500 Million : A Photo Documentary Project of Leonardo Ponis

Born in San Juan, Argentina, in 1977, Leonardo Ponis doesn’t look for perfection of nature and ethereal beauty in his landscapes. His work deals with human impact on our environment and he portrays it with presenting us places that are dry and desolate. His images of transitional spaces and suburban landscapes have a beauty of their own. It’s a mundane world out there which bears the burden and brunt of human civilization and progress. These images are from his photo documentary project and self-published photo-book ‘500 Million (2013)’ and were shot in Sierra Chica de Zonda which is located in south central province of San Juan, Argentina. It is at the western foothills of the Andes. More from the photographer himself:

500 millones 1Please tell me about yourself:

I’m from San Juan, a western province of Argentina near the Andes. I’m 38 and work as a journalist.

How did you get into the world of photography? Did you always want to become a photographer? 

When I got my first serious job, around 19, I bought a motorcycle, took the family camera (a P&S film camera), and went randomly shooting during my trips. I had no idea about photography, I was just curious. By then, I was trying to become a writer and I didn’t pay much attention to photography. A couple of years later, I ran into creative block. I wasn’t able to write a line. So photography became a kind of therapy and at the same time it slowly grew in me. I did some street/documentary stuff in the beginning and I finally turned to landscaping.

500 millones 2Do you have an artist statement? Do photographers need one?

Statements can give you some interesting framework but also can constrain your ideas. In my case, being too conscious of what I’m doing sometimes doesn’t help much. I work with main ideas in each project, but I’m very flexible about it.

500 millones 3What is your method of shooting outside? Do you work on a planned or spontaneous way? 

I have a full time job and most of my projects are very geographical and involve small trips, so I have to put some thought in every shooting. I spend some time (via maps, Google Earth, Google Images, etc.) looking for places to explore, but once I’m on the road, I stay very open to what gets in the way.

500 millones 5Tell us about the equipment (camera and lenses) you mostly use and what is your workflow like:

For the landscape work, I use a Pentax 6×7 with a 105mm lens and shoot Portra 400. For the mainly urban stuff I use an Olympus mju with the cheapest film I can get. I develop the rolls at a local lab and scan it at home. I use PS for cleaning spots and correcting contrast, with balance, etc. I don’t like to add or erase nothing from the picture. That’s what works for me by now. Then, I make small prints for editing purposes and bigger prints if there is an exhibition.

500 millones 11What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.? 

I’ve just finished editing a self-published book, and now I’m going through that post project phase where you fall disorientated and don’t know much about what’s to come. I’m writing down and developing some ideas for the next project, but it will take a while until I need the urge to go out and shoot. I’m not very ambitious. I just want to keep shooting because I really enjoy the whole process: from driving in an empty road at dawn until scanning at home. It’s pretty basic, but that’s what makes me move.

500 millones 12Please share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films, books, music etc. 

It’s a big list but I always come back to classics like Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams and Stephen Shore, but also enjoy a lot the work of younger people like Alec Soth and Todd Hido and emerging photographers like Marek Wykoski or Wara Bullôt to name a few.

Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers: 

I guess it’s all about finding your own vision. Everything else is supplementary.

500 millones 15 500 millones 16 500 millones 19 500 millones 20 500 millones 21 500 millones 22 500 millones 23 500 millones 24 500 millones 29All photos © Leonardo Ponis : Website

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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