seems I did all the right things at the right time. And oddly enough, it seems the value of my home has been steadily going up. So I guess I feel safe, physically and financially at the moment. Of course I can’t say I am prepared for Carter’s future needs. But will probably have to address that when the time comes. Somehow being in a retirement home doesn’t seem like a safe place these days.

I am glad you have Luca too. He seems like a good kid and will be around to provide you support as you age. I am glad you seem to being well also. Crazy as it sounds, I still want to visit you again someday. Maybe while you build your house. It has been almost 10 years since I was last there, which I find hard to believe. But it seems time flies faster as we age. Remember this photo from October 2010? No social distancing there, eh?

Be safe,


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It’s Lonely Out There


Still pretty quiet out there. Still pretty weird. There’s a quiet beauty to it all, but I wish the world would return to normal soon. Whenever that may be.

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Such a Beautiful Spring

And Only the Beauty Remained apr20v3

Hey John,


Just wondering if you covered the protest yesterday at your state Capitol? Looks like an interesting event. Though I do believe they are a bunch of morons…. I thought it would be a good idea for agent orange to come to Michigan and have maybe 5 or 6 rallies. Gather up the troops as it were. Get them all lathered up and high fiving. It could thin the herd and perhaps even infect their holy leader….

How you be? It seems your state is really running up the numbers. So I hope you are not in harm’s way. Efforts to flatten the curve have worked here and numbers seem to be going down. There is talk of re-opening some businesses. But I am not sure I am up for happy hour at my local pub any time soon. I ventured out yesterday to my local drug store. Went right at 9 when they opened. Had about 4 customers, all of us carefully avoiding one another. They had plenty of stock, though only permitted the purchase of one hand sanitizer. No matter. I hate that stuff anyway and always prefer soap. I carry sanitizing wipes in the car. We needed tooth paste and shampoo. I got other cleaning supplies. Our house keeper is gone and I need to learn how to clean toilets and such. Such are my concerns as of late.

Went for a drive in the afternoon so Carter could get out. We have had such a beautiful spring this year, it is a shame to miss it. We glided around the town on streets usually full of traffic and pedestrians. Carter was amazed by how few folks were out. I was amazed by how many were.

So we are doing ok here. I hope you all are too.


Write when you get work…I guess I should LOL that…



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A Cautious Warning


Hey Martin,

Not sure if you are still doing the signage thing, but I thought I might send this along. I made this image out in the Palouse, about 25 years ago. Always thought it was interesting, metaphorically speaking. A road to nowhere, but seemingly pleasant. A battered sign with a cautious warning. Is it saying the nasty gravel ends and it is smooth sailing ahead? Or does the road just end and you’re lost? I always interpreted it as positive. That bad things will come to an end, and that brighter days lay ahead.



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Zombie World



I have had thoughts of a zombie world too, but pass them off. I think we are better than that. I think this will pass. But not without great consequences. I think this more like the Spanish Flu. It is odd that growing up I only learned this event in passing, an afterthought in my lessons on history. But reading about it recently, it was seriously bad. 500 million people or 1/3 of the world’s population at the time were infected. Somewhere between 20 and 100 million people died. Those numbers are staggering, especially in an age of lesser technology and communications. I don’t think we are headed for that, but who knows.

On a up note, the number of new cases here in Washington went down last week 20%. A slight bit of good news. I avoid the news for the most part, but then I mostly did before. My tele time is spent binge watching The Property Brothers and old episodes of Good Eats… I have never had Netflix or any streaming service, so I am relegated to the land of re runs. Murder She Wrote and the 1980s never look so innocent.

I walked the dog this morning, my usually route. Saw maybe 5 or 6 folks. Most of them walking dogs. No zombies yet… Now I hang in my studio, writing emails mostly. I could make some art, I suppose. Did I ever show you work from the series I call Circles of Confusion?

I was working on these prints for the Seattle Art Museum when the shit hit the fan.

I have been toying with the idea of going out some twilight evening and making more of these. But with barren streets, no cars. It seems intriguing at the moment. But would it be weird to be out? I mean zombies like the night, right? Of course there might be a time when a police officer might stop and politely tell me to go home. Or give me a ticket… I guess we’ll see, eh?


But I remain optimistic, and for some strange reason, unafraid. Concerned, yes. Careful and cautious, yes. But for now, mostly optimistic and hopeful.


Virtual hugs from ground zero.



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Walks With Barney


The world is pretty chaotic right now. People are afraid, people are desperate. There is a certain end of the world feeling right now. We are suppose to lay low, and when we do go out for necessities, to practice social distancing.  Seems I have been doing that for years. On walks with Barney. It was a beautiful spring morning today. It belies the the state of the world at the moment. It tells me that nature will survive and most likely so will mankind. And hopefully we will learn from this and make the planet a better place. For now I find peace on my morning walks with my little pup.

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Positively Bohemian


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


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 horses, 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


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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