Charity Ponter appears to be as warm and giving as her first name implies. The photographer, 26, effused confidence and ingenuity when she spoke about her newly released project, For the Beauty of: Birmingham.
“I absolutely knew I was meant to do this,” Ponter said about her book of photography. “I am more confident about this body of work than I’ve ever been about a body of work.”
The 350-page photo series is a glimpse into the intimate spaces where Birmingham artists create. It offers a rare view into the often highly private world of creative professionals.
“Whenever I meet a new creative person, I feel like I am discovering them,” Ponter, a self-proclaimed people-person, said. “I get excited about other people who are using their talent to do really amazing things. I had a longer list that kept growing of all these people that I knew needed to celebrated. They needed to be seen. I decided I was going to do that with pictures.”
The 14 artists Ponter has chosen to celebrate span much of the visual arts mediums from pottery and jewelry making to the culinary arts and painting. For the Beauty of: Birmingham highlights biophilic designer Jonathan Woolley, sculptor Sarah Heath, visual artist Chiharu Roach, blacksmith and sculptor Forrest Millsap, jewelry designer Anne Conway, multimedia artist Katie Elkins, sketch and book artist Doug Baulos, glass artist Amy Soverow, woodworker and furniture designer Ronnie Crutchfield, textile artist Miriam Omura, sculptor Brad Morton, ceramic and mixed media sculptor Janice Kluge, chef Joshua Blackwell and illustrator and mixed media artist Marilee Challiss. Ponter’s book also captures a handful of inspiring spaces where artists often converge, giving homage to the buildings that have given opportunities for Birminghamians to encounter art on a daily basis: Stream, a creative complex in East Avondale; MAKEbhm, a community arts space on Fifth Avenue South; and Bottletree, the former artistically bent venue that saw performances from The Thermals, The Dodos and Waxahatchee to name a few.
Ponter, who grew up in Chelsea, has lived in various Birmingham neighborhoods including Irondale, East Lake and Southside. Though still in her 20s and self-taught, Ponter is an experienced photographer and dabbled in every capacity of professional photography before she found where she fit.
“I had to learn everything I didn’t want to do before I found what I did want to do,” Ponter said. “I used to be a wedding photographer. I used to be a portrait photographer. I used to shoot baby pictures. I mean, I did all these different things and I branded myself so many different ways and it took doing all those things for me to realize, ‘Wait a minute. None of this inspires me. None of this is sustainable because I don’t love it.’
“I began to identify what I did love. And what did inspire me turns out to be creative people and creative spaces and handmade products. Those are all things I just naturally love.”
Now, she serves local artisans with building custom websites, branding and product photography.
For Ponter, creating a book that captured the studios and the processes by which works of art are made was a natural extension of her own creative endeavors.
“I think photography partnered with all kinds of artwork and all kinds of media is really helpful for people,” Ponter said. “An installation piece is massive, but a well done photo of an installation piece can still be shared with people who wouldn’t normally be able to see it.”
“I’m using my medium to capture their medium,” Ponter continued. “So, I took pictures of the paint and what they were painting and halfway through the process and what tools they’re using and the backdrop.”
Led by curiosity, Ponter explained that even though she works with artists professionally, she learned more from the process of shooting For the Beauty of: Birmingham about what it takes to create a work of art.
“Usually if you want to see a finished piece, you can,” Ponter said. “You can see it online or wherever they’ve installed it, but to see how it came to life is a completely different story. Honestly, I had no idea how much time and effort goes into making [some of the artists’] pieces. It takes a ton of steps and stages and processes.”
She began with just five artists she wanted to document, but, Ponter explained, she then asked each artist to give her a name of another Birmingham artist.
With an ever-growing list of artists, Ponter realized that the book she was creating was more of a celebration of the creative movement in the city and the pockets of artists’ collectives that can be found throughout Birmingham, and that it could potentially inspire other cities to nurture their own fine arts communities.
“I think there’s a lot of city pride in this,” Ponter said. “I hope that it reaches farther than Birmingham. I hope that other cities in Alabama can know that this isn’t just about Birmingham — it is possible anywhere to have a community of artists… It doesn’t matter if there are eight of you; celebrate it, foster it.”
The entire process took her a year and two months. The book is printed locally, and Ponter had her hand in every aspect of production. The work was written, shot, edited and promoted by the photographer herself. Ponter was able to raise about 75 percent of the printing costs through a GoFundMe account where customers could preorder their copy of For the Beauty of: Birmingham.
The book was released to overwhelming success on Nov. 20 during a launch party at Cahaba Brewing. Ponter sold enough copies to begin a second round of printing. The book is now available for purchase at Glimmer and online via Ponter’s website.
When asked what her plans are from this point forward, Ponter alluded once again to her expanding list of artists. With a spark in her eye and a wide smile, she revealed her plans to incorporate different artists into future installments of For the Beauty to fully capture the beauty of the city she loves so much.
For more information about Charity Ponter and For the Beauty of: Birmingham, visit charityponterphotography.com.