Charity Ponter on “Ground Beneath My Feet: Collaborative Portraits with Visual Artists in My Hometown”

We recently asked Birmingham, Alabama-based artist Charity Ponter a few questions about her exhibition, Ground Beneath My Feet: Collaborative Portraits with Visual Artists in My Hometown, on display now in the Coleman Gallery at WMA. She published the series of photographs that make up the show in a book by the same name earlier this year, a follow-up to her 2015 publication, for the beauty of: Birmingham, which featured 14 Southern artists in their Birmingham studios.

Learn more about Charity, her artistic process, and the importance of community in her work by reading this short interview. Then come take in the Ground Beneath My Feet before it closes on December 29th.

Charity Ponter, “Sara Garden Armstrong – Untitled,” 2018, Photo print on matte board

WMA: What was your motivation for creating this series of portraits? 

Ponter: Wherever I have lived, investing in and maintaining community with others is one of my highest priorities. Within creative community, collaboration occurs naturally, as artists inspire each other, work together, and exchange ideas. I wanted to work on a photo series wherein myself and those collaborating with me had total artistic freedom with no agenda other than to produce one final portrait. I wanted to loosen my grip on results and play my way through subconsciousness and process in order to catch a glimpse of the artists’ inner self.

Charity Ponter, “Celeste Amparo Pfau – Forest Floor,” 2017, Photo print on matte board

WMA: You published a book several years ago featuring photographs of Birmingham artists in their studios. Did this project feel like a continuation of that one or was it a completely different project with a separate focus? 

Ponter: This series was a continuation of my first book but in a way I hadn’t anticipated. When I published my first book, I expected it to become a series that I would expand throughout other cities in Alabama and even other states. As is part of the natural progression of artistic growth, the nature of my work shifted from strictly documentary as I began to experiment more with conceptual portraiture. The subject (local artists) remained the same but the style and objective changed.

Charity Ponter, “Leah Thornton – Untitled,” 2018, Photo print on matte board

Charity Ponter, “John Lytle Wilson – Preacherman,” 2018, Photo print on matte board

WMA: Could you describe the process of collaborating with each artist for his/her portrait? Did the artist come up with the costuming, location, etc. or did you have a joint hand in those decisions?

Charity Ponter, “Brad Morton – Untitled,” 2017, Photo print on matte board

Ponter: Each participating artist was given total freedom on ideas for their portrait. I asked them to share a vision or concept that they felt is somehow part of themselves or their art. Almost everyone I meet becomes a portrait in my mind, whether or not I ever actually photograph them. Some portraits have results that matched the artists’ ideas and with a vision of them that I already had in my head; some artists came out of left field with ideas that I would never have thought of, which inspires me even more. There are a few who took the reigns and created production-level scenes that I simply showed up to photograph. Every process was a fun adventure.

Charity Ponter, “Cammie Windlay Sanders – Swamp Aphrodite,” 2018, Photo print on matte board

Featured image at top of post: Charity Ponter, Jon Woolley – Queer Perrenial, 2017, Photo print on matte board

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Outside of tours, family days, and open house events, individuals who are not enrolled in a class are not allowed in WMA classrooms except by written permission of the Executive Director. Parents may not join children in the classroom during instruction times in order to ensure an atmosphere conductive to creativity. It is important to limit the number of adults to keep the focus on the kids, their learning, and to accommodate limited seating in the studio. Parents are welcome to stay in the museum during class but must remain outside of the classroom during instruction time.

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Throughout the year, WMA will host “Meet the Educator” days where parents and their children can come to the classroom to meet the instructor before beginning classes and camps. 2019’s schedule is as follows: January 30 from 4pm-6pm, May 29 from 4pm-6pm, and August 28 from 4pm-6pm.

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