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

What Would Louis Daguerre Have Done?


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…



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?


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


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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Paris in the Fall

Is there any place else to be?

RueDeL'Epron_Paris_May99 Statue#2VauxLeVicomte_Oct99-2 l'Arc de triomphe_Oct98 Antje_Paris_May99 Christophe_Parisv2_May99 AnnieRalphGareDeLyon#2v2_Oct98

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Technological Junk Pile of History


StudioSaleFlyer-Spain_May1994v2When I thought of your birthday last night, I remembered the studio sale in May of 1994. Remember that? The one to raise money to get me to Spain and you a Hasselblad? I could have sworn I had a digital copy on my computer from years ago, and may have. But what did I call it? Plus the program that created it is long gone, heaped on the obsolete technological junk pile of history. I also knew I had the original flyer, the one I made many copies of to mail out. But where? I have a couple of file drawers of things to sort out and lo and behold, there was a  fat file called old photos of Mel. Almost all film and there was the original film of you and me and subsequent flyer complete with pasted in silver print from the darkroom. A click of the iPhone and now it is attached for you see. 25 years ago. Amazing. Eh? So young and full of promise. And here we are, still standing, still making images. In and of itself, that is impressive.

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The View From Sisko Gallery


On that note, my day here is making prints and cutting mats for my Portfolio III, The Digital Era, 2004 to 2018 project. Just a feel good thing to give me a sense of accomplishment. Then, this afternoon, garden work. The weather is amazing right now and yesterday we took a little road trip to the little town of Maltby to go to Flower World. A very cool nursery I have wanted to visit for years. We collected a few more plants and with any luck, our little backyard garden will be in place by the end of the day. Then a friend is coming to visit, have dinner and pick up a print he purchased from me. This image I made many years ago that he  had seen and always liked. I like it too, as it brings back warm and fuzzy feelings. It was March and I had just stepped out the door of the Sisko Gallery from an opening there. It was twilight and the ancient neon globe of the Seattle Post Intelligencer lit up the sky. So I snapped a few shots with my iPhone. I later played with a couple of frames and merged them. One of the cars in the street and the other of the generally over all view. A few tweaks in photoshop and a couple of small prints later here we are. I put it aside and went on to other things. Kind of forgot about it. But now the Sisko Gallery is gone and I rarely venture into that neighborhood any more. But my friend always commented on that image whenever we were looking through prints. He finally offered to buy a print if I would make it big, like framed at 30×40″. So I did and glad I did too. I like it, and it reminds of that evening at the gallery, and of a time when photography wasn’t one of the worse jobs in America.


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It Was a Nice Ride

Mel In Moscow-2


Yes you are right. These would be good conversations to have face to face. Maybe one of these days. Like you I am driven to create things. I always have been. The nice thing about photography is that it can be a medium for personal expression and also a means to earn a living. I always had a need to do both with the camera. It seems a lot of my personal work came as a result of commercial work. Jobs took me places and I was able to see things I probably wouldn’t have if not for the job. And doing assignment work I am sure sharpened my skills. But also I mostly enjoyed my assignments. I learned things, met interesting people and earned a certain satisfaction in seeing my work published. Not to mention interesting places like the White House and the Kremlin and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. All memorable assignments. Now that the assignments are going away I am realizing just how important that work was to me, and that my personal work doesn’t quite fill all my needs. That maybe I need my work to have a purpose and not just a personal one. But those days are coming to an end and that’s ok. It was a nice ride.

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Dub Me Brilliant

Hey John,

Pure and simple, your replacement is probably cheaper. I know the loss stings, it is hard to compete when it all about the bottom line. I am slowly losing my last UW client, largely due to costs. The U hired a couple of full time photogs a few years ago and have been encouraging the schools and departments to use them. And why not? They are pretty good, know the university’s branding guidelines and all work and rights are retained by the U. Oh and they’re free… The downside is they have a long wait list and occasionally refuse jobs. So my client works with me, partly because of our long standing relationship that dates back before his time at the U and because I am readily available. Somewhere in there the quality of my work matters too. But he is always grumbling about budgets, and we often have to haggle over the numbers. But he has always been very good about paying reuse fees and making sure any third party who want to use the photos we make understands they have to pay fees too. But it is matter of time until that gig dries up.


The shoot at the nursery looks like fun. I love shooting in nurseries. I had a plant client once. They grew smart plants. They were a startup and spin off job from my capital venture client. It was fun to shoot. The green houses were all like giant soft boxes and the light was gorgeous. Plants and portraits. It was fun work, I need to circle back to them and see if they need any updates.


Good to hear you got some work in the Arts Festival. Judging is always screwy. I don’t really submit work to juried shows any more. Too much trouble, not enough positive results. A friend of mine is trying to encourage me to share my work with where he works. He works for the city of Maple Valley and the have an “art” program in their city hall I think it is. I read the specs. Submit work so they can approve and if so, you get to use their wall space. You hang, take down and are responsible for most all advertising. And they made it clear they are not responsible for any damage or theft. They even indicated it is public space and the risk belongs to the artist… gee, what a deal. I think I will pass.  I have plenty of these shows over the years and they are rarely worth the effort. But occasionally I still get snagged by the line… It will be great exposure. To that I say, Google me. Now there’s exposure.


Making photographs for fun is a great idea. I do it all the time. Keeps me curious, not to mention sane. I am putting the finishing touches on a portfolio about my work in the digital age.




Matted prints, linen covered lipped clamshell box, lined with Italian marbled paper. Groovy cover sheet and colophon. When I finish, I will share with whoever wants to see it, but otherwise pat myself on the back and stash it in my archives for some future art historian to find and dub me brilliant. Sounds good, eh?


No I just do what makes me feel good and try (note the word try) not to feel bad when I think I am snubbed or otherwise disrespected somehow. Or replaced by someone cheaper than me.


My dog just got a haircut and lies at my feet. At least he loves me.


Enjoy Mother’s Day.



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Big Hair is Back


The current version of me. Big hair and all.

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