ASMP New Mexico recently embarked on massive adventure: bringing Photoville’s THE FENCE to Santa Fe. Chapter President Gabriella Marks fills us in on the project, the process and the results.
What is THE FENCE and how did the idea to host it in Santa Fe come about?
THE FENCE is an outdoor photography exhibition series with an annual audience of more than 3 million visitors.
Inaugurated in 2012 as a sister initiative to Photoville in Brooklyn Bridge Park, THE FENCE has rapidly expanded its geographical reach over the past few years to include cities like Boston, Atlanta and Houston. In 2016 Santa Fe joined the FENCE family.
Each year, photographers of all levels are invited to submit work that fits under one or more of our 6 thematic categories: Home, Streets, People, Creatures, Nature, and Play.
Here in Santa Fe, THE FENCE features the work of 56 photographers – 16 New Mexico based photographers featured in the regional show and 40 from around the world. The goal is to present exceptional work that is innovative and accessible to all people.
Santa Fe is the western-most exhibit location for THE FENCE, and the smallest city – yet our tremendous legacy of photography and the award-winning venue of the Railyard Art Park makes it an ideal destination.
The idea to host the show began with ASMP NM chapter board member Sally Thomson, who heard about the project from a friend. We had been looking for an effective way to inspire and promote the New Mexico photography community. Sally called Photoville, and from the very beginning, they were enthusiastically supportive. Each subsequent conversation built on itself, and we took the plunge.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced getting the project off the ground? How did you overcome them?
Boy, where do we start? None of the key folks involved in the organizing – myself, Sally Thomson, Carrie McCarthy (Creative Marketing Director for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops) – had ever produced a project of this scale on an entirely volunteer basis.
Every step of the way raised challenges to be negotiated and overcome – finding the right location, securing approval for the site, getting the word out about the call for entries to ensure a strong showing of New Mexico based photographers, site-specific challenges with securing the installation effectively, press outreach across the state, and perhaps greatest of all, raising funds. It was daunting – there are a lot of emails that were sent out cold, in the hopes of positive reception. The only way not to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis is to take it piece by piece, step by step – breaking each huge task into smaller actions that follow each other and generate momentum.
Our greatest assets have been the overlapping communities – from our location host, The Railyard Conservancy, to sister organizations in the regional photography community, to colleagues and comrades in the nonprofit, design and business communities – everyone was enthusiastic. It’s a project that really sells itself – it comes from a good place and appeals to our better natures, celebrating strong photography writ large on a civic scale – public art in a public park, sharing stories that rarely get the spotlight in mainstream media. And frankly, it’s tremendously empowering to learn how to do these things – every skill we mastered in bringing the project to fruition is similar to the skills we would use to produce a big shoot.
How did you deal with the time commitment involved in this project?
Handling the time committment requires an ongoing negotiation of priorities – I personally tend to think of it as “task triage” – troubleshooting the big challenges that require immediate attention first, keeping track of the other details, and delegating when feasible. At a certain point, especially as we approached the installation and opening, we all completely surrendered to the project. And to some degree, our individual career paths were put on pause. But it’s tremendously rewarding to work on something larger than yourself, to create something that can impact and energize a community, and I trust that energy and time investment will come back, too. The most effective strategy relies on communicating the potential of personal committment – delegation and recruiting reliable people to help make it happen. No single person could do this – it takes a team that believes in the outcome.
Did you work with any other organizations or people outside of the ASMP New Mexico community? How did you approach them to discuss collaboration?
Here in New Mexico we have a vibrant coalition of photography events and sponsoring organizations called “PhotoSummer”. Now in its second year, PhotoSummer is a collaborative initiative that represents and actively promotes historical and contemporary photography in New Mexico. Taking the rich legacy of photography in New Mexico as a point of departure, the exhibitions and public programs around PhotoSummer represent the continued energy and support of the photographic arts in the region.
PhotoSummer 2016 features public programs in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, focusing on photography that spans regional, national and international artists, curators and scholars
Photographers in New Mexico are working in a unique environment, that I imagine is distinct from major metropolitan markets. It’s a geographically large region with a comparatively modest industry. My hunch is that precisely because we are a small community, cooperation and mutual support is essential for working photographers to thrive. We may be somewhat obscure geographically, but we have world-class photography resources here – we have CENTER, the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, the photography programs at UNM and SFUAD, and more. Historically, many of our most iconic legends produced images here, including one of the most famous photographs of all time, Ansel Adams “Moonrise, Hernandez”.
Outreach was very organic – our chapter works with these organizations on a regular basis, co-presenting speakers and workshops, and through co-promotion of our events.
How did you promote the project? Did you have a specific plan for marketing it and getting the word out?
Our specific plan was to send out as many emails as possible to a state-wide press list. We really were dependent on the strength of the project to attract journalists, and fortunately, it did. For those of us who are editorial photographers, and have established relationships with regional media, we reached out on a personal basis as well. It helps that this community is very focused on art – Santa Fe is considered one of the top three art destinations in the country, and that means our media, our residents and our tourists are curious about and enthusiastic to support art in a variety of forms. Art is part of the social fabric here – there’s a very receptive audience.
How as the project been received? Any feedback?
Response has been positive so far – I think everyone who has been a part of this – and we’ve tried to engage as many folks as we can, through submitting work, as jurors, as volunteers helping with the installation – has felt pride in creating a project of this scale in a public venue. It’s a real testament to the power of visual storytelling.
Any other specific advice you have for chapters or photographers in general who are considering a large undertaking?
Find mentors and listen to them, recruit help, and be brutally honest and realistic about the time committment.
Any funny, interesting or inspirational stories?
The most inspirational story I can really think of right now is the feeling that makes my heart pound every time I see 600 feet of photography from a distance, and see people stop on their bike ride or walk through the park – people pausing from their routine and hustle – to look at striking images. That’s a seriously great feeling, especially at a time when nationally, we are feeling so much anxiety. This project feels like a positive response to an uncertain time.
Perhaps a favorite story, now that I think of it – while we were still working in the sun to install the last panels, a pedi-cab rolled up, bringing a 100 year old woman who had read about and wanted to see THE FENCE. That’s just so frickin cool.
Shout out: who was involved and how did they contribute?
Thank you to the Santa Fe Arts Commission, the Railyard Conservancy, our PhotoSummer partners (CENTER, 516 Arts, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Axle Contemporary, UNM), our judges who gave their time, and financial and in kind support from Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, @SimplySantaFe, the McCune Foundation, Adobe, our partners at Photoville, High Desert Digital, Gemini Properties, Tomasita’s Restaurant, the Hotel Santa Fe, every photographer who submitted their work, and our regional media who helped us promote the project – ArtBeat Radio, Mary-Charlotte’s Radio Cafe, Pasatiempo, Santa Fean, Albuquerque Journal North, Trend, AdobeAirstream.com.
You can learn more about THE FENCE and see all the images included here:
New Mexico: thefencenm.org National: fence.photoville.com