David Scheinbaum’s personal history of photography starts with his first camera (a Kodak Brownie 127), proceeds to a 15-year relationship with the eminent photography historian Beaumont Newhall, and then advances to his current project documenting hip-hop culture. He is chairman of the photography department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and directs the Marion Center for Photographic Arts at the school.
Before moving to Santa Fe from Brooklyn in 1978, Scheinbaum taught photography at LaGuardia Community College and Pace University, both in New York City. In his own photography, he was using a view camera to capture landscapes and finishing a 35-millimeter project in Florida; the results of the latter were published in his 1990 book Miami Beach: Photographs of an American Dream. His other books include Bisti (1987), Stone: A Substantial Witness (2006), and, in collaboration with his wife, photographer Janet Russek, Ghost Ranch: Land of Light (1997) and Images in the Heavens, Patterns on the Earth: The I Ching (2004). Through Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd., the couple collect and sell fine photography and offer consulting services.
Scheinbaum initiated the hip-hop project in 1999. “It’s still happening,” he said. “First it was all 35-millimeter, black-and-white photography, and about two years ago I had a show of that work at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. Then about three years ago, I started also shooting in digital, in color — my first digital work and my first color work ever. I’m also still drawn to stone. I’ve been to Cambodia twice, and I’m planning to go back to Easter Island in May.”
He does a good amount of globe-trotting, but during the school year, Scheinbaum has responsibilities in Santa Fe. He has been a professor at Santa Fe University of Art and Design (formerly the College of Santa Fe) since 1979. He feels good about its recent change to a forprofit school run by Laureate Education, Inc. “In my opinion, the college, and specifically the photography program, is positioned to fulfill the dream so many of us here have worked for,” he said. “It feels like we’re continuing something that was started long ago — for me, 30 years ago — but at the same time there’s a feeling that it’s a new school, and we have about 75 international students at the university now. There’s a different feeling. It’s exciting.”
He lauds the school’s photography curriculum as “probably one of the few comprehensive programs left in the country” because it teaches not only digital image-making but traditional, wet-process photography, the history of photography, and gallery and museum studies.
“As much as we’re in the 21st century and, of course, the students need to be well-versed in 21st-century technology, I find again and again that when they learn how to develop film and make prints, then move to Photoshop, they go there with an increased vocabulary and a depth of knowledge you don’t get when you start there.
“These are all just tools. Is your end result a newspaper page or a wall at the museum? Is it about an exhibition and something that has to have ambience and depth and emotion, or will it be a reproduction on a screen? Again, the advantage of learning everything is the advantage of knowing which tool is best for what you want to do.
“In my generation,” Scheinbaum said, “it was always, ‘Do you work in color or black and white?’ and everyone had to align themselves with Ansel Adams or Eliot Porter or Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson and a certain technique. These students can go out with a view camera and shoot a negative, then go into the digital lab and scan that and make a big acetate image or go into the non-silver lab and make a 19th-century emulsion and print in the sun. They just use it all to do creative work, without getting hung up on labels and categories.”
David Scheinbaum: Marsh, Abiquiú Lake,
1993, toned and waxed gelatin silver print