Charity Ponter has been connected to InSpero for about three years. She is a treasure to Birmingham and embodies much of what InSpero is about. Charity has a heart for helping other people tell their stories. She also values artists and their processes, and she is a safe person for those she comes in contact with.
Tell us a bit about you and your work.
I’m a creative documentary photographer native to Birmingham Alabama. I specialize in capturing creative people in their natural habitats and in a way that enables them to visually share who they are and what they do with others. I also often create personal artwork projects in the the form of conceptual photo series.
I am currently working on a commissioned documentary photobook about the past 20 years of a southern, counter-culture community and music festival in Haleyville, Alabama that is planned for release around October 2016.
What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?
One lesson my art has taught me is that it is very possible, even likely, that the things I photograph and the way I see the world will be different from anyone else’s perspective. I think I have learned and am still learning to use my unique visual “voice” and to listen to my gut instinct, to capture what inspires me, even if it may not be trendy or crowd-pleasing at the moment. I have learned that sticking to a core value of authenticity in my artwork is a battle worth fighting, and that translates into other areas of life as well.
When in life have you felt most alone? When have you felt most surrounded by others who support you?
Feeling alone is a constant struggle (I say this as a happily single 20-something). There was a span of time when I was newly divorced, and didn’t have many close local friends and had not yet found my current church family/community. I poured myself into my artwork but it was very difficult to stay motivated and to keep depression at bay (translation: I did not keep it at bay). I don’t think we are designed to live alone, or with just two or three other people. I think the “American Dream” is isolating. Even when you’re married or have kids or both, you have your own house and your own little bubble. People need to be in community with others - and I think proximity is a huge part of that. Even if you’re in community with others, if you don’t live near them, it just isn’t the same. I would like to see my generation become a part of more community-living situations. My dream living condition would be to live in a big house with a diverse group of people, everyone having their personal space but sharing the rest. Any time I have felt most loved and supported and not-alone, I lived with a lot of other people in one building. That may not be realistic, so my secondary dream is to share art studios in that kind of setting. I’m still figuring out what community looks like. I don’t think the only options are to have a significant other or to be lonely. I think we all need WAY more community then what we are getting or giving. I want to know what that looks like, so I plan to keep figuring it out. Also, and unfortunately, to be an artist means that sometimes you simply won’t be understood by the general public. That’s not being “emo" or egotistical, it’s just true. Sometimes being an artist means being lonely, no matter how involved you are in a community. I love being an artist, so I’m ok with the trade-off.
What are you proudest of?
In 2014 I started a project that took a year and a half to complete. I created a coffee table book entitled “for the beauty of: Birmingham” that featured a photo series of 14 different local artists in their studios. I poured all of my free time and energy into it and released the book in November of last year (2015). It was a learning experience and I created an enormous book (350 pages!) As a result the project offered little to no financial yield, but the relationships that were built and/or strengthened in my community as a result of my time and effort were well worth all I had invested. I sold nearly 100 copies and when sales slowed down I had to retire the first edition to be able to take on my next large project. I am still considering creating a limited second edition, but even if I never do, I’m proud of myself for sticking with the project, doing 95% of the book myself start-to-finish, and all during the worst/most difficult year of my life!
What are your hopes for Birmingham's creative community?
My hopes for Birmingham’s creative community is that we as artists would be able to collaborate and support each other -- not just showing up for each others art shows but spending time with those who bring you joy and breathe creative life into your own work. I love it when I see the creative community working together to make art, looking out for each other, trading skill sets, and just generally investing in relationships with each other. I think that kind of support can only stem from genuine love and respect for each other along with a conscious decision to leave competition at the door. I can name a long lists of artists in this town that I admire who are my peers, and I can’t wait for the day when I am able to financially invest in their work in addition to relationally investing in their lives.