The quest to photograph a friend's chair in all fifty States of America
By KIM HENRY
Get an old-school darkroom and a no-filters style of photography, add a love of nature and all things quirky, combine with a healthy sprinkle of wanderlust and you have the unique images of Wilmington photographer Curtis Krueger. In among his stunning shots of birds, landscapes, European villages and South American sites is an unusual project with a heart-warming story.
Born in Michigan, Krueger was raised in a TV-free household by parents who always encouraged his obvious aptitude for drawing. It wasn’t until he attended Eastern Michigan University to study fine art that he took an elective in photography and discovered a whole new branch to his passion. Having attained his BFA, Krueger began to buy and collect dark room equipment and printed every one of his own images for at least twenty years, until he finally surrendered to the digital age.
“I think having an understanding of how a dark room works deepens your understanding of what photography can be,” smiles Krueger as he talks about how he would go back into his dark room time and time again in order to create the exact exposure he was looking for.
He worked as a graphic designer for many years and continued to take pictures on the side. In 1995 he began to realize that he could leave the commercial world for good as his photo’s were continually well received at the many Art festivals he attended, and the demand for his work was gaining momentum.
“I guess I’m a photographic artist as opposed to a conventional photographer. I’m using the camera to make and sell my art,” says Krueger in his calm and unassuming manner. At fifty seven years old Krueger has traveled across America, Europe and many parts of Central and South America capturing moments that resonate with him - the open wing span of a bird, the view through a doorway, a range of snow capped mountains.
But there is one collection of images that reveal his quirky sense of humor. Coming to Wilmington back in 1987, Krueger moved next door to Mrs. Davis who lived in the same house for eighty seven years. A friendship evolved and Davis and Krueger spent many an hour chatting on their front decks. Little did Krueger know back then, that this elderly Southern lady would inspire an adventure that would take him to all fifty States of America.
It all began one morning when Krueger noticed an old wire garden chair in his eclectic neighbors back yard. As a little inside joke, he decided that he would take it down to the beach and use it as the subject for his early morning photography session. A month later he presented Davis with one of the images entitled ‘Mrs. Davis’ Chair Goes To The Beach’ for her 98th birthday.
“She really chuckled,” recalls Krueger, “she was generally a chuckler and it just tickled her that I had taken the chair and made the photo without her even realizing it was ever missing.” In return, Davis insisted that he keep the chair and that was the end of that, or so it seemed. Not long after this event, Krueger returned from one of his many travels just in time to hold Davis’ hand as she passed away in the comfort of her life-long home, and so began an unforeseen direction in Krueger’s artistic journey.
“I know it sounds strange but she gave me this project once she passed away,” says Krueger in his down to earth manner. “The chair just kept calling to me whenever I was leaving to go on a shoot. It began in North Carolina and then took me to Florida and Virginia but gradually I realized that I had to photograph Davis’ chair in every State in America.” And so now there is Davis’ Chair in New Mexico, in Alaska, in Hawaii and so on, in this inherently charming and whimsical series.
It took seven years, countless miles and 550 rolls of film to complete the Davis’ Chair project. Amid the many touching aspects of this random quest is an inherent sense of poetic irony as in her lifetime, Davis barely left her neighborhood, let alone Wilmington. Yet her chair has seen the entire country, climbed up mountains and down into valleys, stood in raging rivers and meandering streams, and witnessed both unforgettable wild life and unimaginable beauty. And many of these moments are now suspended in time through the photographic art of Curtis Krueger.