When Curtis Mann drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Chicago one day, he thought he was just going to attend a lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP). Instead, he changed the course of his life.
Working as a mechanical engineer in Ohio, he began studying photography at the University of Dayton, and never looked back. “As soon as I saw my first exhibition at the MoCP, Painting on Photography, I had Columbia on my list of possible graduate schools and had a pretty good feeling I’d be back,” he says.
Meeting the faculty sealed the deal. “It was one part scholarship, one part meeting Barbara Kasten, and one part just pure gut feelings that it was the right place for me.”
Curtis recalls his most memorable times at the college as “a blur of laughs and hard work and stressful moments I had working at the MoCP,” which he describes as his “second family.” Along the way, he learned that “nothing will replace dedication, working through your problems and your ruts, and remembering to always trust your instincts and your abilities.”
That approach has worked well for Curtis: In 2009 his work was featured in a solo show at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art as part of its “UBS 12 x 12” series, and he was selected to show in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, among the most prestigious contemporary art exhibitions in the world. “His success … is due entirely to his vision and talent for developing a singular and sustained voice through which to talk about his concerns as an artist,” Chicago photographer Dawoud Bey, who was one of Mann’s professors at Columbia, wrote in Art Talk Chicago.
Curtis envisions a future “of creating, making things, challenging myself, late nights, cute dogs, an amazing wife, and a kid who hopefully is much less mischievous than I was.” That future will be shaped by his time at Columbia. “The greatest personal reward is being able to take with me all the voices, advice, encouragements, and challenges that still rumble around in my head every single time I am in the studio making work,” he says. “This collage of the help I received for three years at Columbia will be with me throughout my career.”
Gallery: Photographs by Curtis Mann