From the moment he was plucked from obscurity to become the face of runway shows, ad campaigns, TV commercials, and magazine covers, Pennsylvania native Bill Curry has kept his gaze on the other side of the lens. He bought a Canon AE-1 camera on his first trip to Europe as a model for Nino Cerruti in the late 1970s. After shooting while on location in Greece, he would wander the streets and countryside to immerse himself in the local culture, a learning experience that continued as he traveled the world for the next 25 years. Arriving in New York at the fashion world’s zenith, he enjoyed the social benefits of representing Armani, Versace, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Donna Karan by keeping company with Andy Warhol at The Factory and many celebrities of that era at Studio 54.
Meanwhile, Curry was exploring his own interests off the set. After a trip to Morocco, he mingled with Berber tribesmen and explored the famous souks of Marrakesh. Curry also attended a Karuk sweat lodge ceremony with medicine man Charles Red Hawk Thom, who would be a spiritual mentor to him for the next 25 years. The stark contrasts between Curry’s hyperactive modern existence and the authenticity of tribal life brought home to him the importance of sincerity on both sides of the lens. More than most, he saw how a photograph could be no more than a paper image unless it reflected a deeper relationship of trust. A lifelong admirer of National Geographic, Curry aspired to the same insider approach, spending hours and days in a community before attempting his first shot. His charisma, lively curiosity, and natural ease inevitably won his subjects’ trust. He likes to quote the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: “One has to feel oneself involved in what he frames . . . It is putting one’s head, eyes, and heart on the same axis.”
In Taos, where he has lived since 1992, Curry found a magical light and harmonious balance between three rich cultural traditions, anchored by the centuries-old heritage of Taos Pueblo. “Immediately, seeing the characters and the land and the culture, there was no doubt that this is the place I had to be for the rest of my life,” he recalls. As he met and mingled with the town’s residents, Curry found opportunities to photograph Taos Pueblo governor Tony Reyna, painter Agnes Martin (he simply knocked on her door), curandera Margarita Mascareñas (at age 100), not to mention Roxanne Swentzell and Robert Mirabal. In the case of the latter, the Grammy Award-winning musician had Curry shoot his concert at Carnegie Hall and a commercial for his winery as well as intimate portraits at home with his daughters. “Whether it’s cowboys, Indians, poets, painters, or musicians, it’s access,” Curry explains. “The best reality for any portrait photographer is to have access to someone, in comfort and with ease. That’s when you get your very best portrait.”
For Trend, Bill Curry presents the diverse faces of Taos through a lens that recognizes the inner quality that makes for more than just a pretty face or nice photo. “The other incarnations of my life certainly led to me traveling the world and picking up a camera and understanding light,” Curry says, looking back at his two-decade career on this side of the lens. “But at the end of the day, it’s really New Mexico itself that has made me a much better photographer.”