Sage Paisner knew he'd only have nine months in the space, but it was just too good to pass up.
He opened the nonprofit Foto Forum Santa Fe on Paseo de Peralta, just down the street from SITE Santa Fe, in November of 2017 and began hosting exhibits and teaching photography workshops. By the summer of 2018, however, one of his landlords made good on a promise to take over the space for a studio of his own. Paisner, however, was already hooked on the Foto Forum formula—one wherein the art, education and science of photography can intersect. Come this Friday, the nonprofit reopens again, a mere few yards from its original
location in a new space Paisner describes as "smaller, but much nicer."
Paisner's story is unusual. Whereas most Santa Fe youths clamor to escape the city as soon as they reach college age, his ultimate goal was to end up here and to give back to the community he holds so dear. Paisner began by learning the ropes of photography at the University of New Mexico in 2001. There, he got the basics to build and safely maintain a darkroom and executed series such as a string of silver gelatin self portraits.
He took two years off after graduating but, he says, a former UNM teacher urged him to apply to CalArts in 2008. He was accepted, and once there, expanded his horizons into a broader scope, including film and documentation of under- and misrepresented communities. He would even work with Native activist Russell Means on a series about the American Indian Movement—but, he says, Santa Fe still called to him. He returned in 2015. These days, Paisner teaches photography at CalArts each January, but Foto Forum and Santa Fe are his main focus.
"I wanted to bring something different to Santa Fe. Growing up here and not having a lot for the youth to do; seeing my friends in prison or get into drugs or OD … the arts put me on the right path," Paisner says. "The youth don't have great opportunities, so to allow them to combine old and new [photography techniques] is lucky."
Outside of Foto Forum's exhibits, Paisner, along with a number of
volunteers and interns, use the venue as a low-cost educational center. Workshops are available to the public, and the staff provides low or
no-cost classes to schools in Santa Fe and elsewhere. On the day of our interview, Paisner was heading to Artesia to teach a public school workshop set up with the help of the New Mexico School for the Arts.
"Comparing photography to a record is a great analogy: People buy records because there's no tactile feeling to downloading a song. With a record, you get to feel it, you get to pull the booklet out, there's the nostalgia. And it's the same with photography—most kids have only been able to look at images through a backlit screen," Paisner explains. "Where I come from, it's not a photograph until it's on paper, a substrate; and even then, it's not finished until you
figure out how to present it—our students want that tactility; they find out it has depth and beauty, a detail and tonal value you can't get with digital."
Of course, he's not entirely shirking new methods, and workshops in lighting as well as digital portraiture, printing and more are on the slate for later in the year.
For the reopening on Friday May 3, Paisner brings in the big guns such as Joel Orozco, a former CalArts student of Paisner's. Orozco presents color and black and white images culled from and inspired by his upbringing in Southern California and Chihuahua, Mexico. Paisner says Orozco is interested in the folklore of the places he grew up, and that his photos find him taking masks to subjects who then act out scenes based in memory.
Also featured is Judy Fiskin, a former teacher of Paisner's who uses videography to examine sociopolitical topics. For example, her piece The End of
Photography tackles the ubiquitousness of digital photography and the apparent death of film-led analog methods. That day, thankfully, hasn't come yet, but the champions of the art form are certainly dwindling.
Rounding out the show is Joyce Neimanas, a former teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago. Neimanas taught at UNM from 2004 to 2010 and was the teacher who urged Paisner to apply to CalArts. Upon retiring, Neimanas ensconced herself in photography and videography, capturing anything from still lifes and tattoo to collage and nudes.
As for Foto Forum itself, Paisner says he's in it for the foreseeable future. His new lease has an option to renew, and he still has plenty of plans.
"I think photography is universal. It democratizes imagery, it's attainable to most people," he says. "And I say that knowing we're very privileged in America, but I just think we love looking. I just think we're going to be attracted to images."
Foto Forum Santa Fe Relaunch Party
5 pm Friday May 3. Free.
Foto Forum Santa Fe,
1714 Paseo de Peralta,