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

At 50


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At 60


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At 65


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New York Loft



Did I scare you off? Or do you just not like to write? Talking on the phone is fun, a lost art even, but I really like to write sometimes. Especially when I don’t feel like talking.

I took Carter to the ER yesterday as he was complaining of severe headaches. He is in ICU right now and in the hospital for the next 3 or 4 days. I won’t bore with the details, I don’t think it is life threatening. But then, at 86 everything is life threatening. It has always been weird to be in the house alone. We have always shared it. It is way too big for 2  people, must less one.

I ponder what life is alone. It has been a long time since I was alone. I know it is not a bad thing, lots of folks lead single lives. Some of my happiest days are when I lived alone in my little co op down the street. It was a great period of growth and the first home I ever owned. Here’s a pic from just before I moved to this house.

It wasn’t very big, but it was open and I always imagined it was what a New York loft felt like.  It was on the second floor and over looked Cowen Park. I traveled a lot then and could pack my bags, lock the door and head out for weeks at a time, knowing that when I returned, everything was just where I had left it.


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Thank you to everyone who reached out to me to say happy birthday. It was great to hear from you all. My 65th birthday started out in eastern Washington in the little town of Wenatchee. I was there on a photo assignment for the University of Washington. Wenatchee is a pleasant little town in the heart of a region that is one of the largest producers of apples (and other fruits) in the world. The town is thriving with a main street full of mom and pop shops and hip restaurants. I found a nice little cafe too and had an over priced iced latte. When the job was finished, my client and I took the back road home up route 2 through Cashmere and Leavenworth. Leavenworth is this funny little fake Bavarian town that is a mecca for tourists. I wanted to to grab a bratwurst, but my client refused to stop. But the ride along the 2 lane road up to and over Steven’s Pass was a very pleasant way to spend the day. When we left Wenatchee there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the 80’s. At the summit of the pass, the clouds took over and the temperature was in the 60’s, welcoming us back to western Washington. Hitting the afternoon rush hour traffic of Seattle let me know I was light years away from that little town on the Columbia River. It was great birthday.

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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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