Selection of images from “The Ache for Home” by Selma Fernandez Richter.
Heidi: What in your background led you to creating workshops?
Selma:I have been a photographer since 2001. I started my career en Monterrey, Mexico, where I attended college, primarily working on editorial projects for magazines. The desire to improve my photography led me to search for the most effective way to learn new skills. I found that photography workshops were an ideal way to do this. They provided an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a relatively short period of time, learn from some of the best photographers in the world, and apply the knowledge to my profession upon returning home.
Tell us about your relationship with Mary Ellen Mark and the connection to the photo center.
I was fortunate to have Mary Ellen Mark as my teacher, who ran an amazing workshop for nearly 20 years in Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico. I was able to attend her workshops for two consecutive years with scholarships from Conarte (Council for Culture and Art in Monterrey).
A desire to continue learning kept me close to the world of photography workshops. In 2007, I started working as Teaching Assistant for the Santa Fe Workshops and National Geographic Expeditions, also in Oaxaca, where I worked with photographers Raúl Touzon, Eniac Martínez, David Alan Harvey and Kenneth Garrett, among others. With time, I started to develop photography classes, in Monterrey, for advanced enthusiasts. Facilitating the learning process and bearing witness to student growth brought me great fulfillment and joy.
In 2011, I was invited to produce Mary Ellen Mark’s workshops which turned out to be the best school I could ever attend. Not only did I learn about photography, but also about her commitment to her students and her close relationship with the community. She always pushed students and staff to their fullest potential. I was fortunate to also assist her on assignment.
Mary Ellen Mark taking a portrait of me during her workshop in 2005
For many years, I collaborated with Photo Xpeditions, the company that produced Mary Ellen’s workshops. I started working with photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, whom I had previously studied with; Maggie Steber, Tino Soriano, among others.
It felt like the natural next step was to establish my own company. And in 2018, I created La Luz Workshops, which truly reflects my values around photography and teaching.
Today, I am honored and deeply grateful to work with some of the world’s leading photographers and industry experts, who are also remarkable teachers. We currently have two workshops in Mexico with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, Finding your Vision, which is held every year, and The Art of Editing, which is held every 3 years (we just completed the first one this winter and it will happen again in 2023). I am really excited to have our first portraiture workshop with Richard Renaldi this Summer, also in Oaxaca, called The Engaging Portrait: A Stranger in Oaxaca. And, in the fall, we will run the second edition of Your Work and Its Audience: Making the Match, with Mary Virginia Swanson and Special Guests.
Art of Editing Workshop: Oaxaca, 2020 with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb”
Finding your Vision: Oaxaca, 2020 with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb
Why in Oaxaca?
While I currently live in Minneapolis, MN, with my husband, photographer Andy Richter and our 3 year old son, Julien, I was born and raised in Oaxaca. Working in my home town is something that always makes me proud. I aim to share it with our students, who come from all over the world, in an authentic and intimate way. We like to encourage meaningful engagement with the people and culture, not just taking things and perpetuating stereotypes.
Oaxaca is culturally rich, visually interesting, offers some of the best food in the world, has great weather year round, and it’s people love and embrace visitors that come to experience it. But there is also a history of colonialism on a number of levels. And that is why for us at La Luz is very important to engage in and promote fair business practices. We also encourage respectful relationships between our students and the people that they photograph. We are really lucky that our instructors and their work, attracts a crowd of experienced and sensitive travelers that come to Oaxaca with an open mind and heart.
To give you and idea of how Oaxaca is such a unique place, around 2003, McDonald’s tried to open a restaurant at the Zócalo —the main square where traditionally locals gather to eat and hang out, and the late painter Francisco Toledo, one of Mexico’s greatest artists, who was originally from Oaxaca, and the organization Pro-Oax, stopped the construction of the restaurant. During the last years of his life, Toledo was also very active in protecting native corn and local farmers from Monsanto. Oaxaca is considered by many the place where corn originated and where the most diversity of species exists. And as you may know, it is also a very important part of our cultural identity.
Tell us about your the connection to the photo center.
The workshops in Oaxaca are held at the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center, founded by Francisco Toledo. The new director, Fausto Nahúm and I are having conversations about how we can best collaborate and have the workshops be more involved with the community and vice versa.
Another important aspect is being able to offer scholarships to Mexican photographers. We currently offer the Friends of Mary Ellen Mark Scholarship every year, that is open to Mexican young photographers (18-32 years old) to attend Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb’s workshop in Oaxaca. This scholarship is partially funded by some of Mary Ellen’s former students and close friends as well as by the Webbs and La Luz. Our hope is to keep Mary Ellen’s memory and generosity alive in Oaxaca, a place that was so close to her heart. We are currently looking into ways to offer more scholarships.
Mary Virginia Swanson and Elizabeth Krist during the workshop Your Work and Its Audience: Making the Match, NYC 2019
Do you organize them anywhere else?
Every year we run a workshop in New York with Mary Virginia Swanson and Special Guests called Your Work and Its Audience: Making the Match. Our Special Guests include: Elizabeth Krist, former Senior Editor at National Geographic; Alan Rapp, Editorial Director at Monicelli Press; Photographer and Photo Book Editor Joan Liftin; Karen Marks, Director at Howard Greenberg gallery; Jane Yeomans, Photo Editor at Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine; and photographer Elinor Carucci.
This workshop is for photographers who are ready to share their photographic work with the world. This class will help them identify appropriate audiences for it and discuss how to effectively reach out to them, whether it be through exhibitions, fine prints, publication or other formats. As artists, we spend most of our time, energy and resources, creating the work, but as Swanee says, sharing the work with others completes the creative cycle.
As you know, the gallery and editorial markets and basically everything in our industry is rapidly evolving. It is so important that photographers invest the time to really understand, speak the language and learn to make better negotiations when commissioned to create new work, granting licensing rights for their images, or when publishing their projects, to mention a few of the topics that the workshop covers.