Interview: Greg Ponchak
To begin with, could you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?
Sure, my name is Greg Ponchak; I’m a designer, typographer, photographer, and artist. I also write about philosophy and sociopolitical issues from time to time. Currently, I am living in Columbus, Ohio (USA), but within a year or so that will no longer be the case.
On your website, you say photography, for you, is a way to analyze the world you live in. “Each photograph becomes a piece of an ever-growing index which is a reflection of our society.” Is this the reason you started doing photography, or did this idea develop through the years?
This idea was definitely something that developed over time. My photographs started as a personal documentation of traveling that I was doing and interesting moments from my life. Since I was constantly traveling, it was almost inevitable that I picked up photography as a means of communication; I was seeing all of these things which I thought were beautiful, and I wanted to capture them…at least for myself. Eventually, it became clear that I could convey some of my own ideas through photography, and in doing so, it would add another layer of depth to the work I was doing.
Almost every person who owns a camera nowadays, calls themselves a photographer, and it’s bugging me. I love your photography, though. What, in your opinion, defines the difference between someone who just takes photos, and someone who’s a (fine art) photographer?
This is a tough question, and I believe the answer encompasses more than just photography. For example, what is the difference between someone who draws on the back of their math test and an artist. It seems as though the answer might be simple, however, artists like Marcel Duchamp complicate the matter. In one sense, anyone using a camera or even Instagram is a photographer because they are using a camera, yet there is a clear separation between these people and someone like Alec Soth. I think the difference lies in the content of the work and how it relates to the context in which it was made (i.e. it’s relation to the world of art, it’s relation to some social issue, etc.).
While the majority of “photographers” today are focusing only on aesthetics, good photographers are still introducing contextually relevant content into their work.
Good artists seem to understand where their work stands contextually and are able to make a statement about this situation through their work. A fitting example is Caravaggio. At the time he was working, there were plenty of painters with incredible technical abilities. Yet today, these artists are hardly remembered and lost to time. While Caravaggio was making, what was then, radical work which challenged the fabric of Catholic ideology, these other artists were simply working to further the status quo; they strived to glorify the Catholic church and it’s teachings. In doing so, they weren’t offering anything new to the artistic community or society as a whole. Caravaggio on the other hand, placed religious figures in dimly lit, real-world scenes; in a sense, he humanized the divine. At the time, this was unthinkable. By analyzing art as the synthesis of aesthetics and contextually relevant content (rather than just aesthetics), it is relatively easy to see why certain artists are remembered and others forgotten. While the majority of “photographers” today are focusing only on aesthetics, good photographers are still introducing contextually relevant content into their work.
The photographs on your website are not similar to each other at all: each picture has a unique composition. But, I also haven’t seen two pictures that seem to be taken on the same location. Is there a specific place you like going for taking photographs, though?
There really is no specific place I like more than another; I believe it’s possible to find captivating moments wherever you are. I suppose some places are more challenging, but I’ve yet to go somewhere where they fail to exist. As I briefly mentioned previously, traveling is a great passion of mine, and wherever I am, my camera is with me. There might be a few photos which were taken in the same location, but in general there is quite a bit of variation.
Still photography and video are similar in quite a few aspects. Have you ever tried working with moving images yourself? If not, is there a specific reason?
I actually haven’t worked with video, and it’s something I’ve considered for a while. The biggest reason was that, until about a month ago, I didn’t have a digital camera or any other means to produce moving images. However, there is a good chance that I’ll end up working with video some time soon.
The Wordpress themes you design and sell on your website are very minimal. I love minimal design myself, but my grandmother once accused my design work of being too minimal. Have people ever said something similar to you? If so, what did you reply?
Minimalism can be tricky. Of course a lot of people criticize extreme minimalism as overly simplistic, but I don’t agree with this criticism. I see minimalism as the most obvious and efficient way to convey a message. When your design work is attempting to communicate information or an idea, why clutter the content with unnecessary visual clutter? I’ve never understood designers who do this. I’ve always felt that ornamental design work was just the designers way of saying “look how skilled I am,” when they should be saying “forget about me, here is the message I’m trying to communicate.” It kind of goes back to what I was saying about focusing only on aesthetics rather than content and context.
You have a website ‘Horizontal WP’, which is dedicated to selling Wordpress themes with a horizontal layout. Where did the idea of and love for designing horizontal layout themes come from?
I started this project a while back. At that time, there actually weren’t too many horizontally scrolling websites; so I wanted to make this format more readily available to those who were interested. Computer monitors are generally wider than they are tall, so it makes a lot of sense that a website would scroll horizontally, especially for websites using a lot of imagery.
One of the reasons I love minimalism in design and art myself, is because I like applying a minimalist lifestyle to my own life as much as possible. I try to enjoy the simple things and avoid fulfilling temporary materialistic desires. I do, however, know people who design minimalist products, but aren’t minimalists in life themselves. Does one of these two lifestyles apply to you?
I absolutely love this question; I’m glad you asked. I think minimalism makes a lot of sense, and just like you, I try to apply it to all aspects of my life. Backpacking, my favorite form of travel, is the ultimate realization of minimalism and has helped me realize how little of what I own is truly necessary. I feel that the more things you own, the more you are tied down, in a materialistic and economic sense. If you have a lot of possessions, you need a place to store them, it’s harder to move around, you have less money to spend on things that really matter, etc. There is a larger, ecological side to minimalism that I love as well. So all in all, I’d say it’s safe to call me a minimalist.
A huge thanks to Greg Ponchak for participating in this interview. All the photographs you see above are taken by Greg, but please take some time to visit his website and view more of his photography and design work (it’s worth your time).