September 28, 2022

Ash Ponders

Talking nerves and telling a story with Ash.Snapshots

Describe your journey with photography.

I learned photography from books and ruining a lot of film in the 90s and aughts. Switched to digital cameras in 2017, right around the time I started freelancing for the New York Times. My first few assignments for the NYT were on film: I'd rush home and develop and scan the images before the deadline. I was nervous my editors would ask for more than the 72 or so photos I took. It's been a few years since that and now I take a few more photos than two rolls could hold, but I still get that rush of anxious energy when I'm showing someone the photos I made.

What have you learned along the way that you wish you knew earlier?

The hard part is the same as the good part: talking to strangers, facing the unknown and uncertain. For me, I think the main trick to managing my nerves is getting more curious than scared. I believe everyone is fascinating once you get a close enough look at their lives and thoughts.

I call it the Fractal Interest Law when teaching students; if you're bored then you're not sufficiently engaged. That, of course, makes the duty to do right by the folks you're making photos with that much greater. I haven't found a tip or shortcut around this stress. No matter what, I'm going to be deeply preoccupied by the desire to tell the story to the best of my ability. That's the job; that's the whole job.

How do you work your own visual style into your work of telling other people's stories?

My visual style—I'm told I have one, though if you asked me to describe the techniques or processes, I'd struggle to name them—is a function of my point of view. No matter how much contemporary journalism pretends such things don't exist. It most certainly does and colors everything I experience.

I have to trust that people seeing my photos understand they are a distillation of the platonic objective "truth" as rendered by a faithful and curious observer. This is reality as I know it.

Post photograph by Ash Ponders

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