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Interview With Fine Art Photographer
by Mark Sean Orr
Paul Ponticell is a photographer and a graduate of Columbia College who was born and raised in
Chicgao, Illinois. Paul is a mostly self-taught photographer but has had darkroom classes.,
Paul shoots black & white and color photographs.
Paul's work has received numerous awards, has been published in print and hangs in museums
in Chicago and Columbus.
He is one those photographers who made the transition from film to digital and made it seem
smooth and effortless. His street scenes are incredible and he is a photographer who can shoot
anything...from architecture to people and landscape, all with amazing result.
After reading this interview, I encourage you to check out Paul's work on the Ovation TV
Mark Sean Orr
|Mother and Child
This photograph is part of an 8 photo series. Chicago has three cemeteries; Rosehill, Graceland and
Bohemian National which have incredible statues. I love the statues but decided to take them out of their
These were sitting along the Art Institute and loved the lines and fading and chipping colors.
Hi Paul..thanks for doing this interview! I love your work and have long admired it on
the Ovation TV Community website. I also had the honor of including your work in my
book 21st Century Photography. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood? Where
you were born, a little about your family and your interest in art?
I was born and raised in Chicago; never left and probably never will.
My father was a railroad engineer and my mother was surgical nurse for the VA. Neither of my
parents had any artistic inclinations but my Grandfather worked in charcoal, two of his pieces
hang in my living room: a portrait of Christ with a crown of thorns and a seascape of the
As a boy and teenager I sang in the church choir and was an altar boy. My early artistic
influence was music, whether religious or rock n roll. By 16 I was listening to Jazz and Blues. I
didn’t have my Grandfather’s talent; I can barely draw stick figures and to this day am envious
of all artists. As a kid I was exposed to photography through, Look and Life magazine.
I’d get lost in the black and white photography amazed at faraway places and the events of the
day. It wasn’t until later when I was into photography that I realized the level of skill and talent it
required to be one of those photographers.
What is your educational background?
I attended Chicago public schools; I have a degree in communication from Columbia College
which I received in 1975. I worked as a radio DJ for a short period after graduation but needed
a real income, so I starting my career in Banking in 1976. I am a Senior Lender with a
community bank in a Chicago suburb. I live in Chicago with a wife, a son, 2 dogs and 4 cats.
When did you develop your passion for photography?
Photography didn’t appear in my life until the mid 1980s. I was going to New York City for a
week and asked my brother to use his Pentax ME. I went to New York with a bag filled with rolls
of slide film. When I returned home and got the film developed, to my amazement nearly all of it
was architecture and actually one or 2 shots were good. Somewhere I still have some of the
slides. At that point I was hooked. I bought myself a Pentax ME Super, got books out of the
library on photography and started to educate myself.
This photo was taken early one morning in downtown Chicago. I was just standing on a corner watching
these people going to work.
|In the Grove
This is a little stream that runs along a Golf course; I loved the arch of the trees
and the curve of the stream.
This is Montrose Harbor on Chicago’s north side. It was early one morning and
I was just sitting looking at the dock when a fog started to move in. It was
blurring the other side of the harbor and the high-rises so I started shooting.
|Down by the River
Black and White landscapes are tough; there is good amount of dodging and
burning going on in this photo. I lightened the tree bark, darkened the water and
lightened the trees’ reflection, darkened and lightened the leaves.
Thanks so much Paul for taking the time to answer my questions and for allowing me to post
your wonderful photographs!
You can view more of Paul's wonderful photography here:
Paul Ponticel On Oavtion
Any early influential photographers that inspired you?
Ansel Adams; his work blew my socks off, even today I am amazed at his work, finding
something new with each viewing. The more I learn about photography, the more I pull from
his work. Dodging, burning, his zone system; things I use today shooting digital.
What were your favorite subjects to shoot when you first started out?
Initially I shot architecture; I live in Chicago which is the home to many of the architecture
giants of the last two centuries and their work. Architecture became more than a part of my
photography it melded with my job as I focused on commercial real estate. Since I had to take
photos of properties used as collateral; my job and my joy fed off each other.
That's cool...so that's where your love of shooting architecture began...I love your
urban shots! Your interest branched out to include street shots of people....when
did that happen?
It was during this period that I was moving from architecture to people, specifically people on
the street. I had an apartment which had a large dining room which made a perfect studio. It’s
where I did still life photos.
What is it about photographing people on the street that appeals to you?
First it’s candid, people as they are, not posed. Secondly it’s there one moment and the next
it's gone. You have seconds to compose the shot, focus and click. It’s what I admire about
When did you make the change to digital and was that a difficult transition?
With the advent of digital cameras I dug my heels in, I was a film man, and I was determined to
remain faithful to the tradition. As time went on I became curious about this new camera. My
job and personal life had become computerized so the digital camera was a natural step. My
first camera was a Sony which recorded on a small disk. I was still shooting film but the
number of labs was decreasing. I was shooting with a Pentax 645 and finding 120 roll film was
getting tough and expensive. When the companies improved the lens, speed and capabilities
coupled with improved printers, the move to digital was complete. The cost alone was a major
factor. Then came Photoshop, a darkroom on your computer. I am 100% digital and I’m not
looking back. Photoshop gives me darkroom capabilities I only dreamt of and the constant
improvement of digital camera provides better photos, especially the ability to shoot in RAW.
What equipment do you now use?
I have 2 digitals; my Pentax K-10 which is my main camera and my mighty little Lumix, which I
carry around in my pocket all of the time.
Where has your work been published?
About five years ago I started to push my work out there. I have been honorable mention twice
in Photographer’s Forum annual competition, plus an honorable mention in the Spider Black
and White competition. My work has hung at the Morpho Gallery in Chicago and the Mac
Worthington Gallery in Columbus.
Working a separate full-time job must make it difficult to get out and take
photographs...how do you find the time?
I still don’t devote the time I would like to my craft, on average a couple hours a week at the
most. When I take a week off of work, you can normally finding me wandering the streets of
Downtown Chicago. With my brand new hip I plan to do a lot of wandering this summer.
Your photographs of Chicago street life are amazing and reminiscent to me of
Robert Frank. Aside from the Chicago area...where else would you like to shoot?
Any dream destinations?
My dream would be buy a lap top, a new digital camera, pack a suitcase and drive the rural
areas of America. There is still a story to be found.
You mentioned Ansel Adams...are there other photographers whose work has
There’s been a number of photographers who are my inspirations; Mapplethorpe, Sally Mann
and Diane Arbus, not just because of their technical skill but they were and are risk takers.
People like Helmut Newton who put the sex back into sexy and Annie Leibovitz made portraits
exciting. I still turn to Steichen and Man-Ray for stimulus.
You are one of those photographers who take amazing photos in black and white
and in color....any preference?
Black and white is my link to the past and Photoshop allows me the capability to control the
final photo; burning, dodging; getting the blacks and whites right and all the grays in between.
Its not that I don’t like color but black and white allows the viewer to focus on the subject, color
can be distracting but on the other hand sometimes color is called for.
That's a great answer....I love color and all the new technology, but there's
something about a black and white photo that just seems to me to be classic and
I love your photograph of the Shell station...it has a nostalgic feel to me and the light
and color is amazing...how did this photo come to be?
This is a gas station by my house. It was a night shot, which in its original form was a good shot.
The lights of the station were bright, the colors were glowing and the station was surrounded by
darkness. So I thought to eliminate the color in dark areas and focus on the station.
Any advice for photographers just starting out today?
Learn your equipment; learn what happens when you do this or that. Then shoot, shoot,
shoot. What’s the old phrase: how do you get to Carnegie Hall...practice, practice, practice!
Shoot what inspires you, shoot your friends, your dog, and shoot a bowl of fruit. Now with
digital cameras, you won’t waste a lot of money so shoot.
|Door at the Top of the Stairs 2
I think this will be a new series. I was driving around and cut down a industrial street and there it was.
OYE! Mark... This was a Great Interview for an excellent photographer such as Paul Ponticell.
His Images and the back stories behind them were complimented nicely by the music that you
selected. Professional questions to get candid answers are very brilliant... Nice job again, and
thanks for sharing Paul's story!
-The Blond One-
Another outstanding interview with a truly outstanding photographer whose worked I've
admired on Ovation for a couple of years. Congratulations to Paul and Mark on a very fine
interview, that makes great reading.
Congratulations Paul! It was a pleasure to read this interview! Thank you Mark, you make such
a good job getting all this wonderful artists closer to the viewers and admirers. Paul's art you've
chosen for the interview is just overwhelming and exceptionally beautiful!
I'd like to end this interview with one of my favorite photographs of yours "Morning
Flight". What's the story behind this beautiful photo?
This is a series of 8 photos which are all make- believe. The series contains a foreground
object, water with clouds or a sunrise and birds.
Morning Flight is comprised of a photo of a tree and the ground, a photo of clouds, a photo of
a bird and a little photoshop magic on the photo of lake Michigan. The original photo is
comprised of parts from 4 separate photos.