Thursday, April 23, 2009
Photographer Interview: Greg Ponder
Follow Greg on Twitter @gregponder, check his photography online or read his blog.
D&B: Where are you from?
GP: I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.
D&B: How did you get started in photography - any "formal" training? GP: I was drawn to photography when as a child I came across a stash of old Brownie cameras, Polaroids, light meters and the like in a drawer at my grandparents house. All those gadgets really appealed to the burgeoning “techie” in me. I was told that the cameras belonged to my favorite uncle, (which increased his cool points.) I never used any of them to capture images, but I had a great time pretending and figuring out their mechanisms.
It wasn’t until high school that I really dove into the craft. It started with the yearbook staff, then a introductory B/W photo class that taught me the basics of darkroom printing. My passion grew from there. I consider myself to be largely self taught, although this is not entirely true. I took a few classes in college that I feel I took little away from. Most of what I’ve learned has come from trial and error, first with film, and now with both film and digital. I’ve also received a wealth of insight from other photographers, workshops, etc.
D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
GP: Canon Digital SLR platform, Mamiya RB67, various 35mm setups. No special techniques.
D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
GP: There are several photographers who at various stages who took me under their wings (whether they knew it or not.) First and foremost, Ben Cornford has been most inspiring when it comes to photography as a creative art form. He taught me that “…if you get the image, it wont matter what you had to do to get it.” He also helped me understand how to keep photography fun and creative. He also introduced me to Photoshop.
Another photographer Ron Witherspoon would also make this list. Ron helped to develop my business sense; how to be more efficient, and how to monetize my craft. On a philosophical level, Cig Harvey played a key role in encouraging me to define my own personal vision, “…It’s not enough to just create pretty pictures.” There have been others, but I’ll stop here.
D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a photographer of color? (this question is optional)
GP: I wouldn’t call it a setback, but historically I have received lukewarm receptions or a general hesitation when it comes to support from other black photographers. Especially once they saw my work, and determined I might be a potential threat to them (somehow?). I mentioned my strongest influence and support comes from Ben Cornford, a white South African photographer. It used to upset me that a white man gave me more in terms of opportunities to assist as well as encouragement, than other black photographers. He believed in my ability to create compelling images and celebrated the fact that even though I was technically his lesser, I did “see“ in ways that he never could.
On another note, I feel that often times when it comes to expressing certain concepts visually, photographers of color face a stronger criticism of those ideas and the execution of those ideas. There’s also an unstated expectation that photographers of color only deal with subjects pertaining to their specific ethnicity. But again, I don’t consider that a setback, it just has been my experience and yet another source of motivation. The one true setback I can think of is the relative absence of “us” in the popular history of photography, success would seem to be a fleeting concept.
D&B: When did you realize you could make money as a photographer? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
GP: In the beginning, I was just shooting film like crazy, on my own dime I might add! I was basically giving pictures away, not recognizing the monetary value of my time and efforts. I had so much fun taking pictures that I must have turned down about $5,000.00 worth of work before I considered asking for payment for my services.
People would see me everywhere with my camera, and I’d keep a little view book of my work with me that I would share with anyone who cared to look. But in those days, I felt that I needed to go to art school or have the top of the line equipment in order to charge money for my work. It seemed that photography was only to be my little expensive hobby. It took awhile for me to grasp and become comfortable with the economics of photography.
It didn’t register that photographers who had the gear had in fact bought it with money they made by charging for their work. It felt great to get that first considerable check (i.e.-able to buy more equipment) for doing something that I truly loved and would have done for free! Photography currently only supplements my “day-job” so I obviously have a little work to do, but I’m getting there. I know there’s money to be made.
D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
GP: I really would like to create a body of work that helps people see my world as I lived it, breathed it, or otherwise wished it could be. I don’t talk a lot, so I hope that I can convey a little bit about who I am through my work. I hope to allow others to slow down and appreciate our visual landscapes. I hope to inspire young artists to consider art as a career at an earlier age than I did.
Lastly, I want to help bridge gaps, inspire thought and conversation, while documenting the good, the bad, and the “uglies” of life.
D&B: What's your dream photography project?
GP: Let’s see, I’d love to be commissioned for a documentary project that allows my family and I to travel the world interacting with people of different cultures. We’d photograph and write about the experiences then create a traveling exhibit that would be showcased in international airports, museums and coffee shops. I’d also like to pursue a project that allowed me to document a day with some of my favorite musicians, that would be cool.
D&B: What are you shooting now?
GP: Right now I am trying to establish myself here in Chicago, so I‘ll shoot almost ANYTHING. It’s been a little slow getting my name out there, but I’m beginning to gain some momentum here, so I intend to see to it that this trend continues. The drop in client work I initially saw upon moving here gave me a chance to think more about my own work.
I’ve been working on image editing and the task of building bodies of work around more solid concepts. I’ve always had trouble choosing my best work to represent me. There’s an art-to-image presentation and I’m focusing on that aspect these days. I’m looking to create a line of Photo-based “lifestyle products” that place my images in new exciting settings accessible by the public even in a recession!
I plan to exhibit more of my work moving forward. I’m really looking for ways to get these images off my hard drive, out of these negative sleeves and up onto more walls, and into more magazines.
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