The Santa Fe Workshops, founded by Reid Callanan in 1990, have offered workshops for photographers of all skill levels since their first year in operation. For the last three years, they’ve expanded to offer classes for budding writers through their Writers Lab on their Santa Fe campus as well as abroad in Cuba and Mexico. In celebration of their thirtieth year, I spoke with Reid about their history and the great success they’ve enjoyed. This content is sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops.
Since 1990, the Santa Fe Workshops have been offering classes to both professional and aspiring photographers interested in improving their craft and receiving professional development training. Over their nearly 30 years in operation, with the rapidly developing technology in the world of photography allowing easier access to the tools of the trade, the workshops have transformed into a place for amateur photographers and emerging writers who want to be published to learn from the pros. The workshops offer the time and space necessary for the attendees to hone their skills in the beauty of the New Mexico desert.
I had the great fortune to speak with Reid Callanan, founder of the Santa Fe Workshops, about the great success they’ve enjoyed. In our conversation, a few things were immediately clear: Reid is a busy man, splitting time between Maine where his family lives and Santa Fe; Reid loves a good conversation; but most importantly, Reid is passionate not just about photography, but about the Santa Fe Workshop and the creative process as a whole. I asked Reid about the beginning: What led to his founding of the Santa Fe Workshops?
When Reid was a junior in college, inspired by his father’s own trip abroad, Reid studied in London. He brought along a new camera, took a photography course, and that paved the way for his future. When he returned to the states, he finished out his B.S. in geology, but upon graduating, he found his way to the Maine Photographic Workshops, where he strived to improve his craft, and eventually worked in every capacity on its staff. He said it was there that he learned how to run a workshop (and, how not to run one). In 1989, he loaded his family and a small staff into a car and drove across the country to the desert in Santa Fe to establish the Santa Fe Workshops.
Why Santa Fe? I asked Reid. It seems like a bold move to relocate across the country like that. Reid agreed. But the move, he explained, was a strategic decision. It would’ve been suicide to compete with the Maine Photographic Workshop, so the East coast was out. He had family in Santa Fe, he said, and had always loved the arid climate. But most importantly, he wanted a place that would inspire photographers; it needed to be a creative place. The Santa Fe Workshops’ campus is located on a monastery, what Reid described to me as beautiful, serene and quiet. Its location is part of what prompted Reid to expand beyond photography and begin offering writing workshops three years ago. Writer friends of his commented on its potential as a quiet place to center and meditate, and Reid had always had a personal desire to get involved in the world of words. So three years ago they diversified their business in a move that’s paid off handsomely. They now offer writing workshops at their Santa Fe campus as well as in Cuba and San Miguel. “Writers are easy to please,” Reid joked.
When asked which photographers and writers inspire him, Reid was quick to answer: For photography, Reid cited Sam Abell, a former National Geographic staff photographer, who’s taught workshops on vision, on how we see. Reid has spent time with Sam in workshops, and he said Sam’s thoughts, pictures and ideas are largely influential for his own work. Something that Sam advocates for is finding a scene that compels you and then waiting for something to happen. You might stay twenty minutes, you might stay an hour, but you wait there for something to happen. But, as Reid acknowledged, sometimes you do have to move on. For writers, Reid named Pam Houston, whose workshop in San Miguel just concluded. He called Pam a “fabulous writer and an equally great teacher.” Similarly, Pam advocates for “glimmers,” or moving through the world until something glimmers back at the writer as an inspiration.
For aspiring photographers and writers, Reid had a few pieces of advice. First, he said, the best way to get better is to do it on a daily basis. Neither photography nor writing are crafts you can set down and pick up later and do well consistently. They take dedication, devotion, and a true passion for the creative outlet. Photographers for some reason, he continued, seem to think they can put their camera away for long periods of time until they’re headed out on vacation and expect their photographs to turn out great without practice, but it doesn’t work that way. He recommended they carry their cameras at all times and make pictures daily. Make it an extension of you, another appendage. Daily writing, too, will help you improve your craft. Second, he recommended that amateurs in both fields find a mentor they can trust, someone who’s better than them, that they can touch base with on a regular basis for honest feedback and critique. It’s a hard field to get good in, Reid said, because it’s work we do alone. Most writers and photographers work in a solitary environment. Find a mentor, get involved in a writing group, he suggested. Or maybe, enroll in a workshop.
For their thirtieth year, Santa Fe Workshops is undergoing a rebranding. Reid said they wanted to bring more focus on their writing workshops—even though they’ve been advertised in their newsletters, the photographers who attend their workshops seem to be generally unaware that Sante Fe Workshops offers classes on writing. Reid was excited about the success they’ve had combining photography and writing at some of their workshops in San Miguel, which brought awareness to their writing courses. With the rebranding, Reid hopes to attract a younger crowd to their beautiful campus in Santa Fe. Find out what courses are offered in 2020 on their website, and take the trip.
By Cole Meyer
Content sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops