PhotoArts Santa Fe is intimidating to photography newbies.

The PhotoArts Market at El Museo Cultural, which takes place the second weekend of the 10-day conference, is devoted to 45 exhibition booths manned by New Mexico photographers, 20 vendor booths of national photo equipment manufacturers, and hundreds of art lovers and photography buffs. It is not snapshots for lightweights.

To tighten the focus a bit and grab already over-stimulated eyeballs, one particular booth among the throngs will focus on two subjects that are hard to ignore: beautiful women and desperate refugees.

Photographer Brad Bealmear got a gig the first day he set foot in New York City in 1983, and wound up spending most of his career as a commercial photographer there. By some divine stroke of luck, he happened into a Fifth Avenue jewelry store just after the previous commercial photographer had been fired. With only a year of study under his belt at the Brooks Institute in California, Bealmear effortlessly began what would become a 20-year career in commercial photography for Tiffany & Co., Macy's, Nieman Marcus and other high-profile clients.

After raising two daughters and living 20 years in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the East Village, however, Bealmear had had enough. He wanted to focus more on art photography and knew Santa Fe, a city with which he was already familiar, would foster that creativity. So, in 2005, he, his wife and cat Pablo packed up and came to town and—the stuff of dreams for photographers—its perfect natural light.

Bealmear shed his New York skin by throwing his energy into fine-art photography. Twenty years of big companies and big paychecks were nice, but now it was time to point his lens toward beauty that was more than skin deep. Bealmear had significant experience shooting nudes but had grown bored of the body as blank canvas. He wanted to follow in the tradition of artistic nudes, but satisfy his desire to explore more complexity.

Bealmear turned to ribbon. He discovered just the right kind of wide, colorful ribbon and just the right glue to attach it to bodies, and now he has his color selection and wrapping (of live models) process down to a science. (A slide show of Bealmear's process, from wrapping to shooting, is on

The photos, which have become the series Women Wearing Ribbon, were aesthetically satisfying for Bealmear, but he still wanted more substance. He was drawn to news coverage of the conflict in Darfur and the work done by the International Rescue Committee to help refugees. Bealmear noted the connection between the ribbons he was using and the symbolic use of ribbons to represent causes and struggles. As a result, all proceeds from Women Wearing Ribbon will benefit the IRC, which is currently running rescue operations worldwide, including in Iraq and Pakistan.

Bealmear, as a commercial photographer, was hired for his "look"—and he has a distinct one. His lush photographs sentimentalize the scene with a classical aesthetic, and his muted, hand-painted backdrops expertly enshroud the object of focus—whether advertised object or objet d'art. In his studio, he directs his models like one would on a fashion shoot, tweaking and adjusting the ribbon as it wrinkles and curls.

But Bealmear doesn't regret for a moment leaving the lucrative world of catalog photography or launching headfirst into art. Bealmear's return to Santa Fe was motivated in part by what he calls its "Perfect Vermeer light." Judging from the other 44 artists at PhotoArts, he is not alone.

PhotoArts Market
Noon to 8 pm Friday, July 31
10 am to 5 pm Saturday, Aug. 1
10 am to 4 pm Sunday, Aug. 2

El Museo Cultural
1615 Paseo de Peralta