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

A Mysterious Roll of the Dice

Angel-Pan_Hannover_May1999v6

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

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

FlightPath_15Aug19

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?

Carter+Barney_4Jul19_125

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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