I wanted to give a quick plug to Hannah and my former colleagues at Outside who’ve finally collaborated with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops Director, Reid Callanan to create their own series of workshops with magazine contributors (here, here and here); an idea I had at one point that’s almost as good as the one where I proposed writing a blog. The workshops were always a bright spot of working in the relative isolation of Santa Fe as they brought high caliber photographers to town–I first met Dan Winters, Antonin Kratochvil and Keith Carter after the workshops. Instead of just a plug I thought I’d ask Reid a couple questions.
Can you give me a little background on the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops and your involvement?
After working 14 years at the Maine Photographic Workshops and doing every job that business had to offer, I felt it was time to venture out and start my own business. So, in 1990 I moved with my young family (wife Cathy and son EJ) across the country to New Mexico to start the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. This year we are celebrating 20 years in business. It has been a great success — due mostly to picking the right location at the right time, hiring an amazing staff of energetic and dedicated people then getting out of their way, and convincing the most creative and influential photographers worldwide to join us as teachers for our week-long workshops.
I’m surprised by the caliber of photographer that teaches at SFPW. You have commercial and editorial photographers in their prime, who probably don’t have much experience teaching amateurs or time to develop a curriculum. How do make it so it’s easy for someone like that to come teach?
One of the foundations of this business is to bring the best photographers in the country to teach workshops. We have been fortunate to have people like Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Brigitte Lancombe, Platon, Jim Nachtwey, and Nadav Kander join us. Teachers at this level can attract working pros to take their workshops. We prepare our instructors by scheduling their week for them in advance. We have a formula, honed over 20 years, that works incredibly well of: daily critiques followed by assignments followed by shooting and then more critiques of the images just made. The instructors follow this structure and work with each participant to improve their vision and craft. Lectures, demonstrations, and discussions led by the instructors round out the intense week. So, the Workshops staff provide the overall structure for the week enabling each guest photographer to focus on imparting their years of experience and inspiring the class to create new images. As long as the guest photographer is open and giving of themselves and follow our lead, their teaching week is a success.
Do you attract a lot of semi-pro photographers to these workshops?
Our core audience right now are advanced amateur photographers – people who have a passion for photography and are willing to spent their free time and money to follow their dream of becoming a better photographer. These folks don’t make their living as photographers. We also have a healthy audience of emerging and professional photographers who take workshops for two main reasons – to improve their technical skills and/or to rekindle a love of imagemaking that may have become lost while building their careers. And pros come to take workshops with photographers whose work they find inspiring–like Chris Buck, Jonathan Torgovnik, Joe McNally, and Karen Kuehn to name a few of our guest instructors this past summer.
What are the traits and skills that photographers who are good teachers have?
All great teachers are articulate, caring, thoughtful and have their egos in check. If they can’t get outside their own box and be open to what their students are doing in the class, they won’t be successful as teachers.
One criticism I have of just teaching people technique and leaving out the business part of being a photographer is the potential that students will not understand the value of photography and not grasp their responsibility to the photographic community to help it remain a profession. What are your thoughts on this?
Since almost all of our instructors are professional photographers, they understand the importance of discussing business practices and the financial value of an image in their classes. I wouldn’t say it’s a major part of their workshop week (unless you are taking a workshop with Mary Virginia Swanson), but it does get the point across that images are valuable and need to be protected and treated as such. I think our audience places a high value on photographs because of their commitment and passion for photography. And, they also understand how difficult it is to make a really great image, so selling images for $1 is not the right thing to do. I do believe that it is our responsibility to impart this message to our audience.
Have you seen enrollment dramatically rise with the explosion of public’s interest in taking pictures?
Our enrollment has seen slow and steady growth over 20 years. We haven’t seen a dramatic rise because this wouldn’t match with our business and marketing philosophy of steady growth. Likewise, we haven’t seen a dramatic decrease in our enrollment because of the recession. I believe in moderation in all that I do and have placed a high value on this practice in my business. There is not much that is overly dramatic nor explosive about the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. We do what we do very well and will continue to be successful for years to come.
What have you got coming up that you’re excited about?
Besides working with Outside Magazine to produce a series of week long workshop with some of their key contributing photographers (Jake Cheesum, Jeff Lipsky, and Paolo Marchesi), we are also offering workshops this Fall in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This will be the 9th year we are moving our workshop operation to this amazing colonial town and producing 12 workshops with the likes of David Alan Harvey, David Hobby, Sam Abell, Greg Gorman, and Paul Elledge, to name a few. I know travel to Mexico has gotten a bad rap the past couple of years, but San Miguel is a safe haven that is easy to get to. We wouldn’t be going if we didn’t feel it was totally safe. It’s such a great venue to explore photographically and also to build a closer relationship with your own imagemaking process.