Ash Ponders in NYT for Heat

Climate Change Batters the West Before Summer Even Begins

Man it’s a hot one. In fact it was like three hot ones on this assignment. Got a request at 8am to get out there. Stayed out from in the record setting heat until 8pm looking for features, no real idea other than “show the heat.” Thankfully the sunset was totally apocalyptic. Weird thing to say.

PS: Made it to A1 in the International edition of the New York Times. First time I’ve made it to A1 in the NYT after several near misses. Woop woop!

Ash Ponders on The Intercept for Migrants


Ryan Devereaux and I went to Ajo again to learn more about how CBP’s recent choice to simply abandon migrants in rural desert towns.

I’ve been to Ajo dozens upon dozens of times over the past couple decades and I learn new things each and every time I go. This was no exception. I was glad to work with a writer who has significant understandings of the realities in the area and deep appreciation for my experience too.

This story also ended up on The Intercept’s podcast Intercepted. With a very subtle and well done composite of my photos by Elise Swain.

Ash Ponders in the San Francisco Chronicle for Giants

The Chronicle had me head to the first practice before Cactus League Spring Training began. Covid restrictions were strict! Couldn’t get within 100’ of any players, nor on the field or even up against the netting. A tricky ask. Adding to the fun, I was trying to cover several stories at once. I always like that kind of gig, gives me more opportunities to get loose and make good photos.

Ash Ponders in San Francisco Chronicle for Kamala Harris

Harris makes history as first woman to be U.S. Vice President

A while back the San Francisco Chronicle put me in the press pool for the then VP-Candidate Kamala Harris on her tour through Arizona. It was my first assignment for the Chronicle, but it wasn’t attached to any breaking news, just to fill their archive with images of Harris for the coming years. Some of those images came out in a beautiful photo retrospective the Chronicle put out to celebrate Harris’ ascendance to the the Vice-Presidency.

Ash Ponders in National Geographic for Oak Flat

Sacred Native American land to be traded to a foreign mining giant

I’ve been pitching on this story in different iterations since late 2019, along with my coopmate Caitlin O’Hara—check out her stories from 2019 and 2021. Recently there have been a number of news pegs, so my pitching has gotten a bit more urgent. National Geographic licensed some of my images to give their article a visual sense of place. I really love Doug Main’s writing so it was a treat to have my images paired with his words again.

Ash Ponders in the New York Times for Virus Twins

Twins Help Scientists Untangle Disease’s Genetic Roots

This was a super quick turn around. Got the assignment, hit up the contacts, drove there, made the photos, filed the photos before dark. I looked at my timestamps and it turns out I was photographing for only 16 minutes. The light got pretty bad rather abruptly as these folks live in a canyon: despite almost an hour more of sunlight, once it dipped behind the canyon walls everything got less than ideal.

I was ready to hear that I ought to head back and make more photos, but the editor was pretty into what I made. Sweet. Nice to get back into the Times in the new year.

Ash Ponders in Audubon Magazine for San Pedro River

Audubon found me on the Diversify Photo list and commissioned me to continue my work in southern Arizona waterways. I was thrilled—I had just been talking to my coop-mates about wanting to work with Audubon in the future—and got even more excited when I realized they wanted me to pair up with a number of experts that would help me get deeper into the nuances of the story.

Fast forward several months and the Winter edition of the magazine is out and it’s fantastic. I spent several weeks putting these images together and I think they’re some of the best work I’ve ever done. Of course, in the time delta from when I made these and when they came out, I’ve tightened up my technique a lot and made some real improvements—but that’s always how it goes, isn’t it?

Ash Ponders in the Wall Street Journal for AirBnB annoying neighbors

Airbnb’s IPO Warning: Unhappy Neighbors Are Fighting Back

This one was honestly pretty easy. Bill was easy to set up an appointment with, met him just as dawn was peaking into his neighborhood, made a few clicks, drove around looking for signage, got some beautiful vistas that didn’t make the article, and then headed over to Scottsdale where a shooting had caused a lot of folks to join Bill’s cause. One of the folks living there told me just the day before a lot of windows on the block had been replaced. Dang. But there were still a bunch bullet holes in the facades of homes, and I got permission to get up close and make a few photos of a couple.

Trying to make a reasonably good photo of an elongated cul-de-sac was probably the hardest part of the assignment, and honestly I’m not sure I was all that successful. Oh well. Maybe next time a drone? 

Overall, I’m pretty thrilled how well this article came out; my editor told me the photography was favorably mentioned at the weekly meeting reviewing the proceeding week’s articles, so that’s a lil feather for my cap.

Ash Ponders on Medpage Today for Grandparents Raising Families

COVID-19 Yet Another Challenge for Grandfamilies

This assignment came to me about an hour before it needed to be filed, luckily I was able to get it scheduled and filed very quickly. The family live only a couple blocks from my house, so it was no sweat. I really loved how these portraits came out, these folks were instantly amiable and gracious hosts. It feels cool to have contributed to the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism 2020 National Fellowship. 


Ash Ponders on Oregon Public Broadcasting for Betty LaDuke

Betty LaDuke reflects on 8 decades of activist art

OPB licensed a number of my photos for use in their ten minute documentary about the artistic efforts of Betty LaDuke. The images were originally produced in early 2018 for the NGO UUSC, which then provided my images royalty-free to the group No More Deaths. A No More Deaths campaign called Faith Floods the Desert drew LaDuke to the region known as the Devil’s Highway, where more than 100 gallons bottles of water were distributed in various nooks around the desert.

Most of what I remember about that day was an intense and overwhelming desire for water. It was a blistering summer day without a cloud in the sky. I was worried for the well-being of the many elder faith leaders that had come to march water into the desert.

Ash Ponders in The Guardian for Wendsler Nosie Jr.

Revealed: Trump officials rush to mine desert haven native tribes consider holy

I found out the Guardian was doing a story on the Oak Flat situation (actually this is such a long running issue they first did a story on it before I was even in the business) from a friend. I reached out the the author and asked if they wanted to license some photos I made last year. They asked their editor. Yada yada.

Eventually I hooked up with the photo editor there, who I already kinda knew in the way that everyone knows everyone in this business, but not that well so I wasn’t sure if they’d be annoyed that I inserted myself. They were more or less stoked on a few of my images. I updated all the captioning information just to make sure it as absolutely correct and re-uploaded them to dropbox.  They ended up only licensing one, a pretty good portrait of Wendsler Nosie Sr. But hey, one image out of the back catalog: that’ll pay for some new wool socks!

I’ve actually got a whole photo essay about Nosie and his run to Oak Flat last year, but it’s really specific and I haven’t had success placing it any where. So I’ve just been showing it to editors when they ask to see some of my story-driven work. Caitlin managed to place a similar story with Huff Post last year, by couching it in the more overarching Oak Flat saga. I love her photos of Wendsler and Naelyn. 

Ash Ponders in the Wall Street Journal for Thanksgiving Travel during Covid

With Covid-19 Pandemic Surging, Millions Travel for Thanksgiving

This was a fun one, I believe most photojournalists find this sort of assignment rather tricky. Stop folks going about their lives, ask them some nosy questions on record, then try to make a decent photo of them. It’s got a lot of moving parts, many of which can go wrong. I base my whole approach on how I saw Trip Gabriel do it once while working together for a story in the Times. It’s impromptu, but all while tacking towards a goal. I am such a planner that I am usually a bit nervous, but for me, they usually end up being a blast—even if the portraits aren’t my best.

I knew that getting out to photograph early was key, I’m not sure the assigning editor realized that all the rest stops in Arizona are like, a good bit away from Phoenix. I stopped at a truck stop first just before sunrise, to get visual signifiers of travel. I used some 1-3” exposures to get a sense of the folks zipping down the highway. Even though the sun hadn’t come up yet, the sky was really getting pretty bright and I wished I had had a GND, but I don’t own a set up yet. (SOON!) 

After getting a bunch of those, I got to the rest stop proper just after sun rise and spoke with like a hundred people, only 6 total people were willing to go on record and even those were kinda cagey about it. Oh well. It happens. I still had a great time and the sun rise was gorgeous. 

I tried to make more traffic photos closer to sun down, but they look goofy or boring. A painter I once knew, David Pettibone, told me that there comes a time when every effort you make will make your painting worse, the trick to art is knowing when to stop. Shoulda heeded his advice this day. Anyway there are more photos from this assignment up on my instagram.

Ash Ponders in The Phoenix New Times for Thanksgiving

Life and Death and Turkeys: A Thanksgiving Tale

I got this assignment on Election Day, which was totally chaotic. I almost forgot I accepted it! Yikes. Good thing I wrote it down in my agenda. I really wanted to get to the farm on butcher day, but the deadline didn’t permit it. I got to the farm at 4 am when Michael typically gets out to feeding the birds. 

Of course, 4 am is well before sunrise, so these photos came out very creepy and kinda anarchic. I like them, but I’m not really sure they fit the vibe of the piece. Chris, the writer liked them though, and the photo director at the New Times didn’t tell me to go fuck myself, so I’m gonna call that a success, even if they didn’t run the bloody foot prints I found (I put them in a collage on my Instagram just for fun).

Ash Ponders in Global Citizen for 100 Angels

Meet the Woman Providing Health Care to Migrant Children Near the US-Mexico Border

A last minute assignment the Monday after the elections was a welcome respite from covering the Stop the Steal protests outside of the Maricopa Elections office. A friend of mine happened to be the director of the facility this organization is based out of, so that was pretty fun. They don’t typically allow press inside, but with a promise to refrain from making identifiable photographs of any of their clients and any obvious exterior images, everything was gravy.

Given the pretty awful lighting inside, these were a bit tricky, but I took Cecilia to a park afterward and made some portraits just before golden hour. I wish I could have waited a bit longer but she had to get home to her kids, so I made do. I guess that’s how it is sometimes.

Ash Ponders in Smithsonian Magazine for Apache Lands


While the article was about an early 20th century Apache mystic, the photo editor asked me to make a visual love letter to Apacheria, specifically the land as John Silas might have known it. I called all my friends, had them call all their uncles, and did my best to learn as much as I could about life on the Apache reservations in 1920-1933.

I spent the better part of 10 days in research and photography, visiting nearly all parts of Western Apacheria. Though I did my very best to avoid contact with my friends or anyone else due to the pandemic. They didn’t run it, but I made my very first images of a bald eagle which alit next to me as I was photographing some free-range cows. I don’t know the meaning in that happening, but it feels meaningful, right? I made a collage of images from this assignment on my Instagram.

Ash Ponders in Wall Street Journal Municipal Bonds

More High-Yield Muni Borrowers Are Defaulting but Investors Still Want In

Tricky assignment: the light gets super hard out here by 9 am, so I arranged to get out there at the mine several hours before sunrise when the crew usually arrives to make images of some of the labor that goes on at this mine. But on this day, there was essentially no crew, no movement, and of course no light at all. In fact, the only reason anyone was there at all was to make sure I didn’t wander into a machine and die. So I made do as best I could. Eventually the light sweetened and then got super rich as it lit up the surrounding mountains. I got lucky. There’s a collage of some images that didn’t run on my instagram.

Ash Ponders in the Wall Street Journal with Election Coverage

Election Day 2020: Economy, Coronavirus and Race Split U.S. Electorate

Election Day! I’ve heard from many veteran photojournalists that Election Day is a grueling fast paced nightmare of a day that starts before dawn and doesn’t end until well past the cows coming home. Election Day 2020 was not like that for me. My editor at the Wall Street Journal didn’t even want me out before 9am. I was wide awake by 4am giddy with anticipation and just had to hit the streets anyway. I got to a nearby polling place at a church and made some beautiful if slightly grainy images of folks lining up to vote before dawn and then headed to Camelback Mountain to get some sunrise photos of Paradise Valley. Of course, none of those photos ran.

In fact none of the photos I made before 9am ran. I’m a goof. The rest of the day my editor had me pegged to staff writer, Eliza Collins, with whom I have a pretty good working relationship. We interviewed and photographed a dozen folks all over the Valley (seriously I logged so many miles) as well as Mark Kelly. 

I expected to be up until the wee hours of the morning still filing images as the results came in, but instead by 4 in the afternoon I was done. I begged my editor to let me at least photographer folks in line at golden hour, which must have bemused them (what kinda contract worker wants to stay on extra long for no extra pay?) but as with my early photos the golden hour stuff didn’t run either. Lesson learned? (NOPE). At around 7pm I told the WSJ security team that I was done for the day.

Then Dom Valente, Caitlin O’Hara and I went cruising to get images of folks reacting to results as the came in. I should have just gone home, but I was feeling too hyped. Probably too much Red Bull. We visited the Maricopa Democrats and LUCHA where Dom and Caitlin both got excellent photos. I tried to file my images from these events but my jetpack was dead. Oops.

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Black in Microbiology

Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic

I got the call to make this portrait as I was heading home from working on a long term project for another client. Got it done using my spare (read: older janky) camera, which is always a treat. I made Dr. Johnson explain what he did over and over until I understood it, which wasn’t really necessary, I’m just a nosey parker.

The article was a group project with photographers across the nation. I feel glad I didn’t embarrass myself and put in a good showing, though I do wish that there had been more room for some detail images, from me and everyone else. Cause I’m totally geeked about microbiology.

Phoenix based; available for work in Latin America and the American Southwest.
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