Andrew Curtis is a local photographer and self described experimenter. A couple years ago I came across his amazing timelapse footage of the Cinco De Mayo Carnival. You may have seen it too, I featured it on my blog, and KATU plugged the video on the air.
Last Thursday at the Portland premiere of The Waiting List, Heather and I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew in person, when Mike Vogel introduced us. Heather came up with the idea for this, and subsequent, interviews (Mike will be the subject of our next one!). Andrew is a local guy doing very interesting things. If we’re fascinated by his work, we’ll bet you will be too . . .
To the interview:
We’re most familiar with your time lapse videos; what other kinds of photography do you do?
Like my Flickr profile says; “I’m not a photographer, I’m an experimenter.” I work as a machinist by day (or night, as I frequently work graveyard shift) and I’m constantly sacrificing my lunch breaks to make contraptions for my camera. I like to explore different techniques, most of which don’t seem to yield any results. I think because my failure rate is so high with photography, that when the successes do come, even if by accident, its all the more satisfying to me. I’m not afraid to waste an evening trying something even if I’m not confident it will work. An example I’m most proud of is a set of fireworks photos I shot last 4th of July, where I spent the whole time twisting the focus ring on my lens at random, and not knowing if anything good would come out of it.
For those not familiar yet with your time lapse photography work, can you describe the process?
Basically I just take a series of still images at set intervals, anywhere from 1 to 30 seconds, and string them together into a video. The process however requires quite a bit of planning, attention to detail, and some time dedicated to post-processing. I would advise anyone interested in learning about timelapse to visit the Timescapes Forum.
If your fairy godmother came and offered the photography equipment of your dreams, what would it be?
Of the videos on Vimeo, do you have favorites?
I think my favorites are the videos that reveal patterns that aren’t apparent in real time. An example of this is the second shot of the Gorge Fog video, where you see the clouds rolling in and out like waves.
Another video from the same location, Gorge Light Show shows some incredible interaction between the fog and the car headlights. I like to hang out and take in the scenery while the camera is going, but both of these times I was completely unaware of what was taking place right before my eyes.
What video(s) posed the most challenges for you?
One of the harder videos for me to pull off was The World Leaves Portland Behind. I had planned out many more shots than I was able to get, and chasing the ship down the river was pretty tricky. I figured that the ship would pass under each bridge one at a time, leaving me plenty of time to follow it. Turns out they lifted all the bridges at the same time, which I thought would have made for a traffic nightmare. After the first shot I had to race up to Cathedral Park and I barely made it in time.
The music choices for your videos are quite eclectic, and all seem to fit with the subject matter. How do you find or decide what music to add to your videos?
My music choices are usually culled from things I’m listening to at the time or have recently discovered, and a few old favorites. I usually don’t have a plan for what music to use until I get to the editing phase. I will compile the video and watch it over and over while playing different songs. Once I find one that works, I will edit them to fit together.
When we met at the Portland premiere of Mike Vogel’s The Waiting List, you mentioned you weren’t particularly happy with the footage you filmed for his film. Why not? After seeing it on the big screen, did your view of it change?
For those that haven’t seen the film, it takes place in a school near Oregon City. Mike contacted me out of the blue, and wanted to know if I could do a timelapse of the stars overnight in the playground behind the school. I was setting up a shot in front of the swingset, and accidentally managed to capture a meteorite that came blazing down right in front of me. I was hoping that bit of luck would set the tone for the evening, but unfortunately I had problems. The shoot was cut short due to my lens fogging over, and after looking at the results I felt there was just too much light pollution. I told Mike that the shot didn’t turn out, and that I would try again. Long story short, I was unable to try again, and Mike contacted me and asked if I had gotten anything useful, even a still. I put the video together and sent it off to him with a big apology, and to my surprise he ended up using it. While I still don’t consider it my best work, seeing it on the big screen definitely changed my mind. It seemed to fit very well with the film and didn’t look as bad as I remembered!
Are there any projects you’re working on right now that you’d like to mention?
I’m always thinking about timelapse, and I’m shooting as much as I can. Right now I’m working on a piece about the Hawthorne Bridge, just trying to find time to get more shots done. I made up a little teaser video, mostly to motivate myself to finish it. As of now I can’t say when it will be done. I’m also working on constructing some custom motion control devices to try and take my shots to the next level. Beyond that, I’m loosely working on an all-inclusive timelapse film about Portland, but that’s probably even further out than the Hawthorne Bridge. If anyone reading out there with connections can get me into some cool places to shoot (top of Big Pink anyone?) please, please contact me. I will timelapse this town red!