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

One Step at a Time


Yes the journey is magical and fun and liberating. But I do wonder sometimes if all I am doing is adding more stuff to the planet? Does it have some value or just so much visual garbage? I already have 3 projects waiting in the wings and here I contemplate a 4th? A 4th project for which I have no skill to produce? And I would be physically making something, something that, like it or not, takes up space and has a cost of materials associated with it. At least my other 3 projects are only living on my computer and not consuming anything. I know that is not the way to think, and I never used to. But you have seen my basement with all the boxes and drawers full of “art”. Plus I had always promised myself when I got older that I would circle back and look at all those negs on my shelves and see what little gems I missed and scan them and bring them to life. I suppose my dilemma is a good one, as I at least feel full of creative energy and the desire to make art work. But so much to do and so little time. I think my first step with making a collage is to see how to do it and what is involved with the process. One step at time, right?


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The Beginning of the Digital Era

Now that I have hit a quiet stretch, I thought it might be a good time to think about another personal project. Another portfolio. I did Portfolio 1 in 1994 and Portfolio 2 in 2003. I sold copies of both to Paul Brainerd. They are collections of my some of my best personal work from those time frames. I started to ponder Portfolio 3 from 2004 to 2018 and what would it be. I jotted down a number of groups like Rome, Palouse, Southern Light, etc and came to realize there was not only very little black and white, but there was a gap between 2003 and 2007, where apparently I did very little new work of any substance. I wondered why? Well for one, I quit working with the Lisa Harris Gallery in 03 and didn’t start working with Sisko until 07, and even then the first show was older black and white works. But I think the main reason might be that was the beginning of the digital era. I got my first serious digital camera in 04, shot my last client film in 04 and shut down my dark room in 06. It obviously was a time of great change and it took me awhile to find my voice in the digital era. And when I did, it was in full color. The first serious body of work was from Rome and dates to 07. And it wasn’t until 2013 that regular groups of work began to appear. All of it color. So perhaps the Portfolio should be all color and all digital. I have one nice image of the Arboretum taken in December of 2004. I had just gotten my new camera and I raced down to the Arboretum in a light rain to give it a test drive. I recall being disappointed at first with the initial shots. They were dull and lifeless. But in time I learned to process them and maybe ten years later I revisited that shoot and made a love rendition of one of those first shots. It was shown in show about winter at the Sisko Gallery in January of 2013. While I have exhibited or scanned a lot of older black and white film over the years, I have never really seriously returned to that way of seeing.

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The Road Forward

Palouse_12Feb18_372v2I seem to always to be looking for what the future brings. Especially when one chapter ends and the next is still a work in progress. And aging seems to make the process more urgent somehow. As if time is running out. But time is always running  out and I will never have enough of time to accomplish all the things I wish to do in life. But then it is not like I have ever had a list to things to do, and even now I have no bucket list. I have always just followed the road in front of me and choosing to see life as one big act of discovery. My best friend in college once told me, open roads for open minds. Or as Lewis Carol once said, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road ‘ll take you there.

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Used Food

Ok, now I have jumped down a rabbit hole and gotten caught in a time sucking journey to the past…

The party negs got me thinking about all those folks we knew there. Quite a few of the party images are of George Rehrey. Not sure why. I mean we we’re particularly friends. He was actually mostly rude to me. But maybe on that night it didn’t matter. Do you still keep in touch with him? I see he works at Indiana University. It is interesting to see how he looks now. I wouldn’t recognize him. But then I doubt he would recognize me either. Funny I would recognize you, and Nancy and Barry and Joe, even Steve the peach. I thought about scanning some George film and connecting with him…but probably not,  well maybe… I dunno..

So I just a little Google tour of Athens, trying to my find my second year house in the west end. I couldn’t find it, but I don’t recall the exact address. But I did find this…

It’s still there. Amazing. I used to go there occasionally and get day old fried chicken wings for a quarter apiece. When I would go with Richard he would be grossed out by my indulgence. He called it used food…

Then I got to thinking, how is it that we have stayed in touch all these years? It would have been harder then, keeping in touch and all. I graduated in 1983 and left Athens at the end of the summer. Did you graduate that year? I seem to recall you being around another year. Is that the case? I imagine I had your address. Mine was probably my parents as I floated around for 6 months before moving to Seattle in January of 1984. What was your chain of events?

I hope I am not boring you with my little trip down memory lane. But it seems the past few years I have developed an obsession with connecting the dots of my life. All starting with the question…How did I get here? There is very little evidence from my time in Athens that would suggest that I would end up here, doing what I am doing, having been where I have been. But then I was a pretty confused boy at Ohio University. I have not been back to OU since I left. Part of me is curious about doing a drive by. And part of me wants to leave it in the foggy haze I left behind

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Hanging Out with Mel

I came across film of you recently and made a mental note to hand off to you. Part of my future plans is to slowly find appropriate homes for my life’s work. Most of my photo friends like you plan to let their kids deal with it. I have no such option. At the moment my stuff is headed for  Special Collections. They will appropriately catalog it and put it where the sun never shines. And even then, they will most likely discard much of it, such as the photos of you. I am sure their thinking will be “Who is this person? Is he important? How can we tell, Mel didn’t leave us any names. Just a college buddy. It can be discarded”. So they are better off in your hands, where they will be appreciated for what they are. Pictures of my husband, my father, my grandfather…. A man in his youth, just hanging out with Mel, a friend of his.

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Belle Epoch


Your travels sound wonderful. What a great spirit you are instilling in Luca, wanderlust. And to think I was almost 40 years old before I stepped on foreign soil (Canada and Mexico don’t count). So France and Crete in the fall. That’s an interesting combo. How did that connection come about?

I might be able to visit sooner than later. I just gave notice to my real estate client. Even though she was my biggest paycheck, I just didn’t like dealing with her company and their attitudes. I want it now, I want it cheap and I want a lot of it. And oh…I can do any thing I want with it too. I saw that it wasn’t going to change, so I quit. It was time, I suppose the only reason I really hung around at this point was for the cash flow, modest as it was. The novelty of seeing  how rich folks live in gazallion dollar properties had long worn off. It had become just a job. Time to go.

So now what? I would like to make more art. Now there’s a lucrative venture. But this year things have picked up at SAM and I have had some out of no where sales from the internet. So maybe it is time to turn over a few stones and see what the possibilities are. But one thing for sure, it will be more fun.

This Saturday I get to spend the day in the gymnasium at Inglemoor High School judging the WA State High School photo competition. I get to look at over 4000 prints and pick 30 for an exhibition. Been doing it for about 10 years. Never seems to get old, and somehow restores my faith in the future of still photography. None the less, at then end of the day my back is killing me and eyes are burning. There are always 3 judges and sometimes we even get to fight over a print to determine what’s in the show. I usually win as I dazzle the other judges with my grad school buzz speak…you know the talk… the contextual juxtaposition of diverse elements and how they resonate with the human spirit… And harkens to the early works of Henri Lartique during the Belle Epoch…or something like that.

Now I want to go back to France.

I’m coming to see you soon.


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Million Dollar Views

Well I think you would be proud of me. I gave my 2 week notice yesterday. Carter thought I should keep it under my hat, as he thinks I will change my mind. But, no, this is for real this time. And if they didn’t have a line up of projects, it would have been effective immediately. I won’t get into details, because as you know, it’s a short story that has just been going on for a long time. It is not so much about the client, as it is about my own expectations. About what I expect from my industry. But I realized this morning on my walk with Barney that I have been in denial. You see I guess I have always seen myself as an executive chef at a fine restaurant, where I make fine creations and people are appreciative, respectful and appropriately compensate you for your work. But in reality, in this case, I am just a cook at a fast food restaurant. And your clientele want it now, cheap and a lot it. The only difference is these particular clients want the fine creations too. And it isn’t going to change. So it is time to move on. In the end it wasn’t so hard to quit. Yea, my cash flow will take a little hit, but my stress level should go way down. So maybe I will live longer. I will miss the million dollar views and seeing how the fabulously well to do live, but that’s about all.

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Lunch at Dona’s

Thanks  man for allowing me to vent this morning. It’s tricky sometimes trying to navigate the waters of the business world, especially when the client is a friend. Not always a good combination. When it comes to money I always try to be fair, and sometimes I give in and say whatever, because I hate to quibble about  such things. But I have a hard time when I feel I am being taken advantage of and being disrespected. I don’t like people stealing my work. At very least, I need a please and thank you. The money part is negotiable. Oh, the joys of running a business.
I went ahead and cleaned  up this image of Lunch at Dona’s. It gave me something to do for about an hour while I stewed over things. Making art has always been my go to place when things are a bit chaotic in my world. I either try to express my feelings through imagery or in this case, return to a moment that brings pleasant memories. And this moment was very pleasant and memorable. Having an amazing lunch at the lovely home of Dona Hochart, in a little French town south of Paris. It was autumn and the day was  perfect. It is very clearly etched in my mind. And now I have this sweet little image as an emotional book mark.


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A Quiet Way of Seeing


If you are interested in learning more about the camera that I made this image with, just Google Diana camera and there is plethora of information about it. As I mentioned on the phone, many photographers are attracted to it’s use as a throw back to the days of simple cameras. It is less complicated and speaks to a more simple, quiet way of seeing. Also the capture images are more like those made in the early days of photography, when all photographs had a slightly soft, dreamy appearance.

Let me know if you have any questions and I thank you for your interest in my work.

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Et Merci Beaucoup Pour le Lagniappe!

Hi Mel,

The prints are absolutely beautiful. A thousand times better than I was expecting. Well worth the wait. The enchanting story this image conveys touches me deeply. I can’t wait to witness my brothers’ reactions.

Et merci beaucoup pour le lagniappe!… as we would say back home in Louisiana. What a jewel, the little postmarked box and its contents. My dad and I spent 10 days on la costa del sol. The beautiful words and pictures in your little book bring back memories of that world so different. We often talk about going back during “el tiempo del melón.”

Thank you from the bottom of my heart my good friend,




I am glad you are pleased. I thought you would be. There is nothing like the beauty of a well made silver print. And those prints are truly representative of of what my intentions were at the time. As you can see, they are soft, yet sharp. In the process of exposing the neg to paper I would wave a plastic bag under the enlarging lens for about a 1/3 of the exposure time. It would give the print a soft glow. But the fact that the neg itself is tack sharp, the print retains some of that clarity as well. The process gives the print a dreamy quality. I used that technique often, especially on portraits. Oddly enough, I have not found a good way to replicate that look in digital, at least like that.

I am also glad my little Spain book resonates with you as well. I spent six weeks there as a visiting artist in the summer of 1994. I stayed in the little village of Mojacar, to the east of Costa del Sol near Almeria.

Thank you for your kind words, and with your request allowing to go on a little journey to my artistic past. It has been a pleasure working with you and I hope you and your brothers enjoy  the image of Tyson and Ella for a long, long time.

Very best to you.


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