PORT TOWNSEND — Nature is good at the grand spectacles. Gigantic whales gliding just below the ocean surface. Petite baby turtles scrambling across a sandy expanse toward the sea.
And then there’s that waterborne animal called a trachymedusa.
Bill Curtsinger, whom many know as co-owner of Sunrise Coffee, has witnessed many of the world’s strange and beautiful scenes.
A National Geographic photographer for more than three decades before moving to Port Townsend, he created a body of work now sampled in the show simply titled “Curtsinger” at the downtown Grover Gallery, 236 Taylor St.
All of this began when he joined the Navy, volunteered for dive school and then volunteered again, in 1968, to work in Antarctica.
One of his journal entries there, included in Kenneth Brower’s book available at the gallery, takes us deep.
“Today I entered a world few men have seen, the waters under the ice,” Curtsinger wrote.
“There were problems with my wetsuit and the coldness, but I did it. I dove under the ice 130 feet and saw an array of animal life.”
A portal opened wide — and stayed open as Curtsinger kept diving.
Canada’s Koluktoo Bay. Golfo San Jose of Argentina. The Caroline Islands of the tropical Pacific.
Whales, walruses, penguins, dolphins, seals, sharks: They’re swimming together inside the Grover Gallery, which is open daily now from noon until 5 p.m.
Curtsinger, 75, was on a book tour when he came to Port Townsend in 2006.
At a dinner, he met Sue Ohlson, the woman who would become his partner for the next adventure: the Sunrise Coffee Co., located in the Port Townsend Boat Haven, where Curtsinger is a stalwart supporter of the city’s marine trades.
Early on, he became friends with Max Grover, one of Port Townsend’s best-known artists.
Curtsinger, Grover and Sunrise have since supported the arts community here, much like a strong cup of coffee propels a human body through the day.
Teresa Verraes and Kerry Tremain of Northwind Art, the nonprofit organization that operates the Grover Gallery, were the ones who approached Curtsinger about an exhibition of his photography.
The right ingredients were in place, Curtsinger said.
Tremain is a fellow photographer and “photo guru,” he writes in the book’s acknowledgements; he brought out the best in his images.
Standing in the Grover Gallery, surrounded by blue water and graceful creatures, Curtsinger expressed his thanks to another photographer and printer, Brian Goodman of Port Townsend.
“I’ve never seen my work printed so well,” he said, adding these prints came from 35-millimeter slides.
As in film, not digital.
During the eight weeks of the show, Curtsinger will do “meet-the-artist Mondays,” private tours — replete with stories about the photos — for up to six people, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Monday. To reserve a spot in one of the free sessions, email [email protected]
A virtual artist talk with Curtsinger and Brower, titled “Upwelling,” is set for 4 p.m. Sept. 19. Admission to the online event is free while a $25 donation is suggested, with proceeds to benefit Northwind Art. To sign up, go here.
The 40-page book of Curtsinger photos and Brower’s text, titled “Curtsinger: Reflections on the Life of Photographer Bill Curtsinger,” is available for purchase at the Grover Gallery, as are limited-edition portfolios of five of Curtsinger’s National Geographic images.
“We have to make the planet a better place so none of this goes away,” Curtsinger said while watching visitors stream through the gallery’s two rooms.
“My job,” he added, “is to present these creatures at their most evocative and beautiful, so people start to care.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]