Sitting with Sage Paisner in his new gallery space, Foto Forum Santa Fe, I am met with the feeling that photography can create a sense of community, togetherness. Foto Forum is a non-profit space, lending itself to an ethos of collaboration and sharing. The space and the philosophy behind it focus on workshops, community groups, and an undercurrent of criticality. “All proceeds,” Paisner explained, “go to operational costs of running the facility, rent, advertising, and maintaining quality programming for the Santa Fe community.” This orientation toward community creates a concrete space in which to meet, divulge, and converse, share artistic ideas and collaborate. And it also creates an outward-facing dialogue amongst many others, a furthering of ideas and thought through the guise of creativity. Alongside exhibitions, Foto Forum also has a series of photography workshops—Paisner himself is a master of old methods of photography, such as tintype—darkroom facilities, group crits, and artist talks.
Foto Forum opened on November 24, 2017, with Pasiner’s exhibition My Family is Everything/Mi Familia Es Toda. The solo exhibition, which housed some of Paisner’s most intimate portraits of people he has known in New Mexico, set a communal tone for the gallery’s future. Each of the twenty black-and-white photographs acts as an homage to the subject in question. A kind of respect shows through its having been made. Through form and gentility, Paisner’s photographs render an unusual documentation of the human form. Portraits often can unveil the expressions and characteristics of a person, and here Paisner has done just that. For instance, several of the portraits depict local Native American individuals holding objects (such as knives) alongside children playing in the New Mexican streets, women, and other members of society. The viewer gets the sense that community and individuality are central to his work, and when viewed together, the portraits render a collective meditation on the various demographics found in this state. Born in Oregon, Paisner moved to New Mexico in 1988 and studied at the University of New Mexico, and went on to receive an MFA from CalArts in 2010 before returning to Santa Fe in August 2015. In addition to being a photographer himself, he teaches analogue color and black-and-white mural printing, alternative process, and a myriad of other photographic techniques.
Hunt subtly bore witness to these socio-economic factors, while presenting the images in a solo show which was, in turns, haunting, beautiful, and politically urgent.
Earlier this year at Foto Forum, Ashley Hunt’s exhibition, Degrees of Visibility, offered an empathetic and nuanced documentation of the prison system in the United States. Traveling across the U.S. for over eight years, Hunt photographed over 250 prisons to give a visual perspective on their physical displacements. His documentation made a political statement about the state of the current carceral system. The architectural focus of the exhibition allowed the viewer to consider the geological placements of prisons and how they are often rendered invisible to broader society. With the rise in supermax prisons in the 1980s, the U.S. has seen an increase in individuals incarcerated, especially people of color. Hunt subtly bore witness to these socio-economic factors, while presenting the images in a solo show which was, in turns, haunting, beautiful, and politically urgent.
Foto Forum’s solo exhibition Uncommon/Common this spring featured the work of Harry Gamboa Jr. Gamboa originally grew up in East Los Angeles and spent much of his time working in activist networks and community organizations in the city. He attended California State University on an Equal Opportunities Program and began experimenting with different art mediums; he is a performance artist, as well as a photographer. His series, No Movies, is an archive of the artist during the time when he founded the performative art collective ASCO (which is Spanish for nausea). The images, which consist of authorative figures standing, often in streets, gazing into the camera, are a window into ASCO and the political milieu of this period. This is particularly accentuated in the portraits of artist and designer Jef Huereque, whose arms are folded and his expression alarmed, as if caught off guard. Gamboa also draws connections with community as something that can be created by photography, as opposed to photography just capturing it. The photographs are raw, fun, and playful, encapsulating the excitement of the time, while sincerely underlining the importance of collaborative art.
To find a space which harbors such political agency, artistic brilliance, and community focus isn’t just unusual; it’s necessary
In conjunction with Gamboa’s show, Foto Forum will exhibit Joel Orozco’s ongoing work with the Taruhumara People of Chihuahua, Mexico, in September and October. Orozco’s work is somewhat different from Gamboa’s; it interrogates a specific demographic of individuals, the images rich in emotion and intimacy. As Paisner explains, “Foto Forum Santa Fe wants to focus on and bring light to show untold or forgotten visual stories that challenge and activate the community.”
All of these exhibitions, despite their diversity in subject matter, have a humanitarian thread. They ask in-depth questions about empathy, ethics, and relationality. Foto Forum is currently located in the Railyard but will be moving to a new location in September. As the gallery goes through these physical changes, I do not doubt that its importance in the Santa Fe art scene will continue. To find a space which harbors such political agency, artistic brilliance, and community focus isn’t just unusual; it’s necessary.