The Workshop Experience

by George Schaub

“It is fitting that the Santa Fe Workshops campus is located next to a Carmelite monastery in the foothills above Santa Fe, New Mexico. The renowned program’s many instructors range from top editorial and commercial shooters to fine-art photographers who are well established in the academic world, but whatever their field, they often come to serve as both technical and spiritual mentors to their students.

Photo workshops offer a very different learning environment than you’ve probably experienced in school. The workshops’ location can play as big a role in the experience as actual course content, often making it a combination of education and vacation. Access to teachers is usually more immediate than in school, and teachers bring real-world experience not always found on the college campus.

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops has established itself as an enclave of creativity, scoring high on both educational and recreational counts. Its location provides enough subject matter for almost any photographer’s desires, whether these run to landscape or human culture. New Mexico has long been a place of pilgrimage for photographers, famous for its very light. Workshoppers are often seen at such iconic locations as the adobe Ranchos de Taos Church or seeking the nearby spot where Ansel Adams made one of his most famous photographs, “Moonrise Over Hernandez.”

In my experience, Santa Fe’s workshops are often as much about inspiration and openness to new ideas as they are about learning photographic technique. This tenor is established at the first meeting for the weeklong sessions, held the night before classes begin, where director Reid Callanan asks students to give in to the spirit of the place—to disconnect from their workaday world and immerse themselves in the program’s creative environment. Students from the five to seven concurrent classes then meet with their instructors, and the challenges and intense activity begin. Lots of workshops take place mainly on location, and early each morning teachers and students head off in every direction with gear, models (if needed), and high hopes for getting great photographs. Monday evenings instructors give presentations to inspire and motivate participants. “The workshops are an exciting and rewarding week of photographic stimulation, personal growth, and fun,” says Callanan.

One reason Santa Fe Workshops has achieved its world-class reputation is that Callanan and his crack staff are always in the background. They let teachers and students do their thing, but if any need or problem arises they immediately provide the necessary technical, creative, and material support. An atmosphere of respect and professionalism permeates the entire experience, which is why so many students come back for more. . . you just might be exposed to people and places that change the course of your creative life.”

George Schaub is an editor, writer and photographer. He teaches photography at the New School in New York and courses in digital photography at Santa Fe Workshops. This article was written for and first published in American Photo On Campus, and is reprinted with permission of American Photo.

What People Say

I would like to thank you all for, once again, a truly remarkable week. I know that from the moment I arrive until the moment I leave my education, comfort, and overall experience is the primary concern of all who are there to assist me. This is why I choose Santa Fe Workshops. In every way I can measure, you all provide the very best workshop experience anywhere on this and neighboring planets. End of story.

- Steve Babbitt

I regard my beginning photography workshop as a life-changing experience. I am deeply indebted to Santa Fe Workshops for instilling in me the artistic vision, inspiration, and motivation that has flourished throughout the years.

- Joyce Woollems

The best thing about the week was the general Santa Fe Workshops experience. I have been in photography for 30 years and it felt really great to experience this at this level.

- Robb Johnson

A life-changing experience that truly showed me the sacred responsibility of a photographer.
- Oscar Falero