Photographer Paige Pinnell
Paige Pinnell’s photography shows a definite experimental bent as well as an eye for the surreal. In his early black-and-white work, on view in Paige Pinnell: The Artist as Collector at Obscura Gallery, we sense enigma in his portrayals of vague forms and his unusual perspectives on the ordinary. His multiple-image photos, created in the pre-Photoshop world, particularly stand out. They also remind us of the iconic photomontage works by Jerry Uelsmann, and in fact, Pinnell studied with Uelsmann and considered him a mentor.
Pinnell, who died in 2017, was a longtime Santa Fean who was not only a pioneering photographer but an environmentalist and a banjo-playing founding member of Southwest Pickers — two of his heroes were author Aldo Leopold and folk singersongwriter Woody Guthrie. Another of his passions is highlighted in the context of this Obscura exhibition, which opens Friday, Jan. 11. It’s the first in what owner and curator Jennifer Schlesinger intends to be a series called The Artist as Collector. “Paige collected all kinds of things,” said his friend, artist Annie Sahlin. “His house was full of collections of Hopi kachinas, t-shirts and posters from concerts, 78 records, and books about the Boy Scouts.”
The new exhibition includes both photographs by Pinnell and by other photographers he collected, among them Uelsmann, Paul Caponigro, Edward Curtis, Eadweard Muybridge, Anne Noggle, and Edward Weston.
Vesta Paige Pinnell Jr. was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1944, and moved with his family to Florida before his second birthday. As a boy, he was dedicated to Scouting and achieved the organization’s top honor of Eagle Scout. He went on to earn a BFA in photography at the University of Florida. He served in Atlanta’s Vine City ghetto as a part of AmeriCorp’s Volunteers in Service to America program, according to his obituary in He developed a food co-op there and also helped establish an underground newspaper named the
He moved to New Mexico in 1969 and received an MFA in photography and the history of photography from the University of New Mexico. He studied at UNM with another renowned photographic experimentalist, Van Deren Coke.
Sahlin met Pinnell in 1971. “I knew him when he lived up on Cerro Gordo. We were hippies and we met through other hippies and hung out when Santa Fe was very exciting,” she said. “He was my first photography teacher. He was a photographer and a good one. I used to trade him. We’d go to Steaksmith and I’d buy us beer. He would give me instructions of what I should do next and I’d go do it and bring back the photos. He’d give me a critique. His biggest question was always, ‘So what?’ You had to ask yourself what made that an exciting or important photo. Why did you take it? Why would anyone else like it?”
Photography dealer Andrew Smith and book dealer Nicholas Potter both credited Pinnell with expanding their knowledge of photography in the 1960s, Schlesinger said. She added that Pinnell was instrumental in the development of photography as a marketed art form in Santa Fe, but according to Sahlin, he had little interest in marketing his own work. “He didn’t care so much about presentation in terms of impressing anyone,” she said. “He was