‘Beyond the Now’ – The Visual Jukebox of Natalie Curtis

If art is about one thing, it is about essence. Capturing a mood, a feeling, requires great skill and sensitivity, writes our art critic, Malcolm Storer.

One such artist, Macclesfield-born conceptual photographer, Natalie Curtis — daughter of legendary Joy Division frontman, Ian Curtis — manages to do just that.

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Her work embodies the freedom and integrity lacking in most conceptual art, where shock value and an obsession with political bandwagons dominate.

Here is an artist whose talent lies in the pure joy of seeing. She has an eye for the fleeting; for those magical instances rarely captured by lesser photographers, be it a gathering of friends, a bleak LA motel, a grainy black-and-white portrait, or a shifting, sliding Manchester tram.

Curtis does more than simply record an image. She supercharges it with meaning.

Take her exquisite M3 7LW photo series where, in the depths of the White Hotel in Salford, a party is taking place. Curtis moves from room to room, capturing the ethereal, ghostly revellers as the clock ticks towards dawn.

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Time itself is the subject, its melancholy transience.

Recently, I caught up with Cheshire girl, Natalie, to find out where she’s living and what she’s been up to.

“I’m currently living in London. But as well as making work here, I’m working on a project in Salford. I also spent a bit of time in Paris recently – for a portrait commission and for a group show, ‘New Works’ at Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre.

Also, I’m in the early stages of planning an exhibition in Manchester.”

I asked how she prefers to work, and what equipment she uses.

“To an extent my work is planned. I like to be prepared. But I don’t think it’s good to be too rigid; things always change.

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Instinct is definitely a big part of how I work, a lot of it is about how things feel. Occasionally, I’ve worked in a studio setting, and I’m sure I will again one day.

I’m nomadic and really enjoy working with locations. I always take photos when I’m on the move. I’ve been taking portraits of a friend who lives in a largely uninhabited part of Salford. You can walk around after dark and not really see anyone.

However, that’s likely to change in the coming years. So, the idea is to capture a particular time and feeling, to document his night walks. I currently use a digital rangefinder. That’s what I prefer right now, and it feels right for now.

Though I occasionally dabble in analogue still, I’m a big fan of chemical photo booths. A couple of years ago I was in a snowstorm in New York – with sideways snow and freezing fingers — I soon realised it would be more practical to grab a disposable point and shoot from the nearest chemist.”

Have you always been drawn to photography? Art in general? What influences you?

“I think I was around four when I first started asking to use my grandparents’ camera, and I got my own around age six.

But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I thought seriously about it. I’m a big fan of Japanese photography, especially the work of Daido Moriyama. I’m really interested in contemporary painting. In particular I love the work of BP Laval; also, Joe Andoe and Genieve Figgis.

What moves me most though is cinema. I wouldn’t like to live somewhere without a cinema. I go and watch old films a lot.”

I’m intrigued by the series of photos you did at the White Hotel in Salford. How did they come about, I asked.

“The M3 7LW photos were taken between April 2015 and January 2019. It’s a club opened by friends of mine. The idea was just to capture something of it.

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Because it won’t last forever, and even when a venture such as The White Hotel is in progress, it’s constantly evolving; the name of each image is the time it was taken. It was interesting to me as time seems to work differently there. It’s its own world.”

2020’s turning out to be a busy year. Do you ever find time to come home to Cheshire?

“I don’t get back anyway near enough. I was back in the North West last month, to take my latest round of Salford photos, but it was such a flying visit I had to make do with seeing Cheshire from the train window, which is better than nothing.

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I’m looking forward to visiting in the spring. It’s great to live in a big city, but I also love being in the countryside and, in my opinion, Cheshire is the best!”

I look at a lot of conceptual art and, to me, Natalie Curtis is one of the most talented artists around.

Her work is both stylistically prescient and killingly beautiful.

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