Category "Workshops"

Reid Callanan Founder Of Santa Fe Workshops

- - Workshops

Jonanthan Blaustein: When did you fall in love with photography?

Reid Callanan: My junior year of college, which I spent abroad in London. I was a geology major in college, at St. Lawrence University, and couldn’t find a geology program to mesh into in London. So I took a year at Richmond College, which offers a cross-cultural program.

I took a photo class, though I’d never done any serious photography before that. The teacher was wonderful, and that’s where I got the bug. Her guidance and inspiration, alongside the great city like London, was enough to turn my head around.

When I came back to school for my senior year, my focus was on photography. My degree was in geology, but I spent a lot of time in the darkroom, making my own pictures.

JB: Does this mean that you’ve got a hidden trove of black and white street photos from London?

RC: I do. In storage, I have pictures that I thought, at the time, were amazing photographs that would catapult me into the A-list of photography. Of course, that was a young man’s misplaced calculations and expectations.

I haven’t gone back and pulled those out. I had a lot of images from Speakers Corner which is a great place to do street photography. And there are other images from London, the British Isles and the Continent.

I traveled a lot when I was there. I ended up in the Soviet Union, for my spring trip, and went to St. Petersburg, which at that point was called Leningrad. I went to Moscow too.

I was one of the first tourists to get into the Soviet Union, back in the mid-70′s. They had just opened up the country in a limited way, and I was lucky enough to get on a trip. It was an eye-opening experience.

JB: And you took pictures?

RC: Yes, in St. Petersburg, but I was not so free to photograph in Moscow, as it was the seat of the KGB, and was a much more closed city.

Early on, I developed a love of traveling with my camera. If you fast forward to the Santa Fe Workshops over the last 10 years, a big part of our expansion has been in travel photography and workshops. Going to places like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, or Havana, Cuba.

It’s a big part of our business right now: traveling with your camera. You open up many doors and windows when you go to a place with a camera that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

JB: What is that lesson you learn in Physics? Light particles behave differently when they’re observed than when they’re not? Is that right? I’m sure you know what I mean.

RC: One of the stories I like to tell the students when they come here, particularly in a portrait class, is how important that camera is to you, when you’re approaching a person to make their picture.

With a camera around your neck, it’s relatively easy to walk up to a total stranger, introduce yourself, and say something like “I love your face. I love the way you look. I love the way you’re leaned against the wall. And I’d really love to make some pictures of you, and in the process, just talk about who you are, and what you do in this world.

You can do that with a camera. Imagine trying to do that to somebody without one. Imagine walking up to somebody without a camera and saying, “I love the way you look. You have a great face. I’d love to spend some time talking with you.”

They’d think you were crazy.

JB: You’d get a kick in the johnson.

RC: Yup. You’re right.

JB: Allow me to switch gears. I really appreciate that you guys at the Workshops have sponsored this series of interviews. I’d love to show my gratitude by putting on my art professor hat for a moment.

I’m in Taos, and we’re all hippies up here. You bring up a large archive of photographs, and then mention that it includes pictures from the former Soviet Union, which is a super-hot-topic right now. Then you say you haven’t gone back and looked at them.

Let me put you on the spot? How about you dig the work out from storage? Who’s to say? Maybe they are the immature photos you remember?

Or maybe, as you’ve changed, you’ll see them differently. You never know until you look.

RC: I will do that.

JB: Great.

RC: You know, there’s a wonderful story that Sam Abell tells. He’s one of our long-term instructors here, and Sam has a theory that we take pictures ahead of ourselves. Meaning, when we make pictures, we don’t understand their importance, their significance, or their photographic acumen.

We’ve made them ahead of our ability to read them. What he is very fond of doing is going back through his old Kodachrome slides from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Every time he does that, he finds images that he rejected at that point.

He looks at them now, and says, “Oh my god, that is an amazing image, and I didn’t realize it when I made it.” He does that
on a consistent basis, and I’ve done it as well.

So, you’re right. If I go back to those images, which I haven’t looked at in 40 years, pictures made in Leningrad and Moscow, I will find a handful that are probably pretty interesting pictures.

JB: You’ve got to. Thanks for allowing me to have an inspirational moment. But I promise I won’t check up to see if you’ve actually done it. I’m not a Jewish Grandma about these things.

You’ve made mention of instructors at the Workshops, but we haven’t gotten to talk about how you built the program.

This is a big anniversary year, right?

RC: It’s our 25th Anniversary here in Santa Fe. Before that, I worked 15 years at the Maine Workshops. You do the math, and that’s 40 years. Basically, my adult life has been spent in the photographic workshop experience.

After college, I decided to try on photography as a career, to see if it worked for me. I lasted two weeks.

The first job was making pictures for a real estate rag, the kind of thing you see in supermarkets. My job was to photograph 35 or 40 homes in a day. To do that, I had to do drive-bys.

JB: What now?

RC: I’d slow down, point the camera out the window, take a picture of the front of house, and then I’d go on to the next address. After two weeks, I decided, if this is what a professional photographer does, I want no part of it.

It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t want to take my camera out in the evenings or weekends, because I wasn’t excited about photography.

I knew I didn’t want to be a professional photographer, but I did want to stay in the community. So then I tried a short stint in a camera store, which a lot of photographers do, because they figure they can get some discounted equipment that way.

That job only lasted two months, but one day, near the end, I was opening the mail, and there was a fold-out poster for the Maine Photographic Workshops. The name jumped off the page, because I had spent summers on the coast of Maine.

Maine as a destination was something I was interested in, and then to realize there was a school there? It was as if I just found Heaven.

So I quit the camera store job, went to Maine, and took a two-week class at the Maine Workshops from Craig Stevens and Sharon Fox. I ended up staying the next 14 years, after that two-week experience.

JB: That’s wild.

RC: I did every job that business had to offer, from being the Darkroom Manager, Store Manager, Operations Director, and the last 4 years, I was Managing Director of the programs.

In 1989, I realized I’d been there 15 years, I’d done everything I could do with the business, but I’d hit a ceiling, because the owner/director, David Lyman, wasn’t going anywhere at that point.

So I decided that life had run its course in Rockport, and I needed to go out and try it on my own. In 1990, I left for Santa Fe and caravanned across the country with my staff from Maine, and a lot of hopes and dreams. We started our first program that summer.

JB: Why did you choose Santa Fe, of all places?

RC: Two reasons: family and business. I had a brother and a sister who lived in Santa Fe, and I’d visited them a number of times in the early 80′s. I fell in love with what Santa Fe is about: the arid climate, the landscape, the mystique.

It’s much easier to go someplace when you have family there already.

JB: Of course.

RC: With respect to starting the business here, there were a couple of things I was looking for. I wanted a location that was West of the Mississippi, because I didn’t want to start a workshop program that competed directly with the Maine Workshops.

I didn’t want to start the Vermont Photographic Workshops, or the Connecticut Photographic Workshops. That didn’t make a lot of sense from a business standpoint, nor an ethical standpoint.

I wanted to go out and find a different demographic region to offer workshops to. Photography workshops need to be located in a visually inspirational setting. You need to be able to attract people to a destination where they want to go and make images. Santa Fe fulfills that requirement, and also has a wonderful photographic past and legacy to it.

The final reason was that I wanted to live here.

JB: We’re talking about a decision you made many years ago, but it’s now 2014. Jumping forward 25 years, what do you think of Santa Fe? Did it live up to your hopes and expectations?

RC: I love living here. It was a great decision on my part. When you make decisions to go places, there’s always a chance that it isn’t going to work out.

When I first got here, in the summer of 1990, was that I would wake up every morning, and the sun would be out. I wouldn’t even have to question whether the sun would come out. That was not normal for me, having spent most of my life on the East Coast.

The first few weeks, I’d ask myself, “Can this be true? Can the sun be out again?” That’s still very true today. The bright sun and the blue sky makes such a difference in the way I approach the day, and my life.

I don’t think I could now do well in a place that was overcast more often than sunny.

JB: We get addicted to the Vitamin D. Setting aside the fresh air, and all.

RC: Santa Fe has not disappointed me personally, nor for the business. Because one of the great tenets of business is “Location is everything.” We certainly have benefited hugely being based here.

Typically, if a business is going to fail, it’s in the first 5 years. We got lucky, and our timing was spot on. Moving to Santa Fe in the beginning of the Nineties, it ended up being a good decision, because that’s when Santa Fe began to explode on an international level as a travel destination.

Santa Fe started to appear in the top rankings of travel magazines. Santa Fe style and Santa Fe cuisine were getting known nationally and internationally in the early 90′s, so we benefited hugely from that exposure.

It’s still true today. I do focus groups every Friday at lunch, which is typically the final day of our workshop week. One of the questions I ask is how they found out about us and why they came.

At least half if not more say they were attracted to coming to Santa Fe, and they’ve always wanted to come here. The fact that they found a photographic workshop that was located in Santa Fe was one of the deciding factors on why they ended up coming here.

It’s a world-class destination, so that certainly helped us get over the early hump that most businesses go through.

Location, location, location.

JB: You’ve been an educator for four decades. That’s a long time. What are some of the things you’ve learned?

RC: It dawned on me fairly early in this experience of coming out to Santa Fe that my interest in and passion for education really started with my father. He was a role model, a mentor, and an educator.

He was the headmaster of a private school in Baltimore, where I grew up. I actually went to the school and got to witness very intimately the running of the school from a business and educational standpoint.

JB: So you and your Dad both spent lives in education?

RC: That is what we do here. We are an educational facility. One of the reasons that the education here works well is because people who come to this business have a great educational and inspirational experience here.

Typically, one third of our customers each week are alumni. That’s a great number, but it also means that two thirds of our audience are new to us.

One reason the experience works so well is that we take the people out of their normal, workday environment, and we embed them into a very energized, inspirational, creative environment where who they are at home falls away.

They get to live the photographic life, to coin a phrase from Sam Abell, for a week. That’s a large part of what they’re coming here for. If they’re doctors or lawyers, or homemakers, or whatever their profession is, they get to be photographers for 5 days. Though we’ve added shorter workshops recently, the core model is Monday through Friday.

People come, and they get to eat, sleep, drink and breathe photography for 5 full days.

JB: Has that always been your core audience?

RC: Our clientele has changed, from when we first started. For the first 8-10 years, our primary participant was a pro photographer. I would say that the ratio was 75% working professionals, and 25% advanced amateurs. Then the digital revolution began to take hold at the end of the 1990′s, and the pro photographic businesses were greatly challenged.

It became much more difficult for pro photographers to afford to come out to the workshops. Our audience changed, around 2000. Today, our audience is 80-85% the ardent, amateur photographer, and 15-20% working professionals.

We’re dealing with people who come from other walks of life, and they don’t get to do their hobby as much as they’d like. They have to carve out blocks of time that give fulfillment. They come and immerse themselves in a community where they get to talk photography, make pictures, get feedback, instantaneously, from their instructors. The learning curve goes through the roof, because of the single-minded focus of what you’re doing here.

JB: So you encourage that sense of dropping into a rabbit hole?

RC: We make an effort on the first night, when we meet the people, to talk about being present, turning your cell phone off, and checking email as infrequently as you can. It’s like putting a firewall up. We tell people, “You have invested a huge amount of time and money to be here. Take advantage of that investment you’ve made in yourself. This is important to you. You’re not doing it because your parents sent you here, or your boss told you to do it.”

It’s no mistake that our campus is located at a retreat center. It’s run by the Catholic Church, and is called the IHM Retreat Center. There’s also a Carmelite Monastery on campus, so it’s a very serene, cloistered, quiet facility tucked in the hills overlooking Santa Fe.

Our program is different from traditional educational institutions. We don’t have faculty that are here teaching every week. We don’t have tenure track. Our model is to bring in photographers to teach for a week, then they leave and go home.

JB: What do you think are some of the skills and personality traits that great teachers bring to the table?

RC: Great teachers are articulate. They can talk about the photographic process: not just technical information, but why people make pictures, and why some pictures are better than others.

You have to have your ego in check, so you can talk about other people’s photography, and bring yourself down to the level of the student. You may be the best editorial photographer in the world, but if you can’t bring yourself down to the level of your students, who are 3, 4, or 5 levels below you, you can’t understand where they’re at and what they need.

It’s also important to be compassionate, to understand where these people are coming from, and what they want from you. Those are the main things I look for in a teacher.

JB: Are you still making photographs yourself?

RC: Yes, I’ve been working on a series of black-and-white portraits. I like to work with projects, as I find it difficult to photograph on a consistent basis without a focus. Though I do use my iPhone for Instagram.

The project I’m working on now is in black and white, because I like to strip away the color, so it doesn’t get in the way of saying something about who they are. It becomes less representational, and more of a subjective, intuitive approach to making portraits.

The series started in Cuba, because I have more time to make pictures when I’m traveling. But it has extended now into Mexico.

Typically, I wander the streets, make digital portraits, go back to the hotel, process the images in Lightroom, decide on a couple of favorites, and make some prints. Then, I take the prints and go find the person that I photographed and hand them a print or two

The reaction is always a wonderful one. They’re very thankful, appreciative and surprised by it. That opens up the door for more portraits that tend to be more insightful, because it’s the second or third time I am working with them and the level of trust his higher.

They see that I’m for real, and I’m offering them a gift, so they want to gift me something by showing me more of themselves. And people nearby, like someone next to a vendor in a market, will see what’s going on, and realize they can get some prints too. I get more people that want to be photographed, when they see that process.

People want to show the prints to more people, so you get to meet the family. More and more layers are peeled back in that process, which helps to make more powerful, memorable, interesting pictures.

The process opens up a world of possibilities.

JB: And free tacos.

RC: I didn’t get free tacos. But I did get chickens with their heads cut off. Free fish too. It’s a process of give and take. If I can give something back to them, while taking time from them, it tends to work really well.

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Jason Langer Interview

- - Photographers, Workshops

Jonathan Blaustein: I noticed on your bio that you were born in Arizona, and raised in Oregon. But it looks like you lived on a kibbutz in Israel for four years. Is that right?

Jason Langer: Yes, but that’s not really pertinent to anything. That was in 1973, and I was seven.

JB: You were seven?

JL: Yeah.

JB: I didn’t do the math. So it’s not pertinent in that your seven to eleven year old self has little bearing on your current self?

JL: I would say.

JB: So it doesn’t matter at all.

JL: No. I discovered photography in 1982, and I came back from Israel in ’77. I discovered photography when I was in seventh grade. I was twelve.

JB: You were twelve years old, and when most people were trying to steal their Dad’s Playboys, you were working out how to use a camera?

JL: Well, I was doing that too.

JB: I’m not surprised, given the preponderance of nudity in your work, but we’ll get there. What was it like to start making art that young in life?

JL: I was hooked from the first minute I saw a print develop in the developer. It clicked, and I knew it was me. The chemicals felt familiar, and soon after, my mother bought me a darkroom kit from the old Spiegel catalogue. Do you remember that?

JB: No. It’s either before my time, or I never saw it.

JL: It was like an oversized JC Penney or Sears Catalogue. They had a 35mm enlarger and 8×10 trays. She bought it for me, and I cleared out my clothes and built it in my closet.

There was no running water, so I would bring buckets of water up and mix my chemicals in a completely unventilated room. When I was out of chemicals, I would ride my bike down to the local photo store. I was one of “those” kids.

JB: Did you have to earn your allowance to buy your toxic chemicals? Or did you set up a lemonade stand?

JL: I would imagine I had an allowance to begin with, and then I got my first job when I was fourteen or fifteen. I cleaned a vintage clothing store after they closed at night.

JB: What about the lack of ventilation? Are you less intelligent than you might have otherwise been?

JL: (laughing.) Maybe it unlocked the key of me always being crazy? I don’t know.

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JB: It’s a great chance to segue. In your work, you seem to walk right up to the edge of the dark side, without seeming to cross over. You photograph at night, and there’s an element of mystery and surrealism.

But you seem like a fairly sane and normal guy. I always find that dichotomy interesting. Are you crazier than you appear to be, or does your crazy funnel right into the pictures?

JL: I’ve made a point of exploring my crazy, haunted side in photography. That’s a crucial issue that I’m trying to work out now in middle age, raising two small kids and trying to retain some of that artistic absorption. In life, you have to choose your path. You can’t do everything. You can’t be a great musician, painter, photographer, and a father, husband, architect – whatever you want to do.

You have to choose where you want to spend your time, because there’s only 24 hours in a day. I’ve gotten good at switching gears.

I chose the path early on of fine art photography. I wanted to create photographs that had personal meaning for me, out of an urge that I had, rather than commercial photography. That’s probably why you might think I’d be a crazy person – I put a lot of investment into self exploration.

At the time, though, there was nowhere for the work to go but under my bed. But I chose fine art photography to be the ruler of my life. Furthermore, I stuck in spiritual fulfillment, and meditation, but I also chose getting married and having a family.

And as you know, once you choose that, it’s a really huge commitment.

JB: Doesn’t get any bigger.

JL: A lot of what I do now is try to carve out every possible minute of the day to allow myself time to do my personal work. As we’re bombarded every day with more and more media, I find I have to make a concerted effort to fall away from the rest of the world, and its responsibilities where possible.

Does that answer your question?

JB: Yes and no. It’s like a mirror, in that I can certainly relate to your situation. But you dodged the question, a bit, as to whether you’re psychotic, in the inner levels of your mind.

But I can understand why you’d dodge it. It’s a slightly offensive question.

JL: No, no. It’s fine. I’d say that having chosen marriage and family has put me more on the side of “normalcy.” Because I do want my kids to grow up in a stable house that is focused on education and fun, not on psychological exploration – not at this age. I try to come out of my cave at least once a day… (laughing).

With that in mind, I have to find ways to go to the dark side on my own. For me, that’s been leaving the house, going to other cities and countries, and just being in a contemplative, exploratory space.

I try to balance both.

JB: What is it about the night that excites you?

JL: Early on, I realized that if you went out at night to photograph, everyone would be gone and your experience would be transformed into the other side of life. There’s a whole other part of reality that is in many ways parallel to our subconscious.

When things are covered up in darkness, it activates our imagination. Having an absence, our instinctual need is to put a presence there. I tend to put in a contemplation of the other: what is beyond our life in a conscious state. Sexuality, which is mostly suppressed, aloneness, death, centeredness – the parts of ourselves that we don’t let out on a daily basis.

Being on the streets, I don’t know what’s out there. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I investigate.

It was also a function of the films I saw when VHS first came out. Films my mother would show me, like “The Third Man,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” With those films, there was always a singular male figure against the world, which is also a major theme of film noir.

JB: You became the lone man, wandering the dark city streets, alone? You chose to become the living embodiment of these metaphorical characters in these stories that activated your imagination?

JL: Yeah, I think chose is a good word. For instance, for many years I chose to teach, and then I chose to not teach. So the fact that I’m doing this workshop in Santa Fe is actually unusual.

There are many opportunities to be involved in other aspects of photography these days. You can run workshops, you can teach, be in photographic management, work in camera stores, be on juries, write about photography. There are all of these things to do, and I’ve been very conscious of not doing those things, and keeping my emphasis on photographing.

There are so few hours in a day that I put every spare ounce of energy into making pictures. Because life is just too short.

JB: When I first started studying photography in ’97, there were still teachers talking about the methodology you’ve adopted. Having five or six dealers around the world representing your work, each selling a certain amount a year. Getting books with reputable publishers. And that would sustain itself.

You’ve done that. You’re repped around the world, you’ve had two books put out by Nazraeli, and another coming out with Radius. You kind of seem like a throwback. How do you feel about that term?

JL: I would say that 2013 was very much a year of coming to terms with the new world. It was a chance to see whether my methodology still works for me, or whether it can be changed and still be just as fruitful.

I was always under the impression that not everyone is an artist. Those people that are really dedicated to it and have something to say, end up doing it. Of course in photography for decades there was a technical hurdle that people had to get over if they truly loved photography. Those people became artists. Now, I guess there’s no hurdle, so everyone’s an artist?

Also, I always felt that to become good at anything, you’d need to work on your craft for at least ten years – if you wanted to get good at what you were doing. I never wanted to get published too early, or show in galleries too early. I wanted to wait until my work was good, so I put it under the bed for years and years, until I was ready to show it to someone in the industry whom I respected.

Now, I can’t think of any young photographer who approaches it like that. Today, it’s pretty much “BANG” and it’s out there.

Last year, I asked myself if there are merits to that. Is there a new methodology to becoming an accomplished artist that is not the slow method? What I do is now considered “slow” photography.

To me, that’s absurd. It’s just photography. But in comparison to what is happening now, I guess it is kind of a throwback.

I am starting to experiment with taking digital pictures. And instead of gaining emotional distance from my work, and letting it steep over time, I’m making photographs, coming back to my studio, loading them up on the computer, and immediately editing.

I’m trying to see if that yields good results or not.

JB: You’ve used the phrase “under the bed” a few times already. I keep thinking, that’s where the monsters live. Under the bed. I can’t help but think there’s a connection there.

Do you feel like you use your creative practice to connect the nether regions of your psyche to the light?

JL: I’ve always been interested in the subconscious. The photographers I’ve always connected with early on were night-time and symbolist photographers. Artists that didn’t hand you the meanings; they remained ambiguous.

I love films that have ambiguous morality, because I like to be able to contemplate and think about something for an extended period of time.

So I would say yeah. The monsters, the demons, sexuality, suppressed feelings, darkness, the unknown. All of those things are compelling to me. I’m interested in those secret rendezvous late at night.

JB: We haven’t mentioned the word audience yet. I think it’s become more of a factor in what artists are thinking about when they put their work out in the world. We consider the relationship that develops between the object on the wall, and a group of strangers.

What do you want people to get from your pictures?

JL: This brings up an interesting question between the dichotomy of the old way and the new way. I feel that the audience is there to follow you. You are the person who is in charge of discovering things about life, making them into visual subject matter, and giving them to the world.

Your discovery of the world is paramount, and either people will like it, or they won’t. They will buy it, or they won’t. You will either capture the public’s imagination, or you won’t.

Your job is to be an artist. Now, there’s a new element, in which there is a feedback between you and the audience about what they think of your work. There’s more of an opportunity to talk to the people you’re showing the work to.

But I have to say, I’m not one of those people so far. We happen to be living in a time when public taste has gone away from what I do, and I have to just be OK with that- the pendulum swings.

With what I do, the viewer has to spend time with the photograph, inserting their own experience into it.

JB: Did you ever watch Beavis and Butthead, when it was first on TV, back in the day?

JL: Yes.

JB: Did you think it was funny?

JL: Not really.

JB: I had a feeling you were going to say that. But I am who I am, and sometimes I just can’t help myself. When you said the word “inserting,” I actually heard Beavis and Butthead giggling inside my head.

JL: When Beavis and Butthead were on, I was watching “The Third Man” and “Annie Hall” and “The Great Escape.” I was interested in those kinds of movies, so I was not watching MTV.

JB: I can understand that. And I can also understand why you didn’t think it was funny that I laughed at that word. It shows that we’re on parallel tracks right now.

But I have to say, I really appreciate what you do. And I’m glad that we live in a world in which so many perspectives are in the conversation.

You pose some interesting questions. How much can a person take on? Where should I be putting my time and energy? There are no easy answers.

JL: The greatest thing that I grapple with now is my love for photography in general, and how it is simultaneously exploding into all sorts of fantastic things, and being destroyed at the same time.

We’re so flooded with imagery that it doesn’t impact us the way that it did before.

JB: I hear you. I would love to talk a bit more about the way you teach, when you decide to do it. This interview is being sponsored by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and you’re doing a workshop there next month called “Shots in the Dark.”

You’ll be leading photographers out into the spooky evening, and the early light of morning. How do you approach something like that?

JL: My first instinct is to give the students everything that I have. I don’t just talk about what exposures you need to make night photographs. I share the whole philosophy I come with, which includes treating the students as artists. I encourage them to search within themselves for what I call “The Creative Spiral.”

Everyone has their own set of meanings, and a unique perspective about the world. The themes that they keep coming back to again and again – obsessions, perhaps.

What I try to do with my students is that every time they go around that circle, they get closer and closer to the center, so they can create iconic images for themselves that express what they really want to express.

We will go over all the technical things, and Photoshop. I teach students how to dodge and burn digitally, as they would in a darkroom. We’ll learn how to make beautiful, archival prints, and also talk about how to interact with people.

JB: If you go out shooting in groups, how are you able to convey the feelings of solitary joy that you experience in your own practice?

JL: One trick is specificity. I took a class out once to the Marin headlands, near San Francisco, and when we looked at the resulting pictures, everyone’s pictures were the same. They were all of the trees, the rocks, the paths, and the abandoned bunkers.

JB: I would think.

JL: It was a real disappointment. Once we looked at the work, and decided which aspects were the most successful, I had them go back and focus on just one thing. Then it got closer to what each person’s individual interest and message was.

Splitting up, and deciding which individual thing you want to focus on is a good way to put one foot in front of the other, and discover what you really want.

JB: You do quite a bit of work with the nude figure, so is that something you’re going to incorporate in the workshop? Will you be working with models?

JL: We are going to do that. There are apparently models that have worked with the Santa Fe Workshops for many years. We’re going to ask them if we can come into their homes, and photograph them going about their night: clothed, or semi-clothed, or naked.

We’re going to be flies on the wall, or voyeurs, and see what we can do. I like bringing that feeling forward we all know when we’re up working late, the rest of the world is asleep, and all is quiet.

JB: That sounds kind of crazy. I almost want to show up and peek through the window of the house at you guys watching the model make her evening tea in the buff.

JL: I did that in a workshop at the Newspace Center for Photography here in Portland. We photographed the model in the studio, and in their home, and we allowed each student to be the center of attention for a while. So the other students could learn from watching each other’s approach.

That way, everyone came out with unique material. I’m going to try to take it to a place where everyone can let their individual needs show.

JB: What a trip. And I’m sure you’ll be roaming the streets together, as that’s what your work is about. I noticed you’ve spent time in Paris, Berlin, New Orleans, and probably many other cities. A lot of the images have the vibe that you just stepped out of a dingy bar, where you ordered a pack of cigarettes and a bourbon?

Are you going to try to find spots like that in Santa Fe?

JL: We are going to work with some bars and establishments, and ask if it’s OK to come in as a small group of photographers. I’ll teach students how I do it in an unobtrusive, non-offensive way.

There’s so much to do in four days, I’m basically throwing out a lot of opportunities to do things, and I’m interested in seeing where the class wants to take it.

SFPW_APhotoEditor_Jan2014

Gregory Heisler Interview

Gregory Heisler has spent the last quarter century photographing covers for magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life. In 1994, he was famously blacklisted from the White House press corps for shooting a double exposure of President George H.W. Bush (“The Two Faces of Bush”) for Time’s Person of the Year cover. Since then, Heisler, now 58, has seen photography shift from film to digital and magazines switch from staff shooters to freelancers. Since 2009, he’s been teaching portraiture at the Hallmark Institute of Photography, in Massachusetts. September 30 through October 5, he’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called The Evocative Portrait. —Grayson Schaffer

Grayson: You’re a professor now?
Gregory: It’s like camera school—vocational school. It’s for people who really want to take pictures for a living. They wouldn’t be there to become a curator. It’s very hands on.

Grayson: Like you’ll be doing at the Santa Fe Workshops.
Gregory: At the workshops there’d be a little more theory and a little more emphasis on the philosophy of it. The classes that I teach are that but the emphasis is more on craft.

Grayson: In your workshop, what kinds of skills will you be working on.
Gregory: It’s kind of a color week, the emphasis is on color, so we’re going to be looking at color from the subjective point of view as opposed to the objective. Not looking for correct color or accurate color, we’re going for color that’s more about feeling. So I would say, a lot of our time is going to be spent looking at ways to express ourselves, particularly in the context of portraiture. To express oneself creatively using color and light.

Grayson: What do you mean by color? Lighting, post production, or just subject matter?
Gregory: The emphasis is more on working with light in ways that are expressive. Not big deal lighting stuff with huge strobes. It could be ways of manipulating ambient light, it could be very simple. There’s sort of a whole spectrum of ways to do that.

Grayson: Where are you in your own work, are you still producing editorial pictures?
Gregory: Yes. Less frequently because I’m doing the teaching gig, but because I’m an artist in residence, I’ve still been able to accept commercial jobs, and what I’ll do is I’ll make little videos on the side that I then bring back to the school and show the students the next day. I did a cover for Sports Illustrated about three or four weeks ago of Lebron James. They called Friday for a shoot on Saturday, and the magazine was on stands by Wednesday. I had videos to show the class on Tuesday. It’s very timely. And the two things really dovetail well together.

Grayson: How has your work evolved over the years. You used to have that iconic, TIME magazine, medium- and large-format format film look. Is that still how you’re producing pictures?
Gregory: I was shooting lots of large format portraits then but I’ve since changed to digital, where you have so much more control. There are millions of things you can do with digital; you can be more spontaneous, and you’re more in control of your color palette. Also, sort of counter-intuitively, I’m now working more simply because of digital. I’m working less with strobes and more with continuous lighting—LED’s, Tungsten, etc. and working to make very simple images. I did a series of images for the National Arts Club in New York, of different authors, and writers, and those are some of my favorite pictures I’ve done in the last several years. They’re very simple, all done on black backgrounds, very quiet. But they’re really beautiful. It’s just a different kind of portrait for me.

Grayson: Interesting, so this Lebron cover, did you shoot that with a 5D or a digitial Hasselblad?
Gregory: That was actually shot with a Hasselblad and strobes, which contradicts everything I just said.

Grayson: It does seem like as you see people using smaller and smaller kits. That Hasselblad is used more for magazine covers than anything else.
Gregory: That’s probably true. It’s such a funky camera. They designed it from the ground up but they designed it in landscape view. It’s a landscape camera. And basically 99 percent of people use it vertically, and it absolutely sucks to use vertically. It doesn’t have a vertical shutter release, the viewfinder’s on its side, and the camera hangs off the tripod. If they were designing a camera from scratch they could have designed a vertical camera, or a revolving back, but they didn’t, which is kind of shocking. I’m sure somebody will come up with something like that sooner or later.

Grayson: When I look through your older work, it seems like people would hire you to do all kinds of images. I can’t point to one specific style and say that it was you who shot it. But these days it seems like art directors are hiring for a really specific look—a schtick. Is that something that’s changed over time?
Gregory: That’s a very accurate perception. These days it might be someone like Platon who might have a very specific look or style for the pictures that he takes and that’s something that people want. Twenty years ago it might have been William Coupon, who was doing things in a very specific way, on a painted background, and all his pictures were the same. That’s always been surprising to me because… well, actually, it’s not surprising. Art directors want a sure thing.

Grayson: Is it as simple as that? Art directors want to play it safe?
Gregory: Yeah, it is. I hate to say it because I think people are risk averse these days more than ever. Before they even pick up the phone, they know what the picture’s going to be. So there’s a certain comfort in that, a certain security that they can lay out the cover of the magazine and kind of know what it’s going to be. They can put one of his other photographs in its place and have an idea what it’s going to be, and they can sell that to their editor. The last thing people want is a surprise, these days. The weirdest thing to me is that magazines would never do this for their writers. They would never hire a writer who writes for another magazine; they want to have their own stable of writers. Newsweek would never hire a TIME writer, and TIME would never hire a Newsweek writer—but they would both hire the same photographer to shoot a cover for them. In fact they want to be in the club in a way. These magazines don’t have enough confidence to have their own style, so they use a borrowed style. That is shocking to me, but your perception is very accurate. It’s a way to be more commercially viable, but to me, that’s not having a style, that’s having a schtick. To me, style is like your fingerprint. Nobody else has it. A schtick is like gloves. You can buy them and put them on. Technique is like that. Anyone can set up their lights in the same way these folks do and come up with largely the same results. Not the same pictures, but largely the same result.

Grayson: When you come to a picture, it’s got to be more difficult if you don’t know, for example, that you’re going to put somebody in a chair and shoot them from ankle level. How did you figure out that you’re going to shoot Lebron over plexiglass in your recent SI shoot.
Gregory: You kind of figure out every picture from scratch, which is not to say I never do pictures that I’ve done before—but I really try not to. Whenever I get an assignment I try to think how to shoot this person for this story in this magazine at this point in time.

Grayson: Do you have a series of questions that you ask yourself? Ways you think about it?
Gregory: Those would be them. If you’re shooting Bruce Springsteen for Rolling Stone, it would be a different picture than shooting Bruce Springsteen for TIME or Fortune. There’s no reason those pictures should all be the same. One story might be talking about his latest release, another might be about his fortune, another might be about how he stays fit. Those are all different images, and that to me is what makes it interesting—trying to figure out how to tailor the image specifically for that person. There’s no reason you’d shoot Mother Theresa and Newt Gingrich the same way.

Grayson: How long does it take you to think of these things?
Gregory: Sometimes day, sometimes not until you’re walking into the room. And even then, sometimes it all goes out the window. A lot of the challenge and the reason for the success of those one-shot photographers is that their pictures almost have to be subject proof. Because you usually only have a few minutes with the person. You never know who’s going to walk into the room—whether they’re going to be friendly, grumpy, sick of photographers, or between meetings.

Grayson: On the opposite side of the spectrum from being subject-proof, do you have photo shoots that fail from time to time?
Gregory: I think they all suck. The picture I was hoping for is never the picture I get, but yeah, I think they fail all the time. Fortunately my clients don’t think they do, so I can continue to have a career. But I just look at them and think, ugh.

Grayson: You’ve had some fairly well known people work for you. Who were some of them?
Gregory: Dan Winters worked with me for awhile about 20 years ago. There’s a guy named Gregor Halenda. We used to joke that he hadn’t earned the “y” yet. He just relocated from Manhattan to Portland. He’s terrific. He does a lot of stuff with still life and motorcycles. There’s a guy named Monte Isom who just worked with me freelance, and he’s doing well. It’s interesting because it takes so much to be a good photographer. Some of it is the industry, some of it’s your personality. People aren’t hiring just a picture, they’re hiring someone they can work with. That plays a big role .

Grayson: Do you ever feel threatened by the success of your former assistants?
Gregory: No I think it’s gratifying. It’s awesome!

Grayson: It’s interesting, because you definitely meet both kinds of photographers—the proprietary kind and the generous kind—but it seems like the guys who are really at the top of their field recognize that they’re doing something that can’t be easily replicated and are willing to share what they know.
Gregory: My brother used to say some people have an “inferiority simplex.” It’s not that they’re under the delusion that they’re inferior; they actually are inferior and they secretly know it. I think that’s what those photographers are like. They’re very jealous.

Grayson: What about your work flow?
Gregory: It varies with the client. For SI, they’re on a very tight deadline, and they want raw send-offs. So they want files FTPd right from the shoot. That stuff goes off, and at that point let go of it. Later, I’ll send them processed jpegs with what I think it should look like, but it’s up to them whether they abide by that or not. In the case of Lebron, it pretty much looked the way it was supposed to look.

Grayson: So when you send them jpegs, you’re monkeying around in Lightroom or Photoshop, burning and dodging to get it where you want?
Gregory: Well yeah, in the case of Lebron, it was kind of done. We had five or ten minutes with him, but we’d spent the better part of the day messing with lighting, so as soon as he walked in it was good to go. We did a global correction with a digital tech on set and then sent them off. Normally I do all my own post work. It’s not that I do it better than anyone else, I just do it my way. I make decisions. People who print at labs are probably far better printers, but they won’t make my decisions mid-process. I don’t want to be out of the loop. I want to be a photographer and do all of it.

Grayson: On Lebron, what were you using?
Gregory: That’s a funny one. The picture was actually set up to photograph him with the NBA trophy, which ended up not getting used. The trophy is a highly polished golden globe—so I wanted a good reflection, which is more like a still life than a portrait. It’s difficult to cast the light. Even an octabank would leave a spot. So I got a 12-foot roll of white seamless paper and pounded the light through it. It’s very diffused soft light, but it’s incredibly inefficient. The light off him was like f4. But on the other side of the seamless it was like 90. The seamless is opaque for all intents and purposes. I don’t remember using gels.

Grayson: Were you an early adopter of digital?
Gregory: No. I went along kicking and screaming. Digital held no romance for me at all. I hated it. I miss my big cameras. The working process, I miss it.

Grayson: But you figured out how to do it?
Gregory: Yeah, I pretty much put a clothespin on my nose and took a plunge. It’s amazing, but it’s weird to be on the far side of a learning curve. And it’s always like that. If you learn how to use a Deardorff, you’ll always know how to use every 8×10 camera. You’re good to go. But if you learn how to use the 5D and then the 5DMKII, each one is a little bit different. They have different focus points. If you want to switch from Aperture to Lightroom, you have to learn how to do all that stuff. It’s a constant learning curve which I hadn’t signed on for. I wanted to grow in terms of making pictures, not adapting to new software and technology. But that’s the game now.

Grayson: Any look, any style, any era, all available at the touch of a button, now.
Gregory: Yeah, there are a lot of decisions to make, creatively. Now, with digital, you can really be the author of your own work. From the beginning to the end of the process, you control everything.

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Gregory in Santa Fe for “The Evocative Portrait” go (here).

Andrew Southam – The Fashion Portrait

- - Workshops

Known for a mix of celebrity and lifestyle portraiture, Australian Andrew Southam maintains a very honest and revealing blog for a working photographer. July 22-27, he’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called “The Fashion Portrait. Among the techniques he uses to keep his work fresh, Southam regularly shoots on the streets of his adopted home of Los Angeles. He treats the exercise as a kind of sketch book to look for new ideas that he might try to recreate on a set when there’s no time for experimentation. Grayson Schaffer spoke with Southam about his upcoming workshop and how he keeps searching to reinvent himself.

Grayson: Have you fully embraced American culture? I think it’s sort of ironic that some of the best work of an Australian photographer is quintessential Americana.
Andrew: In Australia we’re sort of colonized by American popular culture—film and television. So if you’re a moderately sensitive kid you’re absorbing all of these American notions of masculinity, beauty, and heroism. It’s all pretty profound if you’re destined to be a photographer. Then I married an American girl. I have an American son who’s eight, so I’m deep into the sports world with him. I never played basketball as a kid, but I’m at all of his games and practices.

Grayson: With your workshop, are you focusing on portraiture or this kind of lifestyle? Is that seamless for you?
Andrew: Here’s how a I came up with that. They asked me if I would teach a fashion workshop, and I’ve always felt like a little bit of an imposter in that world—fashion. Fashion photography is a narrow cul de sac. If you’re going to be serious about it, I think you need to live in NY or Paris and eat, drink, and sleep it. I was never that fascinated by it. I began as a portrait photographer in Australia, and it was tough to make a living, because when you’re assigned a portrait you might get one or two pages. So I kind of drifted into fashion as a parallel career because then could get an eight-to-ten page story and the cover. Then the celebrity culture sort of blew up and that felt like a really natural place for me because I was always more interested in the person than the clothes . But you still have to have hair and makeup and a stylist, and you have to know something about how it all fits together. So when Santa Fe asked me to do a fashion workshop I had to explain to them that I really honestly wasn’t a pure fashion photographer but that I would feel comfortable teaching something called A Fashion Portrait, which is largely what I do. They’re portraits that have some sort of fashion knowhow with elements of hair and makeup. The clothes matter a lot in those pictures. That’s how I came to that. It felt like that was something I could teach and something I knew about.

Grayson: Is the styling part of the course
Andrew: Yeah, they get a local guy who’s great and he works really hard for us. With a dozen people in the course, that’s a lot of girls to do hair and makeup on. He worked in New York and Paris before he kind of drifted out to Santa Fe. It’s great for people doing the workshop to use talented stylists. Even if they’re not destined to become professionals they will leave the workshop knowing more than they would.

Grayson: About how a photograph is really a collaboration among everyone who’s on set?
Andrew: Yeah that American Dream series I did was with a stylist named Kelly Hill who worked for J. Crew and was a creative director for a long time. Just as a presence on the set, a stylist will have so many good ideas. There were shots in that series that she saw and I didn’t. Her contribution was irreplaceable on that particular project.

Grayson: Do you have any strong opinions on whether the styling should be sort of obvious or subtle?
Andrew: Well I think it really matters what your picture is and what you’re doing. For me it has to be subtle. If there’s any element of style in the photograph that announces itself overtly, then the photograph fails. If you think, Look at that hair or that crazy lighting, then, to me, that sort of defeats the image which is meant to be more of a feeling. In that American Dream series it sort of accrues picture by picture and adds up to something. But it’s never about, “Wow those jeans are so great on him.”

Grayson: Your first instinct is that it all happened naturally even though it was produced?
Andrew: Totally. That was the lovely thing about doing that project. We did three long days away from home. There’s something to be said about doing things where people are not racing back to their offices and their computers. Checking in with their agent every five minutes. My ambition now is to photograph people in what appears to be their lives and to try and make it as utterly real as I can.

Grayson: When APE spoke with you earlier, you were in the midst of a mid-career crisis and this American Dream project was your escape. Is this still what you’re pursuing?
Andrew: It’s shown me the way forward. It did get me some great work and it got me the biggest ad jobs I’ve ever done. I’m on my fifth shoot for Ugg Boots. (I shoot their men’s campaign.) They let me do my thing, and they really want it. They’ve allowed me to work in the capacity of a creative director, which nobody had ever let me do before. Obviously, I’d done that on my own shoots, but no one had ever paid me to conceive the shoot from the ground up. So now when I shoot I have that as a gold standard. Creativity is really is a muscle, and you have to keep working at it. I’d like it to be second nature but it’s still a bit like going to the gym when I leave the house with my camera.

Grayson: How important is the equipment for your work?
Andrew: I can only speak for the work I do. But I think it’s really about getting out there and taking photographs and deepening my understanding. Light, the way people appear—you need to practice that aside from work. Because when you’re on a set for real, you’re dealing with all these other things like the clock, a publicist, the client, hair and makeup, a stylist, and a lunch that’s late. But I went downtown the other day and took a bunch of street photographs. It’s like a notebook to me now: A guy looking over his shoulder in an interesting way.

Grayson: So you’re thinking, “Maybe that’s a look I want to try and recreate on a set at some point?”
Andrew: Absolutely. It’s incredible how the stuff that I find on the street is working its way more and more often into my job. I’m on this campaign to change my approach. If you and I were to go out now and take pictures of each other, it should be pretty effortless and fun. I want to get that feeling into my work. Otherwise it can become worklike. I want it to be like taking a picture of a friend, and I want to be unburdened by questions like, What does this magazine want? Who else shoots for them? What do they like?

Grayson: You mentioned that you’re trying to change the way you shoot. There aren’t many people in your position—well established—who are really shaking things up.
Andrew: Maybe shaking things up is too strong. I’m trying to get better at the things you saw in American Dream. That project was wonderful thing—almost in a way that makes it intimidating to go into the next one. In terms of changing: yes I am deep into my career—27 years—and I’ve found a groove. But I think I got so deep into the groove that it became frustrating and felt like I was doing less than I was capable of.

Grayson: The difference between a groove and a rut?
Andrew: Yes, well said.

Grayson: Can you explain a bit about American Dreams?
Andrew: It was me in that state of frustration dreaming up an assignment that I would love someone to assign me. So in the absence of getting the job that you wish someone would give you, you need to assign yourself. You have to be your first client. I know that’s tough and expensive and time consuming, but there are ways of doing it. You can cut corners. Enthusiasm is an infectious thing.

Grayson: So is that what you did, you leaned on people who you knew from more traditional shoots?
Andrew: The stylist from that shoot was someone I had a long friendship with. So I leaned on her, and she helped me find the talent, and together we found that car. The only other person on that shoot was my tech. I knew I’d be shooting a lot of images, so I wanted to have someone there making sure everything was safe. I paid him something, but certainly not his full rate. And it was a big adventure. The actors didn’t get paid anything; they did it for the pictures.

Grayson: How would you say that project helped you improve? Maybe tuning up your autopilot for when the rest of your brain power is consumed by working on set?
Andrew: Yeah and that autopilot thing, that’s what I’m trying to work towards. An effortless flow. And it’s a life’s work. You achieve it momentarily and then extraneous circumstances will get in the way. But once you know what that feels like, it’s definitely something to aspire to or conspire to make happen.

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Andrew in Santa Fe for “The Fashion Portrait” go (here).

Chris Buck – The Surprising Portrait

Known for his humor and pitch-perfect execution, Chris Buck is go-to photographer for any magazine that’s trying to illustrate an abstract concept. Ahead of Buck’s Santa Fe workshop, the first week of July, Grayson Schaffer interviewed the 48-year-old New York–based photographer on the subject of creativity and, specifically, how Buck has so damn much of it.

Grayson Schaffer: What are you working on right now?

Chris Buck: We’ll I’m actually not sure how to answer that question. I’ve got a couple of editorial things. Just finished shooting and now I’m preparing for another. One for GQ, and I’m trying to shoot for The Guardian weekend magazine. I’ve got a book coming out in the fall so I’m prepping for the release of that.

GS: Is that top secret?

CB: No, it’s a series of portraits of celebrities in which they’re not visible. Environmental portraits. The celebrities are hiding in the environment.

GS: Very cool. You’re sort of known for having a never ending stream of original concepts in addition to great lighting and execution. How do you come up with this stuff?

CB: You know, I guess I always have my eyes open. To some extent anyone who does interesting work it feels like there are interesting things that could be done or should be done that aren’t. Eighty percent of our culture out there is either not interesting or annoying to you. The other 20 is actually kind of interesting. But even within that you always feel like there are interesting things that aren’t being done. I think creative people kind of feel like they want to fill that void.

GS: So your creativity comes from noticing absences?

CB: Just trying to makes things more interesting where they may be underachieved. I’m sure people look at my work and feel that way. Sometimes they achieve great things with my work and other times they don’t. But the story still needs to run. What I’m striving for is to do something that’s a little new and exciting and maybe a little magical.

GS: But you also have a sort of humorous, highly irreverent sort of thing going on too—the Ken dolls for instance. Are you naturally irreverent?

CB: You know I never really intended to make pictures that would be perceived as being funny. I’m the kind of person where if I see a joke, I can’t help but put it in there. The humor ends up being subtle because they aren’t gag photos. Recently a person described my work as dead serious but totally funny at the same time. The work is clearly serious in intent and visually ’m trying to execute in a way that tells the story and is visual at the same time but it’s almost sort of like when you’re a young man and you’re not athletic, you sort of have to be funny if you want someone to pay attention to you. I’m just translating my juvenile class clown thing into my photograph. It was never intentional, I just can’t resist putting in a little humor.

GS: When most people try and execute a humorous photo, it’s usually too obvious and over the top and, as a result, fails. You seem to hit the right balance every time.

CB: Well thanks. I think it’s probably because humor isn’t the first aim. To make something a little odd and interesting. If humor can be slipped in, than it works. But many of my photos, I don’t feel like there’s humor in them at all. Like the series of hidden portraits, people are going to think those are really funny. It’s great, it’s certainly the most subtle humor ever. It’s like when a comedian comes on stage and people start laughing because they associate them with their previous work.

GS: For people who are going to come to your workshop, I would argue that you can’t teach that sort of spontaneity and creativity. What do you think?

CB: It is a portrait class, that’s the area I’m most interested in. And it’s called “The Surprising Portrait,” but my definition of surprising is not as narrow as one might imagine. I’m not looking for people to shoot more like me. The aim is to help them make portraits that will be surprising for their audience in whatever way that might be. It’s still looking to nudge them a bit and do something a little more adventurous. To engage with their subject. I’m very much about the finished picture and not about the process. Interacting with your subject is important but only insofar as it leads to better portraits. Different people do that in different ways. I’ve met great photographers who deal with their subjects by shooting them very differently than I do and they get great portraits. But there are certain things that lead to better portraits fairly consistently.

GS: Are you one of those light, funny, chatty guys?

CB: I think I vary it up. Sometimes I’m chatty, sometimes I’m quiet. But they’re all going to the same end. I’m looking to set my subject up in a way that gets the reaction I want or need from that particular session. Sometimes it’s relaxed and comfortable, sometimes it’s bossy and manipulative. Sometimes I want them to be uncomfortable. It depends on what it is. Sometimes I’m looking to establish that this is my shoot and I’m in charge. When I was initially shooting, as a young photographer, I was doing that, but it was less self-conscious. I have an end goal of this kind of picture and I’ll do whatever I have to to get there. It was sort of instinctual. But now I think it’s a little more self-conscious, though there is certainly still an intuitive aspect. The subjects are largely ready to go on the ride. I had my portrait taken yesterday by a former intern, and I recognize the fact that it’s their job to put me in the place they need to get the shot they want. Particularly with celebrities I think people often look the the celebrity to direct the shoot and that’s a very difficult road to go down. Most of them just want to be told what to do. They’re the passenger and as a photographer, you’re the driver.

GS: In your class, will you cover any of the technical side?

CB: I’m really focused on the aim of the picture. For me, I do a lot of post work, but the look is still natural. Sometimes I’ll shoot with natural light and do detailed plates and put the plates together in post, so the picture will look photojournalistic, but it will actually have been put together with a number of plates. The experience I want for the audience is largely pretty traditional and natural, but I’m not shy about using technology in the execution or in post to achieve the experience for my audience as I want it. The same thing for many of the photographers taking my class. I don’t have any pretense that the way I do it is “the way.” As long as the finished work is engaging for the audience. I never want the technical to upstage the work. For instance, Cindy Sherman’s work is very technical but it doesn’t get in the way of the work.

GS: Who should take your class?

CB: People who know they’re on to a good thing but are having a hard time closing the deal. It’s for people who have that vision and they want that vision on the page through their images.

To join Chris at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for “The Surprising Portrait” go (here).

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting.

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops and Outside Magazine

- - Workshops

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.