This summer, Jennifer Schlesinger Hanson taught for the first time at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, instructing students in the antique art of making prints with albumen, or egg white. From October 24 to January 3, Verve Gallery, where she has served as director since 2005, will display her work as part of a group exhibition. “When people see an albumen print, they think of old, historical things,” she says. Her Utopia series plays with that perception by incorporating digital manipulation and other “false” elements into landscape shots that are then printed with albumen (505-982-5009; vervegallery.com). Joe McNally, a longtime instructor at the Workshops, also happens to be “perhaps the most versatile photojournalist working today,” according to American Photo magazine. Forty-five photographs from his career as a contributor to the likes of Life, Newsweek, and National Geographic will be on exhibit October 3–November 23 at Monroe Gallery, which specializes in black and white photography. (505) 992-0800; monroegallery.com
Basics of Digital Photography
“Get off auto” is the unofficial motto of this beginners’ workshop, where students wrest control from in-camera computers by learning their way around apertures, shutter speeds, lenses, and more. Taught by Will Van Beckum.
Intensive: Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop for Photographers
In the nineties, Santa Fe hosted one of the first Photoshop workshops anywhere in the world. Rick Allred jumped on board, and he’s been working with and teaching Adobe’s photo-editing suite ever since. Lightroom, the focus of this workshop geared toward pros and dedicated amateurs, combines photo-processing capabilities with a library module that helps keep photos organized.
The award-winning Native photographer Will Wilson teaches this new workshop on the haunting 19th-century collodion process for which his photographs have become known. You can read more about his work in our 2013 article, “Will Wilson’s Improved Self-Images” (mynm.us/nm-wilson).
Nikon D800: Getting the Most from Your Camera
Thanks in part to its high-quality sensor, the D800 is “one of the most amazing pieces of photographic equipment ever made,” says instructor Eduardo Rubiano, whose workshop offers personalized instruction to help students master this sophisticated camera.
Intensive: Basics of Digital Printmaking
“A photograph isn’t really finished until you hold a print of it in your hand,” says Will Van Beckum, who helps students save their shots from “digital purgatory” with instruction on subjects including calibration, color optimization, printer maintenance, and paper selection.
MAC FARNSWORTH WAS LEANING on the bar, shooting bottles. A summer storm had been gathering over Main Street all afternoon, and the pale daylight trickling in through the swinging doors left the saloon murky. He squinted and shot again.
“This is just total freedom,” he said, scooping his cowboy hat off the bar. “Look at what happens when I adjust the aperture. There’s no way I’d get that light on auto.”
All across an empty Bonanza Creek movie set, Farnsworth’s fellow “Basics of Digital Photography” students fanned out with itchy shutter fingers, taming the West one weathered barn door or artfully framed windmill at a time. Their instructor, Rick Allred, roamed from camera to camera like a kindly but vigilant sheriff, dropping hints: Up this shutter speed, widen that lens.
“My favorite thing about teaching this course is that people come in with different versions of I can’t—‘I can’t take good photos,’ ‘I can’t get off auto,’” Allred said. “Over the course of the week you see them have these little epiphanies.”
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, whose offerings range from Allred’s introductory course to programs that draw professional photographers from around the world, was born, in 1990, from a similar moment of inspiration. After working for 14 years at the seminal Maine Photographic Workshops, Reid Callanan decided it was time to strike out on his own—and to head west.
“I wanted to go to a different part of the country and have a different audience,” said Callanan, who at 60 retains the casually rugged demeanor and swept-back hair suited to his role as owner and director of Santa Fe Workshops. “Santa Fe has this mystique about it as an artistic, creative community—which is not just a mystique, it’s a reality. A lot of photographers have lived or visited here, from Paul Strand to Ansel Adams.”
Mystique or no, Santa Fe’s photo scene was just coming into its own when the Workshops arrived. “At the time there were a lot of people leaving big cities” for artistic Western towns, said Norman Mauskopf, a highly regarded documentary photographer who moved to Santa Fe from New York in 1991 and has taught at the Workshops. “There was this thing about leaving the East and West Coasts, and I think Santa Fe benefited from that.” When that wave subsided, it left behind a more established photographic community, the city’s few pioneering photographic galleries now supplemented by photo businesses like Twin Palms Publishers and institutions such as the Marion Center for Photographic Arts, at what is now Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Rixon Reed, who relocated the Photo Eye bookstore and gallery from Austin to Santa Fe in 1991 in part because of the buzz around the newly established Workshops, said the tourist rush has given way to more “serious people”— collectors and photo professionals.
The Workshops has done its part to sustain that growth. Each year, it draws an average of 1,200 students to over 150 workshops in Santa Fe. The standard course runs from Sunday to Friday, but many students return more than once, often year after year. The majority are nearing retirement age and come from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and states such as California and Texas, although young and international students form a growing segment of the clientele. Last year, a tenth of all workshop participants came from 19 foreign countries.
By numbers alone, those visitors are a boon to New Mexico’s photographic ecosystem. Students visit galleries, buy work, attend events, and browse Santa Fe’s photographic bookshops. Some even put down roots, buying a second home or moving to the area. Callanan estimates that his company has inspired hundreds of people to live or spend meaningful time in the state over the past quarter-century.
“A lot of people come back to Santa Fe, whether it’s for a job or vacation or to teach again,” said Debbie Fleming Caffery, a longtime Workshops instructor and Guggenheim Fellow whose photographs have been collected by some of the world’s most prestigious institutions. The Workshops’ free summer lecture series, in which visiting instructors show and talk about their work each week, is another important contribution, she said, one that “educates the community.”
Community is a word that pops up a lot around the Workshops, particularly in conversations with instructors. For professionals, the opportunity to learn from and network with the caliber of colleague the Workshops attracts is particularly valuable, and they’re just as susceptible as students to the charms of Santa Fe life.
“One of the things that’s kept me here is the photo community,” said Allred, who studied photojournalism at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, has worked with the company since the nineties, and bought a home in Santa Fe. He enjoys a Zen photography group in town, where many of the participants have a history with the Workshops.
As Allred spoke, he was driving back from Bonanza Creek in the serene afterglow of the afternoon storm. The rain that had somehow bypassed his class now draped itself darkly over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, affording a glimpse of the landscape and light that have long drawn photographers to New Mexico.
In the backseat, two of his students, teenage girls, peeked over each other’s shoulders at the results of the day’s shoot. They had spent much of the afternoon taking turns with classmates as models and portraitists, sharing the close-quarters intimacy of photographer and subject. After dinner, however, the students would disperse to the solitude of workstations and living quarters, where they’d sift through hundreds of image files in preparation for the next morning’s class.
Santa Fe Workshops, like Santa Fe light, is ever changing. In earlier summers, students used to drop off film at dinnertime to be processed, then spend the evening exploring the Plaza or talking shop over margaritas—time that’s now spent in front of laptops. But technology has also broadened the program’s borders.
Bob Sacha is part of the vanguard. A longtime freelance photographer for National Geographic, he took an early interest in producing multimedia stories for the Web, skills he now teaches in a workshop that combines documentary video and audio. His students are a diverse group, but they share an enthusiasm for learning to shoot video—“the thing for every website now,” he said.
In the spring, the Workshops will launch its first course on drone photography, with more video offerings in the works. There’s talk of expanding the international programs, currently held in Mexico and Cuba, to Colombia or Costa Rica. And though students may spend less time together during the week, they now keep in touch afterward on Facebook and Instagram. Each time new frontiers open, new communities spring up.
On the last Friday night of the summer session, Mac Farnsworth was tired. After a week of nonstop photography, he was ready to get home to California and unwind on the golf course. Yet as students drank wine and chatted in a ballroom at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, everyone at Farnsworth’s table agreed on one thing: The workshop was one of the best classes they’d ever taken.
Callanan stood to thank his staff for a successful 25th year. Speeches were made, toasts given. Then the lights went down and the week’s slide shows began. Caffery’s workshop had produced haunting portrait essays. Two of Sacha’s students had made a documentary about Rick Allred’s mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Allred’s own students had tried their hand at capturing all sorts of things: runners in motion, trains at night, each other’s faces. When a photo came up of five bottles on a saloon bar, the glass sang with a silvery light that had been nearly invisible the day before.
In the dark, Farnsworth smiled at his work. After decades of automatic photography, he was free, and the next day he would head west, taking what he’d learned with him. Already he was thinking of what he might shoot there.