To hear local painter Peter Halasz describe the work of friend and photographer Ame Curtiss, it’s almost as if she were still alive. The photographer died in 2012 of breast cancer a year after receiving her Bard-MFA in photography from the International Center of Photography in New York. Her work will finally be shown to the public at Traces, a new show opening on Saturday Nov. 7, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Space 4 Art (325 15th St.) in downtown. In her life, Curtiss never got to see her work displayed in a gallery and Space 4 Art is a suitable enough location for the show considering she first delved into photography by shooting a rapidly changing downtown San Diego from 2003 to 2006. Halasz is quick to point out that Traces is not some kind of posthumous survey of Curtiss’ work, but simply a showcase of a huge homegrown talent.
“It wasn’t like we wanted to put all her pictures on the wall and have some kind of memorial,” says Halasz, who lived in New York at the same time as Curtiss. “I wanted to approach it more like she was alive and she had a show lined up at a gallery.”
The works Halasz curated for Traces extend from 2006 to 2010 when Curtiss lived in New York. There are also images from her last year alive living in Joshua Tree. Halasz eloquently describes the images as “radiant images of otherwise banal American settings.”
In addition to the show, there will also be an accompanying book that includes show images, as well as written passages from Curtiss’ blog. One of the more striking passages in the book is when Curtiss writes, “I have this fantasy of going home to the place of Buddhas and Mexican Cowboys and then…”
The sentence ends there, followed by a selfie of Curtiss and three photos of a blue sky. It’s a jarringly emotional coda to a touching tribute about an artist who seemed to be just entering her prime. Surf historian Richard Kenvin, who was a close friend of Curtiss and worked with Halasz on the exhibition, penned a loving afterword in the book. Whereas the downtown home that Curtiss left behind is all but gone, Kenvin likes to think that she would have embraced the changes.
“I think she’d be all over it, shooting it,” says Kenvin. “Its fascinating stuff actually, the new downtown. Plenty of good subject matter that would continue her visual story of the place.”