“Photography is kind of an isolating field,” says Jerry Courvoisier. “You’re always in your own world and trying to produce your work.” He lounges on an easy chair in the front room of Edition One, a concept gallery for contemporary photography hidden in the upper reaches of Canyon Road. Pilar Law, who founded the space last December and runs it with her business partner Mark Berndt, nods in agreement from a nearby sofa. “I think we can re-coin the phrase ‘it’s like herding cats,’” she says. “It’s like herding photographers!”
On the walls hang 40 prints by a diverse group of local artists that Courvoisier united for his traveling exhibition, 20 New Mexico Photographers. He's been a prominent member of Santa Fe's photography scene for over 25 years, which is almost as long as Law has been away from New Mexico. She grew up in Santa Fe, but has lived in California for the better part of the past three decades. This show, with its rich cross section of area photographers, has sparked a discussion between the veteran and the newcomer about what it takes to strengthen their community in rapidly changing times.
"I wanted to create a project that was specific to New Mexico," Courvoisier says. "The exhibition and the edition had to be unique, so I started with the square." All of the images in the series are in a square format, and about 70 percent of them were originally shot on film. "I asked these photographers to look back through their huge archives," he continues. "I'm mining information from the past, because it's beautiful and really quite interesting." Courvoisier thinks of photographs as "windows in time and space," and these works deftly chronicle almost a century of photographic output in New Mexico.
The show includes crisp black-and-white photographs by Elliott McDowell and Alan Ross, who worked alongside Ansel Adams. Seasoned photojournalists Jane Phillips and Jack Parsons appear in the show, along with celebrated fine art photographers Lenny Foster and Tony O'Brien. Many of the participating artists are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, but Courvoisier also included a number of younger emerging photographers, including Jennifer Spelman and Rumi Vesselinova.
In 1994, Courvoisier left a teaching position at Southern Illinois University to direct the digital program of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. "I haven't shot a piece of film since 1999," he says. "The first digital camera that I had was probably something that Kodak gave me, and it had a 40 megabyte hard drive as a backpack. It was about the cost of a European sports car. I've been on that track forever." He helped direct the workshops for almost 14 years and built a web of connections that would later inspire his ambitious new project.
There are 26 prints of each of the 40 images in the 20 New Mexico Photographers series, totaling 1,040. Courvoisier is offering each print for $165, which is a steal for some of the bigger names in the show. "I wanted this to be accessible to people, so that they could affordably collect significant New Mexico artists," he says. The first manifestation of the exhibition was a pop-up show near the Santa Fe Plaza this July, and now Courvoisier has teamed up with Law for a second round at Edition One.
"It's a time capsule for what's going on in New Mexico right now," says Law. "You have the old school photographers who have been here for a really long time, and the emerging photographers who are doing something new." Law is just starting to feel out the photographic community. Her mother is local documentary photographer Lisa Law, so she grew up with an older generation of Santa Fe artists. After attending college in Northern California, she worked at a digital photography lab in southern New Mexico and then moved to Los Angeles. There she worked in online photo printing, collaborating with many notable photographers to create some of the first self-published photography books.
When she made her way back to New Mexico and opened Edition One, Law planned to exhibit photographers she'd met through her career in California, but she was also eager to connect with a new generation of Santa Fe photographers. "My approach to group shows is about creating community and diving straight into the deep end in Santa Fe," Law says. She opened her doors to the community through a series of juried shows, challenging local photographers to submit images in an edition of one. "Doing just one print of an image triggers a need to go out and make more work," she explains. "It inspires people to keep creating, to stay on the cutting edge and think about what it is they're doing."
Courvoisier's show—with its guest curator and large edition—was a bit of a departure from Edition One's short history, but its premise fit Law's mission. Both Courvoisier and Law have spent significant time in the digital world, and they sense a growing desire among their peers for community. Throughout the show, they've hosted soirees that connect the participating photographers with the public in novel ways. "If you go to most galleries in town, there's a specific artist being displayed for four to six weeks. Here, there's a community of people showing work," Courvoisier tells SFR. "A lot of these photographers had given up on doing shows like this, so to bring them together and get them talking is pretty cool."
After the show closes on Oct. 7, Courvoisier hopes to take the works to other photography venues and festivals around the state. Meanwhile, Law plans to continue cultivating the community that the show has helped strengthen. "It's what we live and breathe," Law says. "It's what we know and feel passionate about. I'm all about being a venue and outlet for photographers to make a living and be recognized in the fine art world."
20 New Mexico Photographers Closing Reception
5-7 pm Wednesday Oct. 5. Free.
Edition One Gallery,
1036 Canyon Road,