HAPPY PLANET

Bill Curtsinger: Pioneer of Deep Sea Photography and the First to Photograph a Narwhal

November 02, 2022 Abigail Carroll speaks with Bill Curtsinger Season 1 Episode 1
HAPPY PLANET
Bill Curtsinger: Pioneer of Deep Sea Photography and the First to Photograph a Narwhal
Show Notes Transcript

Meet Bill Curtsinger, a pioneer of underwater sea photography. He has many “firsts” to his name including being the first to photograph a narwhal. 

Bill was also my neighbour growing up in Maine and his stories and photographs made a life-long impression. 

I wanted to reconnect with Bill to frame our ocean series discussion. In addition to uncovering his tales of adventure, I was eager to hear how the ocean ecology issues of the late 60s and 70s compare to our concerns now.

Bill's Website

BOOKS:
EXTREME NATURE

MENTIONED
Scripps
National Geographic

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Abigail (00:00:02):

How are you?

Bill (00:00:04):

I'm fine. Thanks.

Abigail (00:00:06):

Oh my God. Um, it's so it's so amazing to see you I've thought so much about you over the years. And, um, and I remember asking dad like five years ago, you know, where's Bill Cursinger and he looked you up. So he knew, he was the first of the family to know that you were, uh, you were a coffee connoisseur out in the west coast.

Bill (00:00:32):

Um, this is Sue.

Abigail (00:00:34):

Oh, Hi Sue. Hi. Nice to meet you.

SUE (00:00:38):

Nice to meet you too. I was just turning off that light, cuz I thought it was shining on the back of his head.

Abigail (00:00:43):

Yeah. You know, we're not gonna use the video. Okay. It'll just be sound. Um, uh, congratulations on your successes with the, in the coffee world.

SUE (00:00:54):

Yeah. All because of him.

Abigail (00:00:55):

<laugh>. Aww. Well I'm so delighted for you both. Um, so what, tell me a little bit about Townsend,

Bill (00:01:04):

About port Townsend?

Abigail (00:01:06):

Yeah. Port, sorry, port Townsend. Is it a port town a little bit.

Sue (00:01:11):

Yeah. It's water

Bill (00:01:11):

Yeah. It's a water right on the Puget right on the Puget sound.

Abigail (00:01:17):

Oh beautiful. Um, I went up there once, um, to well to Washington. I was in Seattle and I drove down from Seattle down to Portland, Oregon where my, where my natural mom's family's from. Uh, and that was one of the most remarkable, beautiful drives I've ever done just through those tall, tall forests.

Bill (00:01:41):

Um, yeah, it's a, it's a great place. I, I love it here. It's of all the, you know, of all the places I've been in the world. This is it's pretty nice. Pretty nice.

Abigail (00:01:51):

That's awesome. Um, so I'm gonna, uh, I'm, I'm still kind of figuring out how to be a decent interviewer. So bear with me a little bit and there will be lots of opportunity for edits. Um, but I guess I, I sort of wanna talk about sort of, you know, how you got into this. I want some, I'd love to get into some of your stories, but I'm also really interested in sort of your perceptions of, you know, of the ocean economy or not the O or just the ocean, the state of the ocean back in the sixties and what you were seeing and sort of what's going on now and, and sort of maybe as a conclusion, sort of like what, you know, what are some of the things that you're excited about in terms of, or like, what are you worried about? What are you excited about in terms of so where we're headed with sort of our environmental considerations and, and, and actions. Um, (CAN USE SOME OF THIS FOR INTRO)

Bill (00:02:52):

Oh my,

Abigail (00:02:52):

I kind, well, if you have thoughts and if you don't, it's fine. If you

Bill (00:02:56):

Do. I do. Yeah.

Abigail (00:02:57):

Yeah. Um, but let's start at the beginning. I'm just gonna, um, and again, this will be edited, so, um, we can have starts and stops and, um, you know, if, uh, if I need to sort of interrupt with a question, I'll just raise my hand. And if, if, if, you know, you wanna stop and start over a sentence or something, just, just do it cuz we can edit everything out. Um, uh, so, um, so this is embarrassing, but um, so welcome to the podcast bill. Um,

Abigail (00:03:34):

It's been a long time. It's, it's been a long time since I've seen you. I think I was 10 about that age when I first met you. You were a next door neighbor and uh, I, you had a transformational impact on my life. You were the reason I joined the Save the Whale Foundation. And um, and I got to sort of get a glimpse at your life through time spent with you in your studio and your showing me what you did and talking to me about your adventures in the ocean. So, um, so thank you for that. I would love to sort of start at the beginning. Um, you're a kid from New Jersey (SUMMARIZE IN INTRO)

Bill (00:04:22):

Kid from south Jersey. Um, well I was born in Philadelphia and my, um, parents moved to Jersey, you know, when I was five or six and you know, I was raised, um, in actually a farming community, um, on the edge of the New Jersey pine Barrens and, um, was pretty, uh, close to wild places. Believe it or not. You know, the pine Barrens is the largest unbroken forest between Boston and Washington DC. And you know, I, as a kid, I, you know, hunted and fished in the pine Barrons and you know, all of a sudden I started to lug a camera around and uh, instead of hunting and fishing, (SUMMARIZE IN AN INTRO)

Abigail (00:05:08):

How did you get that camera?

Bill (00:05:11):

Oh, I, I was, I was, um, bought at the camera store in Mount Holly, New Jersey <laugh>.

Abigail (00:05:18):

So you, was there something about photography that was kind of pulling you to it or was just sort of a random act?

Bill (00:05:28):

It was something it's funny. Um, it's something I always thought about, but I never really acted upon until I was on my way to college in Arizona. And I that's when I that's, when I bought this camera and started, uh, fool around with it in the pine Barrens. And then of course, when I went to Arizona was really the beginning of my serious approach to photography and, um, uh, you know, I was gonna go out west to place where I always wanted to check out and, um, bought a camera.

Abigail (00:06:02):

So, um, you're you were in, you were in a photography program at the university of Arizona or Arizona state, right?

Bill (00:06:11):

No, I was, well, I was, I first went to Arizona state college in Flagstaff, which is now Northern Arizona university. And actually the name changed between my freshman and sophomore year. And, um, I, after my first semester, uh, as a sophomore at Northern Arizona, I, um, applied to go to Arizona state that had a photo arts program. And, um, cause I was really, really serious. And um, in the process I lost four hours of, uh, a humanities credit and was reclassified by my draft board as 1A and I was, you know, off to off to the army and then I, you know, managed to squeak into the Navy and because I had this and I had this, uh, photo art semester at ASU, um, I was assigned to a right outta boot camp. I didn't go to Navy photo school. I was assigned to this special photo unit, um, in, in the Navy called combat camera group, which is actually established, um, during world war II by Edward Steichen.

Bill (00:07:24):

Um, and, um, you know, to have photographers see really good photographers, cover the war. And I was in this unit and I walked in the door and they had a aviation division. They had an underwater division, they had a, you know, a motion picture division. I mean, it was like a, it was like a candy shop to me. I, and I raised my hand for everything. We sent. We sent photographers on special assignments all over the world. And one of those places was the Antarctic where we sent a every year we sent a motion picture and a still photographer and you know, soon, soon as I could, I, I went there, I went to Navy dive school first because they had an underwater photo unit and I was, you know, really interested in that. And, um, not long after I got out of the dive school, I went to the Antarctic and that was really the, really the beginning of my, um, my, uh, professional career.

Abigail (00:08:26):

So when you're in dive school, were they specifically teaching you how to wield a camera down?

Bill (00:08:31):

No.

Abigail (00:08:31):

And under water? No. So it was just learning how to put on a wet suit. What was diving like back then compared to what it is today?

Bill (00:08:40):

I was learning how to dive, you know, it was a very serious program, very physically demanding. Um, and it was a month long and, um, you know, not, not everybody gets to go to Navy dive school, but you know, I was really ready for it and started, you know, I started running and, you know, working out and, um, it was easy for me to get through that. You know, it was a lot of harassment underwater. They, you know, they take, they come on, they come and grab your mouthpiece and take, you know, harass you so you can figure you get out of certain situations. Um, it's not as series serious as like seal teaming, UDT training, but it's sort of a sort of like that in a way in a light lighter way. Um, and when I got out of that, I started doing underwater assignments for the Navy.

Bill (00:09:31):

A lot of it was film, uh, motion picture. A lot of it was photographing research and development of you, can, you name it: Submarines, torpedoes, underwater, mines, you know, Navy, Navy hardware. And, um, but you know, I did a lot of still photography too. And then I was sent to the Antarctic and I dove, I first dove under the ice. I was assigned to the national science foundation. Um, when I went to the Antarctic from the Navy, the Navy, uh, logistically supported the national science foundation's effort, uh, in the Antarctic with ships, airplanes and you name it. So, uh, I was assigned to the national science foundation for six months and traveled to the part of the antarctic below New Zealand first. And then I went back to the states and went down to, flew down to the tip of south America and crossed the Drake passage on an icebreaker to go to Palmer station and get on board the, a research vessel hero, which was built in the Gammage yard in Maine actually.

Abigail (00:10:41):

Oh really? Yeah. Oh, interesting.

Bill (00:10:43):

Um, oh, was the beginning. That was beginning my really, uh, my career as an underwater and as a real working photographer.

Abigail (00:10:52):

So there's, there's a big gap between having a camera and taking pictures and going to dive school, even if it's rigorous and they're pulling something, you know, the, the mouthpiece from your mouth to diving in Antarctica where I believe very few people had gone. What year is this?

Bill (00:11:12):

68.

Abigail (00:11:15):

68. So

Bill (00:11:16):

1968.

Abigail (00:11:17):

So, um, tell, put us there. <laugh> what was that like?

Bill (00:11:23):

Well, I, I heard I was, I was there to photograph science. I, I went out with science teams, um, all over the area near McMurdo. And I heard about this, these divers from Scripps who were doing a, you know, they've been there, you know, consecutive years doing benthic studies, just right off McMurdo sound. And I, you know, I went to meet the principal investigator, Paul Dayton from Scripps, and, um, he was all, all gung-ho about me, um, you know, being part of their dive team. So I really, my first diving in polar waters with this pioneering group of scripps, uh, divers, um, who really, um, figured out a lot about polar diving. Um, and you know, I just went out twice a day, went out on the ice and we, um, had these little huts and jumped into water and I, I photographed their science and photographed everything around me, you know, in my, um, as best I could. I was in a, of course there was not a dry suit, then there were wetsuits and, um, it was kind of cold. Um, but you know, it was so exciting to be there in this kind of environment and do and follow these people around and photograph underwater things that really nobody had ever done before. I mean, I never really got cold until I ran outta film and then I got really cold. So <laugh>, you know, when your brain is occupied and you're, um, excited about what you're doing, you don't really worry about how uncomfortable you are, but as soon as I ran outta film, I, so it was very cold.

Abigail (00:13:08):

So, um, I have read that you were in a wetsuit, that's a quarter inch thick and you were in 12 degree below zero temperatures underwater. Um,

Bill (00:13:19):

No, 28 degrees. It was just

Abigail (00:13:21):

28 degrees. Yeah. Um, below zero or above zero. ,

Bill (00:13:26):

No, No, no, you can't. It wouldn't, it would be solid ice below zero <laugh>.

Abigail (00:13:29):

Okay. That's why. Okay.

Bill (00:13:30):

Seawater seawater is 28 degrees.

Abigail (00:13:33):

Okay. Even down there in the around Antarctica.

Bill (00:13:35):

Yeah. But

Abigail (00:13:37):

There was breeze is at 28 degrees. Yeah.

Bill (00:13:39):

There Was eight feet of ice overhead, so it was serious diving.

Abigail (00:13:43):

So eight feet of ice on top of you. And what did you see down there that you didn't expect down in the Southern oceans?

Bill (00:13:51):

Well, I saw a lot, you know, since I was working with these guys studying the bottom, I mean, there was just, it was such a unbelievable Benthic community. um. Sponges, you know, almost as big as I am very tall. Um, just colorful, you know, Benthic sea spiders, as big as a dinner plate. There're Weddel seals, um, everywhere, you know, you saw 'em all the time. They were often in our, we, in our dive hole. When we went out in the morning, they would use it as a breathing hole and we would come into the hut. We had these, we would blast a hole in the ice, clear it out, and then drag a, a wooden hut on big skids over the hole that had an oil heater. So that heater would keep the hole sort of open. And, um, often when we went down into the hot, there was a seal in the breathing, in the, in the hole that we had made

Abigail (00:14:48):

Enjoying the warmth.

Bill (00:14:50):

Well, just breathing, just using it as a, you know, place to breathe. Yeah.

Abigail (00:14:57):

Um, so you have 36, like, what was your camera equipment like back then? I mean, it it's, you know, we're all, it's, it's hard today. We're so used to digital, you know, our cameras and all this digital photography that it's almost hard to imagine managing film and managing that specifically on the water, What were those challenges like?

Bill (00:15:19):

Well, you had 36 hours in your quiver and, um, you were pretty careful about how you used it used that film. I had a, um, at that time I had a Nikons camera, which was a small little handheld, um, is that, did we just lose everything? Hello it, the internet,

SUE (00:16:19):

You need a hard, a hard plugin instead of the wire. I don't know where that is, you know, directly into the cable, the hard wire.

Bill (00:16:32):

There is no such thing, so,

Speaker 4 (00:16:34):

Well, yeah, there is, this internet has to come in from somewhere. It doesn't come in via it's over there. Yeah. That's where you probably should be plugged into the hard wire, you know, where, where does the cable come in?

Speaker 5 (00:16:49):

Where

Speaker 4 (00:16:49):

Does the internet come in

Bill (00:16:50):

Over there?

Abigail (00:16:51):

Cause there's a line that you, the main computer is plugged into so that you don't have to, I don't understand why we keep losing it boys. What scripts bill? Hmm. What does scripts stand for? Scripts. And who is that one guy that man that you mentioned, you said,

Bill (00:17:27):

Oh, Scripps it's Scripps. It's Institute of oceanography.

Abigail (00:17:30):

Okay. And then you mentioned, um, the guy who was the photographer, who was running the program at the Navy Edward Syk. Yeah. You know, like who's that I had this set up. I don't want you to touch it. Sorry.

Speaker 5 (00:17:45):

Good.

Speaker 4 (00:17:50):

Okay.

Abigail (00:18:36):

Hi. Sorry. Oh, oh, shoot. I've gotta stop the recording. Now. I can see you a lot better actually. Um, sorry about that, or, but, um, uh, so, uh, can you tell me a little bit about, you know, today we we're so used to digital filming equipment. Can you tell me a little bit what it was like to manage, you know, proper film, a role of 36 shots?

Bill (00:19:09):

Well, you had to, you know, you had to be careful how you used it. Um, you just, you know, you just had to be very selective and make sure you weren't gonna waste a frame, um, uh, on something insignificant, you just had to make sure you waited for, you know, the right moment to, to take the photograph. You only had, you didn't have that many chances. So you just had to be careful.

Abigail (00:19:38):

I love this idea that the limit of the film basically kept you from freezing.

Bill (00:19:43):

Yeah. Yeah. And if I had a digital camera, I probably be dead

Abigail (00:19:48):

<laugh> um, so, well,

Bill (00:19:52):

What, wouldn't, what I wouldn't have given for a digital camera underwater in my day. So

Abigail (00:19:58):

Yeah. I mean, and how do you think that digital technology has changed the, that industry?

Bill (00:20:05):

Oh, everyth it's changed it completely, you know? Um, I love it. You know, I, I wish I, I would give anything for the digital camera underwater in my day. My whole career was film. And, um, the idea of having, you know, a digital system underwater with, you know, UN basically unlimited, depending on the, the card you use, uh, unlimited exposures is just, you know, crazy <laugh>

Abigail (00:20:37):

On the other hand, that film seems, you know, there's that richness and that mystery to like a, a regular film photo that I think may be missing on digital. Like there's some there's texture. Maybe you can create that too with digital. I don't know.

Bill (00:20:56):

Well, I, I thought, I mean, I really missed at first, when I first started using digital, I really kept thinking to myself, you know, this is even in, this is not even close to Codakro, but I don't think that anymore. I mean, these, these chips are incredible. And then what you can do after, after, after pro you can process that image in a way. Um, you can bring everything out the Koro ever did and more, it's just amazing. There's I don't mean manipulating images. I just mean bringing out, um, what, what what's on that chip what's in that image what's in that digital file.

Abigail (00:21:40):

Um, so, okay. You're, you're in the Navy. When did you realize that you could make a career out of this?

Bill (00:21:48):

Well, while I was in the Navy, you know, I, I had so much success, not just underwater, but I had, you know, um, you know, in the Navy I had my unit had a aviation unit and I went to the, I went to, um, well, I went to parachute school and I went to this same, um, training. If you remember the original top gun where they train in the pool, they dump, like in a simulated aircraft, you're dumped upside down in a plane and you have to get out of it. And I went to ejection seat training. So I did all that. Um, and I flew in, you know, Navy jets off carriers to actually promote Navy aviation, you know? Um, wow. So, you know, I had, I had, I had a lot of success with my aviation photography and, you know, probably better known in the Navy, probably better known for that than anything I did underwater.

Bill (00:22:45):

Um, I had the first color cover for Naval aviation news. I had, um, several covers and a very prestigious Navy magazine called the Naval Institute proceedings, which is, um, um, institution out of Annapolis at the Naval academy. And, you know, I, I had a lot of success with my work in NA in the Navy world. Um, and I just, I just used used that as I was, you know, getting towards getting out of the Navy, you know, I, I had amazing career in the Navy and I did amazing things, constantly gone, constantly traveling on these temporary assignments. And, um, but I just knew I wasn't gonna stay in the Navy. It just wasn't my thing. So before I got out of the Navy, I went to see, um, a retired Admiral who had been in the, um, Antarctic during, in the fifties during the inter I G Y the international geophysical year, which was the very first scientific, um, effort, uh, in the Antarctic and on par on the, in the US side.

Bill (00:23:57):

And, um, he ran the program was a brilliant man. He did everything. He was a brilliant world war II, uh, commander. And, um, and, and as he, he retired to, um, a job at the Naval, um, a maritime museum in Newport news, which is just about a half hour away from where I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. And I called him up and I said, I'd like to come talk to you. And, um, went to talk to him and showed him my work. He knew my Navy work. He knew he knew my Naval aviation work. Um, and, um, you know, I sitting there talking to this guy and I'm just a, you know, a E five in the Navy. And he says to me, well, what can I do for you? And I said, I wanna work. I wanna work for the geographic. And in front of me, he picked the phone up and called the president of the national geographic society, Gilbert Grovner who he had.

Abigail (00:24:55):

Wow.

Bill (00:24:56):

He was friends with and had his Rolodex. And he said, right in front of me, Gilbert, I've got this young Navy photographer here. I'd like, I think you should see his work. And that's, that's how I got into the geographic. Wow. So a couple weeks later I ended up at the geographic, you know, still in the Navy and, you know, I'd already been to the Antarctic peninsula and, um, had this, I can

Abigail (00:25:22):

You, can you start over as just say, I'd already been in the cuz something beeped? I don't know what it was.

Bill (00:25:27):

So yeah, I'd already been in the Antarctic. Um, and I already spent time, um, in the Antarctic peninsula where the geographic had never done a, a story. Um, and to me, the peninsula was the most interesting and the most biologically diverse for sure. And, um, I just had this idea about a national geographic and our peninsula story. So this Admiral George du defect called up the geographic, got me an interview. And a couple weeks later, I walked in the door at the geographic and went up to the president's office. And, um, you know, we were just talking and he, he picked the phone up. He called Robert Gilka, who was the, um, director of photography and said, Bob, I've got this young Navy photographer here and I'd like you to see his work. And, um, so I went down to the fourth floor to the he, uh, photo photo photographic department to see Mr. Gilka. And, um, as I walked, uh, into his office, he had a sign on the door that said, wipe your knees before entering. And that was sort of the, that was sort of the tenor of our interview. He was very gruff and abrupt and, um, I'm getting all these notifications, sorry. Um, and he, he, um,

Bill (00:26:56):

He, um, you know, looked at my work sort of, um, and, and I had talked up, I showed him a lot of the Antarctic stuff, and I talked off this idea and he didn't say anything at the time. And he hardly looked at anything, but, you know, um, he says, well, I gotta go. I gotta, I got a meeting. And, um, I got up and I'm already out the door. And he says, Hey, and I turned back into the door. And he said, send me that, uh, proposal on the Antarctic peninsula. And that's all I left with, nothing else. You know, this was his style. He was a brilliant guy. And I loved him, worked for him for many years. Um, but that, that was his style. He just would intimidate the hell out of anybody he was interviewing. How do I turn these notifications off?

Abigail (00:27:46):

Can you turn, um, it's from your messages?

Bill (00:27:49):

Yeah.

Abigail (00:27:50):

Can you close that program?

Bill (00:27:54):

Let's see. I don't even know where it is here so

Abigail (00:28:09):

We can live with it. We'll just have to start. I didn't see. Or just,

Bill (00:28:14):

Yeah, see, I just, I just signed on, um, I'm gonna quit messages. Okay. I think I, I just signed a Chrome today.

Abigail (00:28:27):

Do not disturb thing. I used to have this problem too. I think I solved it somehow, but it's

Bill (00:28:33):

Not. So where was I? Where was I?

Abigail (00:28:36):

Um, okay, so you just got, you were setting your first proposal, um, out to go do the Antarctic story. Um, so, um, I wanna, I wanna take a little bit of a, a detour here. Mm-hmm <affirmative> just to, um, um, I wanna ask about what some of the sort of climate and other issues were at this time. What, so Bill, what year are we when you're, you're getting this first proposal through to national geographic?

Bill (00:29:08):

I wrote the, I said there was 1969.

Abigail (00:29:13):

Okay.

Bill (00:29:14):

It was 1970 when I proposed this idea to the geographic. And I sent this proposal, written proposal in, and they have a formal body at the time called the planning council. And I sent it in and I didn't hear back for months. And, um, I actually, then I got a three month cut from the Navy because the Navy was getting rid of people and I was actually home. And I got a phone call from, uh, big cheese at the geographic and said, we've reviewed your proposal. We'd like you to come to Washington and we wanna send you on your way to the antarctic peninsula. That's amazing. So,

Abigail (00:29:54):

So as you're heading off to the Antarctic in 1970, what are, well, first of all, it seems like you are looking at the ocean when everybody's thinking about the moon, right? Like this is, this is like putting this in context. It's like everybody in the world is obsessed with outer space and you're opening this window to something that people have largely ignored, which is, you know, the, the deep sea life, the, the, the ecology of the ocean. And I know from my early interactions with you, that, you know, in the late seventies that, you know, we were already starting to talk about saving whales and, and, and the ocean ecology, but it was a much smaller conversation than we're having now. But what were the big issues, uh, that we were, we were thinking about already back in the seventies?

Bill (00:30:52):

Well, you're right about the, um, attention that space gets, for example, compared to, you know, um, uh, the Marine world, I mean, we know very little about the Marine world, really, if you consider the vastness of, of oceans and the deepness of oceans and all the organisms that make up that system. Um, we, we don't really know any, we know a lot, but we there's a lot, we don't know. And, you know, there's an, uh, the same, um, attention given to underwater exploration, say, say, I mean, scientific exploration, then there is a space, you know, there's no NASA version of underwater <laugh>, uh, federal agency, um, you know, looking, looking at the ocean, uh, other than, you know, I guess NOAA could, could be equivalent. But it's true there isn't, um, there isn't that, that, uh, I don't know, there isn't that, uh, attention given to underwater science as, as there is to other things, but anyway, there's, um, uh, you know, we know so little about it, it's so vast and so complicated and the systems, and, you know, we're, we're starting to learn a lot more right now with, um, how we've wrecked things.

Bill (00:32:11):

Uh, but anyway,

Abigail (00:32:14):

Well, so, you know, just in terms of the sort of collateral damage, I mean, was it, you know, you, I wanna get into some of the, I wanna get into the Narwhal story. I wanted a few other stories, but, but, um, but you, you know, just what were you seeing out there in the seventies and how does that compare to now? I mean, were there, were we worried about plastic in the ocean back then, or is that a new concern? You know, were the, were, you know, I think there have been a lot of more gas, you know, dumps by big tankers since then, or oil dumps. Um, what were like when you were diving in Antarctica, which is a very fertile ground for, for phyto phytoplankton and krill and, um, ocean churning, uh, what were some of the environmental things that were sort of most compelling to you and that you felt were most important?

Bill (00:33:10):

Well, believe it or not. I remember even when I was in the Antarctic very early, um, scientific papers on plastics in the Antarctic. You know, the plastic particles that would, uh, be in air column that would end up in the, on the, on the continent, on the polar plateau, uh, which was crazy to think about, but it was happening even back then. And now, of course it's a lot worse. Um, I was, you know, my, my I'm, I'm not a, uh, scientist, I'm not a biologist. Um, I don't have any formal training in science, but what I was, what I realized as I started on this journey, a lot of the animals and the, and the, the Marine environments that interested me the most were the less viewed and that people knew less about. I was not interested at all in photographing pretty fish on a Coral reef.

Bill (00:34:15):

I was drawn to the more, um, secretive places like the Antarctic, like actually the temperate waters off Maine, um, and not, I really wasn't interested in tropical things. Um, the, the polar and tempered sea temperate seas interested me the most. And I was, um, I sort of became once I started on this Marine mammal thing, I really realized that nobody really had photographed a lot of Marine mammals at all. <laugh>. Um, and I was just, you know, I was obsessed with bringing those animals into, into the light basically. And, and my, my, I guess my main mission was to photographing these animals in a way people would take a look and maybe get interested in, um, helping, you know, save them, you know, there was still a whale hunts all around the world when I started photographing whales. Um, but there still are a few, but, um, uh, you know, I don't, you know, I think the attention given to, to whales and other Marine mammals by organizations like the one you belong to, um, really, really turn, turn the tide on whale hunting and the, you know, know the Marine mammal act was, um, uh, part, in the US.

Bill (00:35:42):

Um, I think, I can't remember, I guess in the late seventies, you know, um, you can't kill Marine mammals anymore. You can't do anything. You can't even possess a, a, uh, bone or anything from a Marine mammal. Um, and those all good, good, good things. So, you know, the world started to become, uh, aware of, uh, these, the animals are in trouble and they're not gonna, you know, if we don't do something about it, uh, we, they're not gonna be around. And I think we did something about it. And I think my work may have had a tiny molecule of help along that. So

Abigail (00:36:18):

I think it, I think it absolutely did. I mean, you were a true pioneer. nobody had photographed some of these mammals that you had photographed. So this is, you know, I just want the viewers to understand how, how really seismic this was in terms of a, you know, sort of shift in the way we were thinking and the way we were discovering these, these beautiful, beautiful animals. So most of those podcasts is really about sort of classic startups and innovation that have a planetary benefit. And I, um, and there's been a little bit of light recently on sort of art and, you know, art training is sometimes the best training for actual, you know, classic entrepreneurs. And I, and I'm reading, you know, I read a lot about your journey and I, you know, experienced you firsthand years ago. And I, I think some of these sort of, I think you're sort of, it's like a wonderful sort of metaphor.

Abigail (00:37:12):

I mean, you were an entrepreneur, you were, you know, being an artist is being an entrepreneur. And, you know, I think the Arctic, the Arctic, um, trip that first trip that you took that seemed to be so seminal and, and sort of path changing for you really is about, you know, how to, how to think of something differently and, and explore a new area and an event in a way that's new and, and groundbreaking that nobody's ever done before. And then there was another story I read about, um, about the Narwhal that I think is a, you know, really exemplifies another really important lesson in entrepreneurship, which is persistence and, and just going the extra mile to, to get, you know, to, to get your, to your goal. Can, can you, and narwals are so dreamy. Um, can you tell us a little bit about that NARAL story? I just, I just love it.

Bill (00:38:12):

Well, the Narwhal story is pretty typical of my, my whole career. Um, I didn't have the benefit of talking to somebody who'd already done this before, you know, a lot of the work and the animals I photographed had really never been photographed. And I, you know, um, and I was kind of, you know, in, uh, unknown territory. and the Narwhal is just one example of the fact that, you know, I just, you know, I just didn't let little temporary problems get in my way. I mean, they did, of course, you know, and my work is very weather dependent and, um, you know, oftentimes I'd go somewhere and there was nothing to photograph, you know, I get, I would get talked into going somewhere by a, by a scientist often. And, um, I did either, I was there the wrong time of year, or, you know, um, just there was animals there, but there were not in a situation that I could, you know, uh, extract a usable image from, but the Nawal was, um, you know, I, I, I was gonna go do narwals for this whale story.

Bill (00:39:28):

And I sort of let myself be talked into joining this team that, um, when I, I, when I really got, we got into the, got to the Arctic and got camped on this island, and, um, I realized that wasn't really their mission. They were, they were there to do something else, a film on whatever, you know. Um, so, you know, I just decided to, uh, well, you know, I know there's, narwals in this bay, but, you know, um, I just decided to, oh, okay, I'm just gonna get in the water. And I just swam off all by myself from shore. Uh, you know, I just kept swimming, you know, many, many meters offshore and, you know, one morning when I did this sure enough, I could hear him coming. Um, they were vocalizing with their, between each, between themselves and, and all of a sudden there, they were all around me and I just was able to get these, the first photographs underwater of Narwhal. But that, that, that effort is pretty typical of all my assignments, you know, the, the effort it takes to, to get, uh, to, a place in these animals' lives, where you can, you know, extract a publishable image for the national geographic is, is everything. You know, in the, in the sometimes, you know, I I'll spend a month getting in my, myself in a situation where I can see and photograph something and I spend five minutes and it's over, it's done. And that's, that was the nature of my work.

Abigail (00:41:07):

So you said something that was just really caught my attention just now. Um, you know, you are the first guy who shot a narwhal, but that also means the narwhals hadn't really had much human interaction. So how did these great animals react to you coming in among them and, and photo photographing them?

Bill (00:41:30):

Well, that's, that's a great question. Question. And that's, um, and I know in my career, in many of these situations and many of the animals that I photographed, I, I was the very first, um, member of the human race I had ever seen. And I've never felt threatened by any Marine mammal ever, really. Um, I've never been harmed by one, or it just, just pretty amazing. They're, they're incredibly aware of you. Um, and where in a way, you're not aware of them at all before they see you, you know, dolphins, for example, know, you're there long before I would see them, you know, they're, they're using their sonar to figure out what's, what's in their world around them. And they, they literally can see like, into your, into your organs <laugh> and, um, they know you're there, um, long before I can. I know they're there.

Bill (00:42:39):

So they come towards you and, you know, they're echo locating you, which is like looking at you with their sonar, not with their eyes. They're looking at you with this echolocation and in their brains, they're have this visual image of who you are in a way that we, we don't see things. And, um, you know, oftentimes they're curious, very curious, and they often come right up to you. Some are shyer than others. Um, and some hang around some, just come by for a quick little hello, and you don't see 'em again, but, you know, you have to, um, be ready for those moments. And, um, I've, you know, I, I am very comfortable with the word curiosity when it comes to describing, uh, Marine mammal behavior vis a vi me often incredibly curious. I mean, I, I, I, there's no doubt in my mind about how intelligent these animals are.

Bill (00:43:39):

Um, I can say they are, um, I know they are, I feel it I've lived it, um, you know, a scientist needs to have more sort of, you know, data to say something like that, but there's no doubt in my mind, they're incredibly intelligent. They, you know, dolphin have these complex social groups they live in and, you know, you swim in these large groups and they have to, you know, they have to be, they're, they're attentive to their own social needs. You know, you're swimming with your grandmothers and your aunts and uncles and these big groups literally. And there's people, there's predators after them all the time, plus they have to feed themselves. So it's, it's a very interesting world and they've figured it out.

Abigail (00:44:26):

So you, you mentioned, um, sort of with the narwhals and then just those sort of Sonar, um, uh, sensories of the, of the dolphins. Um, the sound. So it's funny, cuz we don't think of sound so much as part of the underwater environment, but can you, can you speak to that a little bit and tell me some of the interesting things you've heard underwater?

Bill (00:44:57):

Well, you know, when I was a kid one, I think one of the reasons I ended up like this is I read Cousteau's book in the fifties, late fifties called silent world. And it didn't take me long to realize that the ocean, is anything but silent. It's, um, sound travels faster and farther underwater. And it's just, um, you can hear things underwater that you can, you can't believe, you know, even as a tourist jump swimming around in the off Maui in Hawaii, you can hear humpback whales, miles away, literally. Um, and the, the sound is it's a carcophony of, of noises. Marine mammals are communicating with each other all the time with sound and um, other other things, you know, and it's, you know, even on a coral reef, there's all this, all these animals making sounds and using sounds to find things. And, um, it's just not a silent world at all, like Cousteau', uh, the title of his book.

Bill (00:46:05):

And of course he knew it, but it was, it's a good title for the book. But, um, you know, when you do immerse yourself underwater, there's a moment. Um, and I think every diver has this sense. There's a moment when you you're just suddenly cut off from the whole world above you. And that, that you're cut off from the sound of the world above you, but it's like, there's something, there's something meditative about it being in the water. And you're literally in another, you're in another place, another medium in another, uh, world that's completely cut off from your normal world above, you know, and you, you're only a temporary visitor. Um, you can't stay there like all the other creatures that you're trying to photograph, but there's, there's this incredible attraction for me just to that, just, just immersing myself in my head underwater. It's like everything else goes away, all the troubles of that life above gone on.

Abigail (00:47:16):

Interesting. Um, uh, sorry. I got caught up in that. I gotta, I got every set. My thoughts. That was just beautiful. Um, uh, so tell me a little bit about, you know, you mentioned you could the, you know, sorry, the hump, the, the whales could sense you from far away. And um, how, how far can you see underwater? Like what is the, like these in these really pristine areas like the Antarctic and the Arctic?

Bill (00:47:51):

Well, the Antarctic, um, when you go to the Antarctic and dive under water in the early, early in the summer season, like in October in the Southern ocean, that's early spring there, um, you have to realize that the, the photo period has been shut down for six months, cuz the sun has been in the Northern hemisphere and the phytoplankton production has been nil. So the water in the Antarctic under that ice is literally gin clear. I have measured, I have personally measured a thousand feet of lateral visibility underwater, um, because we, as we would dive underwater, we'd blast these holes. And then when we would, um, dive and do the, all this benthic work, um, of following these scripps, oceanography people, they would sort of, um, travel as far away from the hole as was possible in a safe way. So then we would move down and blast another hole.

Bill (00:48:59):

And I remember coming up in a, a hole, um, and looking, looking over to a previous hole and see on the line we had left in the water. It was frozen in place, uh, a down line, big thick line and, um, anchor ice had attached to it. So it was really, you know, pretty thick about six inches thick with ice. And I remember I could see that so clearly. So I went up and stepped off on top of the ice, the distance from that of that observation. And it was over a thousand feet of lateral visibility. Wow. So that water is Gin clear before the, before the plankton bloom. Now, if you stay in that same place until February, you can't see this far in front of you because the plankton bloom is, is everywhere. And the, and the water is so thick with plankton cuz the sun's up 24 hours a day.

Bill (00:49:56):

So the production is clearly cranking, but you know, when I first went there in October, it was literally like swimming in gin was beautiful. Never I've never seen water that clear. So water's off Maine for example, as you know, not the clearest, but that's because, you know, there's a lot of plankton in the water and those waters are the most productive waters in the world really. Yeah. Um, you know, polar and temperate water. So it's the plankton that drives everything. And um, uh, especially if you've been in the oyster business, you know, all about plankton <laugh>

Abigail (00:50:32):

I do, I do. Um, and I also, you know, very conscientious of uh, conscientious of some of the, you know, concerns about losing our plankton and um, you know, and, and the just general degradation to, to the Gulf of Maine, which as you say is one of the most vital, um, places in the, in the world's oceans. So, um, uh, there is, there is definitely cause for concern. So, um, I have this sort of image now, if you're this sort of idyllic, meditative, beautiful world under the water, but you have had some as, as most entrepreneurs, there have been a few, uh, scary moments.

Bill (00:51:21):

Of course.

Abigail (00:51:22):

Um, I know there was, uh, a close encounter with a shark. Do you wanna tell us about that?

Bill (00:51:30):

Well, let's see. Um, I, um, only talk about that late night in bars with young women. So I,

Abigail (00:51:42):

laughs.

Bill (00:51:42):

um, no, I'm joking. Of course.

Abigail (00:51:44):

I Know. I know.

Bill (00:51:45):

But, um, you know, I was in, um, I was on this assignment for, uh, sort of the tagline was Polynesian seafares. And I was with this Intrepid, um, sailor who, um, written a book, um, about Polynesian navigation and um, chronicled these, um, uh, you know, Carolinian, um, sailors who sailed all over the place. They knew exact, they know exactly where they were. They don't have a compass, they just used the stars, the birds, the water, they just, you know, knew where they were all the time and sailing long distances between these islands. His name was David Lewis. Um, and he was a really interesting guy and he was the writer of this, uh, Polynesian seafaring article. And we were in the Caroline islands where he had been before. And I was on a, we had chartered a sailboat. We were following these Carolinian canoes, um, around, uh, the, that part of Micronesia.

Bill (00:52:52):

And we went into this lagoon overnight to anchor and, you know, I, you know, it was late afternoon. Uh, I was, you know, it was always hot, you know, and I, it wasn't an underwater assignment, so I mean, I'm in this amazing place. And, um, I was always jumping in the water, um, because that's what I, who I am. And I jumped in the water and, you know, uh, swimming, snorkeling around. And all of a sudden, I, I dove down to the bottom of this lagoon, so on my way back up and sort of turning around and then I got halfway around and I saw this blur coming at my head and I only had time to put my hand up and he shark bit my hand. And I got up to the surface of course, and, um, started to yell and scream as loud as I could.

Bill (00:53:43):

And, um, while I was swimming, um, on my back, for some reason I turned on my back, I don't know why. I think, you know, your vental side is the most vulnerable with all your, you know, right. But I think I didn't even think about it. And I just did. I was just, but every time I did my left hand in the water, there's a big cloud of blood and I could see this shark again coming after me <laugh> um, and he, he must have gone on under me and around me. And he came behind me and raked my shoulder with his teeth. He didn't bite me. He wasn't, he wasn't trying to eat me. Right. Um, this is a gray reef shark. They're very territorial and kind of have a terrible reputation, um, in, in that part of the world. And, um, uh, I don't know.

Bill (00:54:33):

I was just, you know, desperately swimming as fast as I could, um, to get back to the boat. And in the meantime, somebody had jumped in a little skiff and was coming after me. Um, so I, there wasn't a moment. It's funny. It wasn't a moment where I was climbing into the, this little skiff I flew into it. Literally. I just, it was like, that was it. Well, I wasn't trying to climb in, I just flew into the boat. Um, and you know, I had this little, little movie little, uh, film in my head about my whole life. I remember as I was doing this swim thinking, well, this is it Bill. But I remember thinking about my dog as a kid, my girlfriend at the time I was, I remember saying, thinking of Mr. Gilka, he's gonna be so disappointed. I'm not able to finish this assignment.

Bill (00:55:27):

<laugh> so all this, these things were in my head as I was, you know, and that, that people talk about this movie and you know, it really it's real. It happens. I, I had it,. but anyway, I got in the boat and we were able to finally, after many attempts get to, well, we tried to get to a, and I got a, we turned a MailBoat around to pick me up at this island and got to, uh, I can't remember cypan and then finally flew to Guam to a Navy hospital. But by the time I got to a, an antiseptic facility, there was nothing they could do because it all my hand and my shoulder, it all just crushed it over, you know, was really all the tissue was really hard. And, um, um. So I had to do, I had to undergo what was called a secondary closure, but I had to wait to do that. Cause I had to soak my hand and my shoulder, uh, for a couple weeks. Um, anyway, I, as it happens, the geographic, the editor of the magazine was on his way back from Australia somewhere. And he, he came and picked me up and took me back to DC and they set me up with his hand surgeon and, and that's, um, that's what happened. So,

Abigail (00:56:42):

wow, amazing.

New Speaker (00:56:43):

I know it's pretty, pretty crazy.

Abigail (00:56:45):

Well, I'm glad, I'm glad you're here to tell the tale <laugh> um, uh, although I know sharks get kind of a bum wrap and, uh,

Bill (00:56:54):

Yeah, they do.

Abigail (00:56:55):

You don't wanna, we don't wanna sort of, kind of proliferate that, um, the, the BU wrap, but, um, so what was your, like, is there anything about sort of being underwater that really surprised you, like what's the sort of most surprising or unusual thing that you ever did or saw or felt,

Bill (00:57:21):

You know, my whole career was unusual. <laugh> my whole career was surprising and, you know, I, I was lucky to, to be in this situation where I was allowed to go and photograph things that nobody had ever seen. Um, so everything I did was new and unbelievably exciting. And, um, you know, I remember, well, the dolphin and, you know, thing, one thing leads to another. I remember, um, well I was working with actually Ken Brower who wrote, uh, wake, we did the book wake of the whale together, and that's another, that's another whole story. That's another, um, big moment in my career. Um, but anyway, Ken, we, we worked on these dolphins together off of the big island of Hawaii out in this blue water where nobody had really, nobody had really gone out there and looked around, um, believe it or not, it wasn't on a reef.

Bill (00:58:16):

It was way off, uh, very deep water off the, you know, the, um, Leeward side of the big island where you can work in a small boat. You can go, you know, 40 miles out because you're in this, the shadow of the, uh, wind, because it's a very, very high island and, um, pretty calm. So, um, at the end of the day, as we would do the, this dolphin stuff, we would start to see things that you never never saw before. And what we were seeing were a lot of larval creatures, uh, from the deep scattering layer who were just coming up earlier than, you know, during, at late in the afternoon, coming up from the deep as they do, they come up at night, all these animals from the, that layer. And, um, we started to see 'em as we were ending up our day with dolphins and thought about it. And then I talked the geographic and letting me go back and do, um, well diving at night off of Hawaii. Um, so we would, that's what we did. We, uh, went back and built this Rube Goldberg, shark cage contraption, cuz there's big tiger sharks around. Yeah. Outta plastic, take out a PVC pipe and plexiglass rigged up

Bill (00:59:40):

Car, car headlights, uh, on, on, I had a battery running car headlights and um, we thought we were gonna sit in there and see all these animals. Well, you know, what we didn't realize was the, we had a little 17 foot Boston Whaler. We dumped the thing over from and, um, it just acted as a sea anchor and everything was drift and everything was drifted by. We couldn't do anything from the cage we had to get out of it and swim around, which was pretty hairy, cuz it was like diving in ink <laugh> and uh, you couldn't see very far, you know, you could only see what your light, you had a light on, on your housing and my underwater housing and um, you would shine it around and look for something and you would, the light would pick up something and you would swim over to it and start to photograph it. And these were amazing things you just don't see during the day at all. They were just, uh, larall everything, you know, and jellyfish and I'd never see before. And it was just incredible.

Abigail (01:00:44):

Wow,

Bill (01:00:45):

Amazing. So, you know, that dolphin story led to that. You know, I was, I saw these things from and later in the day and um, went back to do 'em and did another assignment out there on this deep, deep, uh, deep thing at night. So,

Abigail (01:01:04):

Um, so, uh, you've, you've moved on, You have a new life now you're you've you've taken a, a different step you're you've you're tell me about, well, oh actually, sorry. I wanna go back. Sorry. I forgot about that. Um, I do wanna hear more about the wake of the whale. I remember it coming out. Um, and I just remember it being really, really exciting. And the images in that book are sort of ingrained in my head, um, from the leopard seal to the, the cover of the, of that, um, with the humpback whale, um, those were, those were really, um, impactful images of my youth. What, what do, what year did you publish that book? (MAYBE SUMMARIZE BOOK IN VO AND CONCLUDE HERE)

Bill (01:02:05):

81, 80 or 81. Yeah. So that, you know, as I was doing this Marine mammal work, I, I realized that I had a, a pretty amazing collection of, of animals that nobody had ever really photographed before and, and, you know, pictures of some people had, but it was a very unique collection of uh, whale seals and dolphins. And, you know, I was, uh, in college introduced to these, uh, Sierra club exhibit format books that were created by David Brower. And he did many of these books. These books were so important in my life and the most important one was a book called not man apart, which was, um, photographs of the big Sarah coast with poetry by Robinson Jeffers. And it was just, I was, you know, of roommate in college showed me this book and it was really, you know, uh, that was, that was a book that changed my life.

Bill (01:03:04):

No kidding. Um, and as some books do, and you know, I went this Big Sur, and, um, uh, looked at this place and this book was so huge to me. Of course then I got interrupted by the Navy, but in anyway in a good way as it happened. And, um, so as I was working for the geographic and ha getting this collection of Marine memo work, I, I, I wrote David Brower at the, uh, he was then had friends of the earth. He had moved on from the Sierra club. I wrote him and sent him a list of, um, uh, photographs I had of Marine mammals, whether I had 'em underwater on the surface or whatever. And I guess it was sort of an impressive list, but he didn't get back to me for a whole year. So, um, one morning in Bedford pool, I get this phone call.

Bill (01:03:59):

Hi, um, this is David Brower, I'm at the Portland jet port. I'm wondering if I can come see you and look at your work <laugh> so it took him a whole year, but you know, he, he, I went and picked him up and we, he came and spent it two or three days at Bedford pool. And, um, uh, in a, in, in two weeks, uh, he sent his son, Ken Brower, who actually was, um, worked on the book, not me apart. That was such a big, big, important book for me and Ken and I, you know, he stayed around for about a month, stayed in our cottage there at the pool. And, um, he interviewed me every day almost. And the wake of the whale was, uh, what came out of all that. And that was that those books were, those exhibit format books were, um, just, just, uh, amazing to me, you know, this big photo books on nature that David Brower created.

Bill (01:05:00):

Um, there was nothing like it in America. I mean, in Europe, there were big photo books like that, but there weren't big books on nature, uh, until David Brower and his people he worked with brought, brought them to the American public and he got a lot of pushback from it because a lot of, um, you know, bookstores and publishers said, well, there's no room on a bookshelf for a book that big <laugh>. Um, but you know, he just pressed on and his legacy is incredible in the publishing world. In my mind, he, he did those books and they were, they were so important to a lot of people and, you know, surely to me. So, and then, you know, wake of the whale came out and that was my first book and never looked back.

Abigail (01:05:43):

So, um, so, uh, your, uh, Kenneth Brower wrote the book.

Bill (01:05:50):

Yep.

Abigail (01:05:51):

And, and he's somebody that, um, wrote a lot for national geographic.

Bill (01:05:57):

He has.

Abigail (01:05:58):

And you worked with him while you were at national geographic as well?

Bill (01:06:03):

Yes.

Abigail (01:06:04):

And he's, he's still writing about you.

Bill (01:06:08):

Yes, he is. <laugh>

Abigail (01:06:10):

So tell me about, tell me about what's going, I know you have a new life and I wanna sort of, um, get to that, but I, I wanna know right now cuz you've been out of the industry for a while. Um, but there's, there's a, there's an interest from not just me, but other people around you who in, in taking another look at this work today. Um, and so what's what's going on.

Bill (01:06:36):

So, you know, you know, I'm, I've, you know, you knew my, my wife, Kate who passed away in oh three, 2003, and that was sort of the beginning of the fo professional photography world that I knew sort of devolving in my mind or evolving into something else. You know, the stock photo business was ending, you know, I, I, I wasn't getting phone calls anymore, you know, Hey

Abigail (01:07:06):

Hey Bill, I lost you. So can you start that again? 2003, we, Kate passed away. Can you just start that whole bit again? Sorry you blip out.

Bill (01:07:17):

Okay. Um, can you hear me okay?

Abigail (01:07:19):

Yep. Yep.

Bill (01:07:20):

So, you know, in 2003, um, I actually, my wife passed away Kate, who you knew. Um, and it was sort of the beginning of the photo, uh, professional photo world that I knew was starting to evolve into something else. Um, the stock photo business I had was, you know, just, just ending, I wasn't getting phone calls anymore for stock photos. Um, big agencies were buying out people like me and, um, it just started to change and the sort of the digital thing started to come in around. Then my last story in the geographic was on Harbor purposes in the Gulf of Maine, which is something I wanted to do for a long time. And, um, that was in June of 2003, same the same month that Kate died. But so, you know, I was, I was ready to do something else. I was just sort of, um, you know, sort of, um, uh, you know, I'd done the geographic thing.

Bill (01:08:29):

Um, I stock photo business was ending and, you know, just kind of looking around for something else. And then in 2004, I got this phone call from an Italian publisher who had knew my, he, he knew my work from the geographic because he published national geographic books in, in Italian. This guy calls me up and he says, um, bill, I'd like to publish a book of a retrospective of your work in nine, nine languages in 11 countries and was like, ha ha ha ha. Right. That's what they all say. Well, turns out that is exactly what he did. And this book was, uh, the book Extreme Nature, what was published in oh five. And it was a book that I wrote completely. It was a pretty big book. And, um, it was the most successful book I've done, you know, we've, you know, I had a lot of promotional stuff on the east coast was on CNN, went to New York and Boston and all over the place. (summarize sucess of book in vo and conclude)

Bill (01:09:36):

And then, you know, I thought I had this idea of doing a west coast tour with a book and I talked my publisher, um, into paying for a rental car. And I said, I'll figure out a way to, you know, you know, you know, pay for hotels and all. And, um, he said, okay. And I set up this with a help of a couple friends out in the west coast, set up this book tour that started in LA and ended in Vancouver, Canada. And along the way, um, met, I met in port town. I came to port Townson to do a, a couple of, um, events, book signings and lectures, and met my current wife and partner, Sue Olson, uh, who owns a own, a little roasting business. And that's how, that's how that all started. So, and I was, I was kind of ready to leave Maine, you know, I never, I never imagined leaving Maine ever, but, you know, sort of, you know, I was just, you know, I was constantly asked about C and, you know, I just thought, oh, you know, this, you know, the opportunity came along and I just, I just took it and I moved out here in oh six and sold my house in Yarmouth in oh seven.

Bill (01:11:00):

And here I am.

Abigail (01:11:04):

Well, I think it's always good to, um, turn the page and start new chapters. And I think that's, you know, part of the entrepreneurial spirit too, and you clearly have it just, you know, it was very sad. I remember, I remember when Kate passed away, I just remember feeling very sad and I, I also remember her being sort of intrinsically part of that life you had. I remember, um, there was a photo of her swimming with a humpback, well, riding away almost. I remember that

Bill (01:11:36):

Nearby. Yeah. Swimming was one. Yeah.

Abigail (01:11:38):

Um, uh, and, um, and so I understand that, um, you know, that chart starting a new, a new chapter is, is, is important. So are there, um, are there any lessons from, or any ways in which this past experience is forming your, your present one, I read a bit about your, uh, sunrise cafe company and some of your, the way your roasting coffee seems very ecologically minded. Um, are, are, is that, do you think they're passed, has something to do with the way you're approaching this new adventure?

Bill (01:12:21):

Well, the coffee business is, um, pretty interesting. Of course, it's very international, um, Sue, um, sunrise coffee company. Um, the cafe is just a small part of it. The, our wholesale business is our biggest, our biggest unit. Um, but you know, I, I love the coffee business, you know, it's, um, you're constantly, um, of course it's been really hard the past two and a half years with COVID EV and now the supply chain thing is just a E every day. There's, you know, an issue about supply chain, but, you know, we're, we're getting through it. And, um, we've had to close down our inside cafe, uh, coffee house, and we're still not open, but we're gonna open in September finally. And we've built this beautiful outdoor space. So, and in, in a walkup window. So, you know, we're, we're, we're hanging in there and, um, we're so anxious to get back and open up our business, which we're gonna do in a few weeks, but you know, the coffee, when I, when I realized, um, I was, I moved out here to sort of continue trying to work the stock photo world.

Bill (01:13:35):

And I, you know, I kind of looked around at this coffee business and Sue, um, she was doing this all by herself. She didn't have any help. She, um, didn't even have a logo. Didn't have even the idea of how to promote herself and, you know, what does a freelance photographer know how to do better than anything else is sell themselves? So, you know, I kind of started working with the coffee biz in the, in the marketing side. And, um, I, we went to see a local artist. We, we were, we were trying to find a logo and an, an, a way to brand our business. Um, and I went to this local artist and, um, looked at his work and he was exactly what we wanted. And this guy, max Grover has, um, created labels for every one of our blends. I think we have 16 or 16 to 20 labels right now. Um, and except for one, we have another Alaska artist do one, but, um, you know, it's just been, uh, pretty successful, you know, they're, um, yeah, we've, we've, we've, uh, really gone.

Bill (01:14:50):

Just one. We, you know, just increased our business, especially our wholesale business every year. We just, actually, we just, in the last couple months, got a big new account, a grocery store account here in, uh, uh, in this area, in the Puget sound area. And, um, we're still growing, you know, we have a great right now, we have a great team. We have a brilliant manager and, um, you know, we're all hanging in there, hoping we, the thing gets over with so we can get back to, you know, hope the COVID thing ends and the supply chain thing gets worked out so we can, you know, have, do some more creative things with our business. We only buy organic coffee we're, um, we own, uh, the most environmentally sustainable roaster in the, in the industry and in this town, in port Townsend, this, um, this roaster we have, it's called, it's a lowering L O R I N G.

Bill (01:15:47):

And it's made, actually made in America, it's, uh, boast, environmentally friendly roaster. And we've, we saw this roaster at trade shows for years and knew we wanted one and, you know, we're had an account, we kept putting money in and, um, we were gonna go, we had 20,000, this was a hundred thousand dollars investment. We had 20 and, um, we were gonna go to the bank and the bank was doing a banks do. Um, but there's this group in port Townson called, um, lion local invest in investment opportunity network. And these are a group of people who live here and have the wherewithal to invest in their community. And they loan us $80,000

Abigail (01:16:33):

Wow.

Bill (01:16:34):

To buy this roaster. So, you know, five people there were, let's see, I didn't, we had, we put the word out, we wanted, we filled in the application and we had, um, people, you know, we had 20 people in our, in our business who wanted the loan money, but I couldn't take money from 20 people. So we, we picked five, uh, for the balance that we needed. And, um, yeah, we paid it off last year, the whole thing. So we're that's,

Abigail (01:17:04):

And I, I do think that, uh, that is a trend across America. That is very heartwarming is that, uh, you know, communities are really interested in promoting and helping their local entrepreneurs. It's a, it's a very, it's a very good, good thing. Um, yeah, so you've, I, you know, I, I getting back to there's some, either, either you've got an exhibit going on, I think there's an, there's an opportunity to you're, you're looking at printing some of your old photographs for people to purchase. Um, uh, Kenneth bro wrote this lovely book on you, this new smaller book, um, uh, how can people sort of get, learn, learn more about all of this and get closer to some of your work right now?

Bill (01:18:01):

Well, I mean, that's easy bill curtsinger.com, but, um, this all came about this local, uh, show, um, you know, I've been, um, I haven't really talked, I don't talk about my former life here very much. Uh, people hardly know what I used to do until, um, the executive director and another principal at this north, north wind art institution here, um, came to me a little over a year ago and said, um, we'd like to, uh, do a, you know, Mount a show of your work here in a gallery, do a book, and we want to do a portfolio and, um, to raise money for our, our, um, our work. And, um, how, how could I say no? So they did all that. They, they created this portfolio of five images. It's beautiful portfolio. It's pretty amazing to, to see it's just so professionally done. And, um, it's big, you know, it's big thing of, uh, bound thing and it's, um, they, those portfolios raised, um, $45,000 for the, for Northman art.

Bill (01:19:25):

Wow. That's and then they, they did a show in their gallery last fall for two months, September and October, I made, you know, more money than I've ever made in a gallery ever. And that was, you know, I'm only getting 40% of what, what was sold. Yeah. So it was a, you know, really great experience. And then they, they did this little book. So, um, on the back of that book is a, is a, a little quote from a really good friend. And, uh, uh, someone who I've, I guess, mentored Brian, scary, um, who talks about what, you know, what my work meant to him. And now he's, he's one of the most famous underwater photographers in the world. And I'm so proud of him. So we're thinking about doing another book together, Brian scary, and I, and Ken, um, but that's a work in progress. I was hoping to link off. I was hoping to slink off into the sunset in my coffee career here. And, um, all of a sudden I'm back back in the underwater thing. So I'm not, I'm not, I'm not photographing underwater. I'm just, you know, anyway,

Abigail (01:20:43):

Not a chance. Do you still go diving?

Bill (01:20:46):

Nope, I'm done.

Abigail (01:20:49):

Wow. Um, so, uh, can people, can people buy your, your images somewhere today?

Bill (01:20:57):

The bill tinger.com bill tinger.com

Abigail (01:21:01):

Can buy. Okay. Yeah. Great. Um, it's been really, uh, just great. I can't thank you enough, Phil, for letting me interview you, but just, you know, being open to communicating it just, it, you know, I've, um, I've learned and followed your journey with such great interest and I've, you know, the role you've had in, in the, you know, in the photography world is obviously, uh, you know, out huge. And, but I think in a greater sense, you opened up this world of Marine mammals and, and, uh, concern for the Marine ecology to, um, to others. Who've been able to build on it and, and really, you know, sort of through, through awareness, make people really interested and bring people's concern to the go ahead.

Bill (01:22:05):

So I'm gonna back up a sec. So when I was on this book tour for extreme nature, I can't tell you how many people came up to me with a copy of wake of the whale and said to me words like, um, I'm a Marine biologist because of this book. I mean, I, I don't know several people come bring for me to sign their wake of the whale, how many years later? Um, so I don't know, you can't, you can't really ask for more than that. Um, that, that, that right there is about as rewarding a thing that any photographer or anybody in my business could ever ask for.

Abigail (01:22:56):

Um, I can, I can understand that. I just it's, you know, you were doing something completely novel at a time when everybody was looking elsewhere and, uh, you opened a door, you know, you took some incredible pictures and you showed people things they hadn't seen before, but you Al also just really opened a door. Well, thank you. And that is, that is a, a huge gift, a huge gift to, you know, humanity. So thank you so much. Um, and you're welcome. Seriously felt seriously, bill. It's just great to see you are

Bill (01:23:33):

Your, are your parents around,

Abigail (01:23:35):

So I'm sorry, they're not here right now. I, all the plans got flipped around, um, I'm down in, uh, in Gloucester. Okay. Um, and, uh, I'm sorry. Uh, that's just my bad planning. Um, I absolutely say hello. And, uh, again, you know, I'd asked dad where you were a few years ago and he was, he's been tracking you. So he's been well aware of your life as a, as a roaster wholesaler and coffee shop. Um, co-owner for the last few years, but they definitely send their love. And, um, uh, you know, if you're ever in these parts, please, please, uh, you know, reach out you've, you've actually, you know, your whole move to the west coast. You said something that was just really meaningful. This is not going on the podcast. This is very personal. Um, but you know, my oyster farm became quite a thing and, uh, was all encompassing. And I sold it, uh, you know, 18 months ago. And, you know, I'm trying to figure out what the next steps are. And I, you know, I'm, I'm actually kind of homeless in Maine and trying to figure out where to live and, um, and not really fight the right fit. And there is something very interesting to me about your move left. Just, just, uh, picking up, going out to the great, no Northwest and, and, and just doing something really different. That's really well.

Bill (01:25:17):

It's not, you know, moving to the, moving out here, sort of coincides with my, my whole life, you know, jumping in jump, just, just jumping in, you know, realizing that, um, you, you know, you don't really know how I, things will turn out, but why not go figure it out? Just jump, jump in, jump in the water, move the Pacific Northwest, um, leave all your friends behind, which was the hard part. But, um, and a little, it was a little scary, but you know, it's all worked out anyway. Certainly, you know, my Justin, our first son is still in Portland. Oh, yes. Yeah. He owns a, he owns a music rehearsal business called grime studio. God, he's on God. He's right in presump Scott street, he has a, he has a Facebook page. You can find him grime studio. He's a heavy, heavy metal dude himself, but he has this business that he's been expanding now. And I was he two and a half years ago when I was in Maine in November of 2019, I was helping him build this addition on his business. And he's just now finishing up part of it. Most of it now, um, expand, he's got 20, almost 30 plus rooms that he rents out to musicians to practice in, you know? And they, they, he rents him out by rents him out by the day, the week or long, you know, long term.

Abigail (01:26:57):

Well, I will look him. I babysat Justin, but you have two, two kids. Right? You have two, you have another boy,

Bill (01:27:04):

Uh, Owen

Abigail (01:27:05):

Owen. So where's Owen,

Bill (01:27:08):

He's a art teacher in Fort worth, Texas.

Abigail (01:27:11):

Oh my God. Wow. Uh, uh, so you guys are spread all over. Do you get to see each other?

Bill (01:27:20):

Uh, yeah. I mean, I haven't been, I haven't traveled for, since COVID, I haven't seen Justin since November of 2019. Owen did come here last summer when things looked like they were easing up.

Abigail (01:27:32):

Yeah.

Bill (01:27:34):

And, um, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm anxious to, to come to Maine. I'm, I'm thinking about coming to Maine in October, so,

Abigail (01:27:41):

Oh, oh, I'd love to say hi. Yeah, we could have, we could, there's some coffee shops that I could, uh, have you been to coffee by design?

Bill (01:27:50):

Of course I actually coffee by design. I, I knew he had this roaster that we wanted these ING, this flooring roaster. Yeah. Alan, Alan, I forget his last name. Um, I went to see him as we were thinking about this and he gave me the name of the sales guy at loing to talk to.

Abigail (01:28:11):

Okay.

Bill (01:28:12):

And he, let me go back into his roastery and just hang around for a day or half a day, whatever it was.

Abigail (01:28:18):

Yeah. Just watch it,

Bill (01:28:19):

Watch this roaster at work. And that was, that was when I was really convinced we had to have one by crook.

Abigail (01:28:26):

That's awesome. Uh, well, the community voted, right? Yeah. <laugh>, that's the best kind of entrepreneurship is when you know, the community wants it and you give it, that's why I felt like about my oyster farm tours. That's really the only thing we ever made any money off of. And, uh, it really kept us a flows, but that way, um, was, you know, people just kept asking to come to the farm and that took my boat. It took me, it took all these resources and I almost to kind of shut it down. I put a price tag on it, and then, you know, and then all of a sudden, you know, the people were asking me just to, to come out to visit cuz they were just honestly interested. They were like bringing all their friends and you know, and, and we booked thousands of people on this six foot, sorry, uh, 17 foot, you know, Carolina skiff that we used for work too. So it was dirty, like the dirty or the better, it was like authentic, you know, authentic. And, um, uh, but that was really ended up being our, our like big source of, of revenue was just, um, you know, and so, you

Bill (01:29:32):

Know, um,

Abigail (01:29:33):

Go ahead.

Bill (01:29:34):

Well, Susan's an icon in this town, you know, long before I came here, everybody knows who she is. Um, you know, coffee is, coffee is one of those things. It's not, it's different from alcohol. Um, it's, there's something about it that, that, um, brings people together in a sincere way. Um, unlike alcohol, um, I don't, I mean, I, I hardly drink anymore, but, um, it's just, you know, it's just, uh, you know, people gravitated to this little roastery that Sue had and, um, she is literally, she was a bus driver in the town and she was a, was a in the fire department. And, you know, she, she done a hundred jobs around, as you can imagine, like you have to do. Um, and, um, you know, when we went to, to borrow money from this group, I mean, that's why we had so many people wanting to give us money. It was mostly because of coffee Sue. Right. You know, her, her reputation. Yeah. It was pretty amazing. So it still is anyway.

Abigail (01:30:45):

Well, I'm delayed for you. I would, I would seriously love to see you in October. I'm gonna, uh, be gone for still this sort of beginning of October, but then I'll be around. So if you happen to be here, um, you know, if, if, if we're INM at the same time, it would be really a joy. I keep an eye on your house. Um, and, uh, but thank you so much. Just

Bill (01:31:08):

Really great. Great to talk with you. Hope this is what you wanted.

Abigail (01:31:13):

It's perfect. It's perfect. I hope I I'm, I'm always the problem. I get nervous and tongue tied, so, but I can edit that out. Um, but yeah, uh, um, just, uh, say thank you again to Sue for sparing you, uh, for this time. And, um, so great to meet you. I hope to meet you in person. Um, maybe I'll come be one of your baristas. That would life.

Bill (01:31:40):

We need one.

Abigail (01:31:42):

Oh, good. Cause I need a job. <laugh> that's not gonna pay the bills, obviously. <laugh> good care.

Bill (01:31:53):

Bye.