Dispatches: Reid Callanan

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Reid Callanan is the founder and director of The Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, simply known as “Santa Fe,” in the business. “Hey, you going to Santa Fe,” this year? “I did Santa Fe twelve years in a row.” “I met he or she at Santa Fe.” Reid’s workshops have simply become part of the vernacular of this industry.

We live in an age when people think they can learn photography on YouTube, and in some cases are encouraged to do so. Look, if you are looking to solve a technical issue YouTube can be fantastic, but I’m just going to come out and call timeout on the rest of this idea. In fact, I’ve met people who learned photography via YouTube and other online mining operations, and frankly I just don’t vibe with those folks. They aren’t evil, or sad or wrong for doing what they do, but learning photography in this fashion creates a certain type of “photographer,” and in my experience they are often focused on things that have little to do with actually being a photographer and more to do with equipment, technique and marketing.

Often times these online newbies don’t know anything about photography, or the history, or what has been done, or how anyone else looks at their work, or how to talk about their own work, let alone the work of others. Professionally. They sure as heck know about what filter kits are available, how to post to social media and how to promote themselves every waking minute, but for me these are all short term plans because ultimately as a photographer you are going to walk from this Earth with ONE thing remaining; your work. You can’t hide from it, deny it or fabricate what isn’t there. It’s a sobering concept for all of us.

Workshops, depending on which ones you take, can address and nurture the foundation you need to be a real, contributing photographer. Reid culls, prods and entices the best photographers to teach at Santa Fe. Regardless of genre, you can find someone to light your candle. You have tech workshops, personal, professional, and just about everything in between. And Reid’s network has expanded to include branch operations in Mexico and Cuba.

And for those of you building a voodoo doll of me as we speak in regard to comments about learning photography online……let me tell you MY workshop story. Back in 1996 I worked for Eastman Kodak, or “The Great Yellow Father,” as we used to joke. Kodak, at that time, sponsored the Santa Fe Workshops, at least in part. One day I received a call from my boss saying “Hey, we have free slots in Santa Fe, wanna go?” I thought he was joking, but turns out he wasn’t and suddenly I was touching down in Albuquerque and renting a car. I took a class from a National Geographic photographer. I had a project in mind when I got there, so as soon as the instructor said “go” I was off and running. Up predawn, driving north, locked and loaded BLAM, BLAM, BLAM. By the end of the week I’d been able to spend one-on-one time with the instructor and he placed a bombshell on my head and watched it explode.

Man, I’m jealous of you,” he said.

“Ah…come again?” I asked. “Jealous of me?” “Why on Earth would YOU be jealous of ME?”

“Because you did more personal work in one year than I’ve done in ten,” he said. “I work all the time, but I’m doing pictures for OTHER people.”

I was dumbfounded, but this was the FIRST moment I realized that professional photography had very little to do with technique. Professional photography was about making unique work, passion, drive, focus and the ability to say “no.” I’m still friends with this person, we talk several times a year, and I’m still learning from him twenty years later. My second workshop gave me the chance to look at the work prints of the one and only Ansel Adams. At this point in my life I was a total jerk who thought Adams was an old fart who shot rocks and twigs. Seeing his prints was like a sucker punch to my neck. The instructor was a former printer for Ansel Adams and walked me through how Ansel did his visualization process in the field, imagining his final print long before he ever made his first exposure. Stunned. Shocked. Ashamed. Yep, all three were me. The workshop taught me that after a decade of “being a photographer” I really didn’t know that much about…anything. In addition to learning from the instructors I also learned from my fellow students and are still friends with several of them. We share work, email, write, send each other art work and push one another to get off our asses and make stuff. I just don’t think you get this from online videos.
Oh, and I’ve never had a margarita with someone on YouTube.

After all this time I finally got to sit down with Reid and pick his brain about geology, travel, work and the photographic life. Thanks Reid, siempre juntos.

Comments 15

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  1. Right on. I haven’t even listened to the interview yet but your remarks about learning online are spot on. The Flickr-famous guys can’t even see that they’re all the same. ‘Oh no way, Bill totally sharpens differently and you can tell that he uses a totally different workflow for denoising’

    I see the word ‘image’ or ‘workflow’ and my hackles instantly go up. Which is a shame because they’re perfectly good words that never hurt anyone!

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      I think Flickr is a good repository for images, at least it works as an archive for many who would have lost their images a long time ago, but if you look at the feedback on sites like this it’s primarily the same thing over and over again. It points,once again, to the reality that there are two photography worlds the one online and the one in reality. They are so totally different, and in most cases don’t know one another. No real pro is ever going to use a hosting site as a forum. Pros just don’t do that. Nor do they care what anonymous amateurs think. Pros are working, promoting, billing, dealing with contracts, rights, stock, etc. The online photography world is a blizzard of noise for the amateur crowd, which is fine, but it has zero to do with the real, professional industry. I’ve never spoken to a professional photographer about Flickr, let alone engaged in a forum discussion with them.

  2. Arg!

    …mileu in which real photography takes place. Everyone’s steeped in Instagram and Flickr and 500px and probably Pinterest. These are your customers, your audience. Photography and Art are basically social constructs, right?

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      I know little. What I do know is that photography has little to do with cameras, filters, online feedback, etc. But I’m talking a real life as a real photographer, not someone who has 500,000 followers but doesn’t work as a photographer. I’m talking about someone who does editorial, advertising, commercial, journalism for a living. Full-time. Those folks don’t tend to learn online because they have to navigate the real world of getting work, billing, sending bids, delivering files, marketing and attempting to learn how to make work that separates them from the pack because if they don’t they will never survive. THESE folks tend for things like an education in photography, art school, workshops, consultants, etc. They also have reps, agents, agencies, publicists, etc. NONE of these folks spend anytime whatsoever in online forums. I spent my life around this photography world, not the one online, so I know much more about one than the other.

    2. Point is the clients do look at Instagram. Or their friends do. Or their friends’ friends. So it ripples out there.

      You get American Apparel with a whole marketing campaign, a corporate image, that seems to be built around a certain kind of image you see on dating sites and other social media.

      I think Terry Richardson and his imitators are deliberately referencing some kind of vernacular/snapshot look that’s gotta come from someplace.

      Not saying serious guys need to be online, perish the thought! What a horrible idea.

      Just that this is the world we live in. There’s this crazy online culture, and it ripples out and touches the real world now and then.

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      Absolutely right. Consequently, a lot of talented people are being forced into the game of social, and what happens is their primary work begins to suffer thus aiding in the slow decline of photography. I haven’t met a photographer who doesn’t have a touch of competitive nature, insecurity or ego, so when the idea of being “liked” happens it begins to erode their game. They all say the same thing “I’m ONLY going to use social for this ONE thing,” and within weeks they are counting likes and are drifting downriver a rate they can never slow. What’s interesting to me is how people consume photography on these apps. INSTANTLY ,and are rarely ever present with the work for more than a second or two. So I’m wondering how this translates to sales for the people doing the hiring. The other problem is it’s already boring. Too many Instagram stories, dating back over the years. The novelty is gone and the next generation isn’t playing along. The way I see it is the photo hurricane is still building and won’t hit landfall for a while longer. Look at stock. Look at assignments. Look at rights and usage. Even with the so called power of social the industry is crumbling.

  3. Yup.

    Social has not only changed the way photography is done and all that, I think it’s literally changed what it IS.

    Pre-digital, a photograph was a print. A more or less permanent object. A thing you could touch. It might live in a box, but it was present. With digital/social, photos (despite being, in theory, eternally preserved as 1s and 0s) are essentially ephemeral, valueless, objects. Sure, I COULD get to that one I shot last week, but I’m not gonna. It’s three clicks away on my timeline. Oops. Now it’s four.. no, five. It’s Gone, Daddy, Gone. Photographs are, as a social construct, value-free ephemera to be glanced at once. That’s *new* and *terrible*.

    Add to that the sheer volume. Even one person shoots so much more now.

    I talk to nerd amateurs, and they stare at me and mumble about how it’s just a backup problem, and you just buy disks, and all their stuff in Instagram is there forever, and and and… They’re missing the point. If you can’t find it, or if you never look at it, it might as well be burned to ash.

    That shoebox in the closet with the prints, you bust that out every now and then. The kids dig it out and laugh at the terrible clothes. It’s still with us. All that crap on facebook is gone.

    I dunno if the industry is gonna survive, I don’t know if Art Photography is gonna survive. I hope so, but ultimately, I am just doing my own thing, sticking pictures into books. What else am I gonna do?

  4. So happy to see your images of Reid, listen to the podcast, and read about your own experience in “Santa Fe,” Dan.
    Turns out I also need to credit Reid and the Santa Fe Workshops for setting me down a path as well… in this case the path to founding this company, Blurb. After I sold my second .com company back in the day, I decided I need a cathartic experience — and started photographing again. After a bit I felt the need to push myself as well as connect with others who were on their own artistic journeys — so I signed up for a class with Paul Elledge in Santa Fe. I was always interested in photographing people and this class became jet fuel for me. Out of this workshop I decided to embark on a project to photograph folks I had built the last two companies with, which became “I need to share this work back with this community,” — which became the impetus to found Blurb.

    So, thank you, Reid — and thank you, Dan for this piece.

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      I think I knew that but it still feels like a fresh story. I wonder how many other people had a similar experience? Oh, glad you created Blurb. Good move!! Changed a lot of lives out there.

  5. Hello, Daniel,
    I am slightly ashamed to say this is my first visit to your site/blog, but I am so happy to read so much of what you write. I was referred to you by Deb Pang Davis, a very wise woman. This post on Reid C. really hits the mark. Thank you for YOUR wise words.

    Hope you are feeling better (I read the Lyme post) and warm wishes,
    monica stevenson

    1. Monica,

      First of all, thank you. Second, thanks for visiting the site. Reid has done so much for so many and should be recognized whenever possible. I wish I knew the Davis clan better. I love their work and have been seeing their names for YEARS. Lyme is a total bummer…..

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