The Talented Chris Nail
Technical Faculty member Chris Nail has one of the busiest schedules in the Marian Center for Photographic Arts. On top of being a full time grad student, and a team leader for Santa Fe Search and Rescue, he is also teaches classes, as well as training and managing all the photography work-study students. Lastly, he makes sure the Marian Center functions like a fully charged camera.
Currently, Nail is a little more than a third of the way through his program and is taking a five-course series of classes called Project Development. Nail is working on a documentary style series featuring the volunteers that make up New Mexico’s search and rescue community.
“I was spending a lot of time with one of the dog teams out on their training session in Los Alamos,” Nail recalls. “Most of the time, I had a light backpack on and was sprinting for three hours trying to keep up with everyone. My personal relationship to search and rescue got a little strained over that summer.”
Nail received feedback from his peers that pushed for a more dramatic and studiofied project, but he believed this would make the project less authentic, as it is impossible to direct where a search dog chooses to search. In spite of this, Nail liked the ideas that were generated during the project’s first run.
“This quarter, I’m looking more at how to photograph with the eyes of a searcher: the idea of the unseen and trying to find something.”
Nail shoots primarily during the twilight hours and at night, using artificial lighting to bring out some of the ideas of what people might be attracted to while they’re searching a specific area for something or someone. Nail admits these are only working ideas that are subject to change, but he is still excited about it.
“It still needs a lot of work, but for something that’s right out of the box, it’s actually working out really well,” Nail says. “I’ve been pretty happy with the imagery and the feedback I’ve been getting on it.”
When not shooting his own photographs, Nail teaches Beginning Photography and Intermediate Digital Photography at SFUAD to undergraduates in the Photography Department. He also teaches Beginning Digital Photography; Black and White Fine Print; and Beginning Alternative Processes on a rotating basis.
Nail has been working in the Photography Department since 2006, back when SFUAD was still known as the College of Santa Fe, and he was a CSF undergraduate. He graduated in 1998, the same year the Marian Center was established on campus and became one of the first technicians to work there. Gerry Snyder, who was the academic dean at that time, created the position of Technical Faculty member in order to give full time teacher’s assistants an opportunity to grow in their career working for the college. While he is considered a full time faculty member, as a technical faculty member Nail only teaches four courses a year as opposed to six, with the third class filled in by his staff responsibilities.
“Facilities does some of it. If the air conditioning breaks down, all I have to do is make a phone call,” Nail says. “But I take care of the printers, order and maintain equipment, oversee check ins and check outs, inventory, chemistry, safety procedures, all that kind of stuff. It’s kinda the never-ending job description.”
Despite his busy schedule, Nail loves teaching and claims that one of the reasons he decided to go to graduate school to get his MFA in photography was so he could get better credentials in order to keep teaching.
“Partially to improve my own work, but it gives me a little bit of job stability,” Nail says.
Regarding his own students, Nail hopes they will be able to leave SFUAD with enough technical proficiency to compete in today’s photography market and to come out on top—but he also wants them be able to develop a sense of who they are as image makers.
“I want them to understand how they impact the world visually, through their images,” Nail says. “It’s one thing for a photographer to make really wonderful images by have nothing really happen with them. It’s another for a photographer to interact with the world as an image maker.”