PORT TOWNSEND — Bill Curtsinger, co-owner of Sunrise Coffee Co., was once a deep-space traveler in a quarter-inch wetsuit. He was a photographer who shot pictures from Antarctica to Hawaii, where he worked with writer Kenneth David Brower on packages for National Geographic.
“It was like going to Mars,” Brower said of their deep-sea ventures.
The two collaborators, friends for some four decades, will get together Sunday evening for a livestreamed conversation — about their work, their travels and whatever else may come up.
The nonprofit Northwind Art will present the free program from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; registration is available at northwindart.org via the News link. While there’s no charge, a $25 donation is suggested to support Northwind programs and scholarships.
Northwind also is hosting Curtsinger’s photography exhibition at downtown Port Townsend’s Grover Gallery, 236 Taylor St., now through Oct. 31. The gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily, and each Monday at 5 p.m., Curtsinger gives small-group talks there. To sign up for one, email [email protected]
Brower, 76, lives in Berkeley, Calif., and drove to Port Townsend this week. In an interview from a stopover in Portland, Ore., he recalled Curtsinger’s extraordinary will.
This is a diver, Brower said, who used a wetsuit in icy waters where anyone else would insist on a drysuit.
“He had 36 chances,” the writer added, referring to the frames on Curtsinger’s roll of film.
The photographer himself remembers not feeling cold in those Antarctic conditions — until that 36th picture was shot. Then the deep chill would suddenly set in.
The physical challenges of working in the ocean are unimaginable until you get there, Brower added.
Even in tropical waters, terror can show up.
“You know, there are sharks,” he said.
When Brower and Curtsinger worked off the Kona coast of Hawaii, they had what he called a joke of a shark cage, made of PVC pipe and plexiglass. They’d go in at night and turn off the lights.
Down under the sea, one must scan the surroundings on all axes, Brower said, because a shark can come to you from any side, from above and from below. Curtsinger was badly bitten on his hand and shoulder by a gray reef shark in the Caroline Islands of the tropical Pacific.
There were unparalleled thrills, too.
Brower recalled the times he and Curtsinger saw creatures such as the larval pearlfish, a translucent, ribbon-like thing punctuated with yellow pompoms.
“We showed this to the scientists, and they’d never seen these little balls on them,” Brower added.
The ocean is still such a mystery — and people often speak of the strange phenomena living down deep. The surface, Brower said, is also rich in bizarre living things. He still marvels at it all.
“I was a Sierra Nevada guy,” before meeting Curtsinger, he said.
Brower is the eldest son of the man many call the father of the environmental movement in the 20th century. David Brower was the Sierra Club’s first executive director, serving from 1952 to 1969. Fired from that post, he founded Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters and was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kenneth Brower had finished his freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley when his father asked him to work on a book in Big Sur, Calif. “Not Man Apart: Photographs of the Big Sur Coast” was published in 1965, and the younger Brower began a career that would take him all over the planet.
Experiencing the natural world is utterly wondrous, Brower said, but his work with Curtsinger was no day at the beach.
When you’re shooting photos for National Geographic, a lot can go wrong.
Doesn’t matter, Brower said.
Bad weather, machine-gun toting poachers off the Nicaraguan coast: “You have to come back with a photo nobody’s ever seen before.”
During Sunday’s conversation, viewers will be encouraged to ask questions, and Brower hopes people get Curtsinger to tell the stories behind his undersea images.
“Knowing what goes in to getting these photos,” he said, “is wonderful.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]