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Salt marshes first brought photographer Bill Curtsinger to Maine. It was the early 1970s, and he was on his second assignment for National Geographic magazine — a story on the marshes from Georgia to Maine that no one else would take. He'd wanted to come here for as long as he could remember. That was 1971. Curtsinger has been here since.
Curtsinger, an adventurer in the classical sense of the word, is compelled to go where very few (if any) have gone; as he explains it, he's "always been drawn to remote regions and severe landscapes." Curtsinger's new book, Extreme Nature: Images from the World's Edge, is a retrospective of his 35-year career. He's shot a good deal of images while diving below cold waters or on land void of human beings. Antarctica, for example, is one of his favorite spots. And Curtsinger's never been intimidated by the long winters and harsh waters of the Gulf of Maine.
He calls the Gulf his "home water" and says it's one of the best places on earth for diving, particularly in the Bay of Fundy. It has a tide that can rise and fall as much as 46 feet in a day, creating powerful, challenging currents. Invertebrates (the subjects of many of Curtsinger's photographs) feed on the nutrient loads brought in on the tide every day. These "productive waters," filled with a thriving underwater life and endless photographic possibilities, are what he seeks and the Gulf, he says, is "one of America's most productive fishing grounds."
Curtsinger has freelanced for decades and, although his photographs have been featured in seven books, Extreme Nature is the first project that includes both his images and his writing. From his library of 4000 photographs, 309 were selected for publication, and he says there was still the occasional battle with the Italian publisher over what would be included. "I really wanted the Gulf of Maine chapter in the book," says Curtsinger. "I didn't have to really lobby for it. They were into it."
He's titled his chapter on the Gulf of Maine "Bringing Dark Waters into the Light." Bucking tradition, images of lobster are absent from Curtsinger's book. Instead, Curtsinger has captured some of the Gulf's lesser-known curiosities. One image, from Casco Bay, is of an ocean sunfish referred to as Mola Mola. They can grow up to 10 feet long. Like the blue shark, Mola Mola visit the Gulf of Maine in the summer. In fact, because of their dorsal fin - which skims the top of the water as they swim - they're often mistaken for sharks. "I don't think that many people realize such an odd-looking creature is out there," he says. "There's a lot going on in the Gulf of Maine. You don't have to go to a coral reef to see beautiful color."
Curtsinger is an artist, not a scientist or a conservationist. But after so much research and work in the field, he has a genuine understanding of the habits of the animals he follows. It's his mission with this book, he says, to "take readers to the edge of our world." Curtsinger's Extreme Nature is the record of a traveler who's seen the underbelly of not only the coldest places on earth, but the world below and beyond the oil rigs, the cruise ships, and the Casco Bay ferry. And now, you can too.
Bill Curtsinger signs Extreme Nature: Images from the World's Edge on December 9 at 6 pm at Borders Books and Music in South Portland.
Issue Date: December 2 - 8, 2005
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