Breaking Barriers

Story by Arianna Sullivan/Photo by Natalie Abel

“Really,” says Tony O’Brien earnestly, “enjoy the photography. Be who you are.” The Santa Fe University Photographic Society meeting is still for a moment, digesting, and then works itself back up into the excited planning frenzy that preceded Tony’s statement. “So what are we photographing,” inquires one student eagerly, “the people, the streets, of just everything?” Tony looks at the array of confused, enthused and jittery faces and responds simply, “as you see it.”

The group has gathered to discuss the Santa Fe Grid Project—the photo department’s plan for involvement in this year’s Outdoor Vision Fest. Outdoor Vision Fest is an annual outdoor art show of design, animation, video, photography and other visual imagery, and the photo department is preparing to be a larger and louder presence in 2013 than it has been in past years.

The project that the photo department has decided to embark upon, the Santa Fe Grid Project, has potential to grow in influence beyond the festival and even the campus as well. The Grid Project, brainchild of Photography freshman Chris Beran, will be a photographic documentation of Santa Fe’s neighborhoods by SFUAD Photo Society members. Photo students from the school will document designated neighborhoods of the city by means of whatever photographic medium speaks to them—be it still image, analog or digital, time lapse, alternative processing, with or without the accompaniment of interviews or music—as Tony O’Brien puts it, “as you see it.”

Both Chris Nail and Tony O’Brien, the faculty members heralding the Photo Department’s involvement in OVF 2013, are enthusiastic about the project’s potential to be the beginning of a continued relationship between SFUAD and the city of Santa Fe. “It will be a living document, a sort of micro-version of the documentation that occurred during the American Depression,” explains Chris Nail, “an evolving picture history of the city.”

Tony O’Brien brings attention to the gap that usually exists between universities and the cities they are planted in, with a hopeful sense that this project could bridge that gap between the Santa Fe community and the Santa Fe University. If the project is repeated every year as a sort of series, O’Brien explains, the relationship would be symbiotic—the students would be given an opportunity to extend their tromping grounds beyond the school campus, meanwhile providing a sort of service to Santa Fe.

The Grid Project is the brainchild of Photography freshman Chris Beran

The Grid Project is the brainchild of Photography freshman Chris Beran

This hope is mirrored by the enthusiasm of the students already involved in the project. Chris Beran, who got the idea for the grid project from a similar one in Portland, says that he’s inspired by the opportunity to give back to the community in an artistic way. “Community service is awesome,” he says, “but it’s kind of generic. But if you can use your skills and really put time and effort into something and give it back with that—to me, that’s priceless.” Chris is aware that there are challenges to large-scale community oriented projects like this, but he is confident that the artistic drive behind each photographer will carry the project forward. “It’s just a matter of finding the time, getting out there, and doing it,” he says enthusiastically.

The reality of this hits home as, back at the Photo Society meeting, students begin to chart out the neighborhoods they will be documenting—first with a calling out of street names accompanied by exuberant hand gestures, and then more concretely with a map of the city in front of them. Confusions arise, and the largeness of the project sinks in;

“Oh- saj? Where the hell is oh-saj?” asks one student, mispronouncing the street name. Laughter resounds, and somebody chirps up, “I think it’s called Osage.” “Wow,” exclaims another, somewhat startled student, viewing her neighborhood on the map for the first time, “that is a huge chunk of Alameda!” Tony and Chris eyeball each other with eyebrows raised, all too aware of the reality of deadlines and time limitations in the realization of a project like this. “Yes,” Chris responds with a chuckle, “did you think we were going to give you an intersection?”

Still, the group’s enthusiasm has not waned by the time the meeting is called to an end. Ashley Haywood, a sophomore in the photo department, explains to me in a voice that is surprisingly calm after her abrupt outburst only moments ago of, “Holy crap, that’s only two months away!” that she started documenting her neighborhood around Second Street a few months ago. “I’m interested in people’s stories,” she tells me, “I plan on including a lot of interviews.” She seems comfortable with the flexibility that the project allows her as an artist. She is already setting out to fulfill a specific vision of how she sees her surroundings: people and stories—still portraits and interviews.

This flexibility of media is a part of the future of photography—and most art forms—and, “while it pushes the boundaries traditional to photography,” Chris Nail concedes, “it is a good place to be going.” The enthusiasm and energy surrounding the possibilities of the project are a positive forecast for OVF 2013 as a launch-pad for the Grid Project’s involvement in the Santa Fe community. The festival has received positive reviews in past years, and may be an opportunity for SFUAD to become a more united and welcoming presence in the city. Speaking about last year’s festival, Tony O’Brien admitted to a sense of astonishment. “I was walking around thinking, Wow,” he said, “this is the first time I’ve felt the campus this alive in probably eight years… and not just with students—I mean alive with students and Santa Fe.”