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.

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Covid Dreamers

What You Can Learn From a Dreamer in Arizona

An Op-ed by my friend and idol Fernanda Santos about a very cool young adult, Angel Palazuelos and what his experiences as a Dreamer graduating in 2020 can teach everyone as we all go through the Covid pandemic.

I made a bunch of more metaphorical images of Angel, but perhaps there were a bit too on the nose. haha. I’ve gone one of those up on my instagram.

Ash Ponders in the Wall Street Journal with a look back at how democrats did in Arizona

In Arizona, Democrats See Blue Trend, While Republicans See Blip

These were just some images reused from previous assignments, but I did get into the print edition with them AND I got to have images in the same article as my Juntos Coop-mate, Caitlin O’Hara. That’s always nice. Not sure who the photo editor was on this assignment, but whoever they are, good looking out :)

Ash Ponders in the Wall Street Journal for Latino Voters

Pandemic, Protests and Economy Are on Voters’ Minds in Key Counties

The Wall Street Journal took a deep dive into ten counties that seemed important for Democrats and Republicans to vie for in the 2020 elections. One of those counties was Maricopa County, the heart of Arizona and where Phoenix is located. I was assigned to make portraits of several voters from across the county who each had different perspectives and plans for how they’d be voting.

The Door-to-Door Election Battle to Swing an Arizona County

This was a difficult assignment, not for the emotional or interpersonal reasons that usually get me, but because scheduling so many portraits in a short time is just super hard. But I got it done, I met a lot of interesting people and ultimately I think the finished story looks pretty dang good. They even ran some of the moody images I filed expecting them to ignore. Wins all around.

Ash Ponders in National Geographic for Quitobaquito

Sacred Arizona spring drying up as border wall construction continues

This one was a saga. I was tipped off that something was awry at Quitobaquito by a friend in Ajo. The NYT offered me a day rate to go down there and do some preliminary reporting with no promises that it’d make the paper. I took them up on it, but ultimately they couldn’t take the pitch. So I pitched 22 other outlets, mostly folks I’d worked with before, but no one could take it. Eventually I sent it as a travel pitch (Quitobaquito is after all a beautiful part of the Organ Pipe National Monument) to Nat Geo and while the travel angle was too flimsy to run, the environmental desk was interested and it was off to the races.

They ended up licensing a number of images from my archive and having me go out and make another day’s worth of images. Of course I would have loved to have been there for longer, but given Covid restrictions, it just wasn’t logistically possible.

Doug Main did excellent writing on this historic and dense subject in a very short period of time. I sent him contact info for everyone I know in the area and he did a great job talking to all of them and finding new sources too. I’m really really happy with how my first Nat Geo assignment turned out. Though frankly I’m still haunted by the drying of the pond. I haven’t been able to go back, the thought of seeing it totally dry makes me sick.

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Phoenix under Covid

Phoenix Mayor Says FEMA Refused to Help With Testing

Not much to this assignment, the assigning editor just wanted some basic images of Phoenix at the height of the first wave of the Covid pandemic. Honestly it kinda reminded me of how phoenix was in in the early aughts. Empty except for folks without homes and security guards. This photo was on the front page of NYT for a hot second though, so that’s kinda cool.

Ash Ponders in The Intercept for that one time DHS made me watch them blow up something sacred and pretend it was no big deal


I got a press release saying DHS and Army Corps of Engineers were inviting press to watch them destroy Monument Hill, a sacred place to the O’odham people and the burial grounds for several Apache people. I reached out to both the photo editor at The Intercept and Ryan the writer there that I’d worked with previously. Fortunately for me, Ryan was in San Diego so it was quickly arranged. We decided to go meta and describe the event rather than just what DHS was asking us to look at.

The actual event was carefully massaged by CBP press agents to make sure their destruction seemed minor and unimpressive. Press was kept a mile away from the explosions, supposedly for our safety. I rented a 1.4 tele adapter to stretch my 200-500 and I’m glad. The explosions were tiny dots far away. 

I’m pretty happy with the tone of my images and the tenor of the article. I wish I could work with Ryan again.

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Navajo Covid Op-Ed

A Life on and Off the Navajo Nation

An important Op-ed by Diné writer Wahleah Johns, I split photo duties with my homie and personal idol, Adriana Zehbrauskas.  

This was pretty tough. To be totally ethical and super safe, I spoke to no one and visited none of my friends in Dinetah. I left Phoenix at 2am, to get to the border of the Diné nation just as their curfew ended at 5am, and to catch sunrise  there. There was snow still on the top of Mt Humphries which reminded me why the Diné call it the Abalone Mountain. I was thinking about the pre-Colombian trade routes that must have existed for abalone to be common enough in the high desert to name a mountain after their alabaster shells.

I drove up and circled Black Mesa and as I began to finally head south again, a bad storm kicked up near Round Rock which almost pushed the car off the road. That’s where I made that final image: a total stroke of luck.

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Black Bankers Discrimination

This Is What Racism Sounds Like in the Banking Industry

This article by Emily Flitter took a long time to develop. I enjoyed asking Emily about it every few days, though I’m not sure she’d say the same.

I used a borrowed Canon Mk4 and a borrowed 85 F/1.2 to make Peters’ photo. The light in his condo was so low my F/2.8 stuff just wasn’t up to the challenge. Thanks Caitlin and Loren for the gear assists.

The Kennedy portrait was tricky, I had 15 minutes and had to film some video of his taped conversations.  But the light was dramatic in his forayer, so I got lucky. Also lucky that my editor was totally down with my sorta low-key images in this project. I also visited and got kicked out of several banks while trying to get environmental images for this story, but it turns out banks in strip malls look pretty boring, so none of them ran in this story (though several have since run as sorta stock imagery).

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Sara Hall

What’s Another Marathon? Relentless Racing Fuels Sara Hall

My first collaboration with indomitable sports writer Talya Minsberg on the rather peculiar training regimen practiced by Sara Hall.

Flagstaff is always so much colder than I expect it to be. Doubly so at 4am which it was when I met up with Talya and Sara to photograph Hall’s morning run. Talya, herself a member of the NYT Running Team, kept up with Hall on the warm up and cool down. I kept up with Hall for about 30 seconds. The whole time I was heaving and trying to catch my breath, I kept thinking this assignment should have gone to Caitlin who is also a marathon runner, but she was in Seoul working on her long term work there. I did my best and it came out pretty good. But it probably would have been different if another marathoner had done it.

After Sara’s morning run we visited her home where her husband Ryan made me some pancakes and talked to me about power lifting and jiujitsu. That was pretty fun. There are a bunch of photos from this on my instagram. 

Ash Ponders in The New York Times for Golf Diversity

Tiger Woods’s Success Promised to Diversify Golf. It Didn’t.

This was one of my first NYT assignments and the editor let me know it was probably gonna be a section front page feature if I did a reasonably good job. So I went ham. I got down in the sand bunkers and had them throwing sand every which way, I did shutter drags, I did double exposures, I had them do trick shots, really anything I could think of to make dynamic and powerful images. And of course, these sorta static but clear and direct images are what ran. But the layout folks ran the image full page and my mom was so stoked she framed it. Guess I can’t complain. Haha.

Ash Ponders in The Intercept for Climate Change in the Borderlands

Mining the Future: Climate Change, Migration and Militarization in Arizona’s Borderlands

This was my first assignment for The Intercept, the editor called me and spoke to me for an hour or so and helped me really understand what they were looking envisioning. 

The editor was stoked to hear about Juntos and made an effort to include work from Caitlin and Laura. That was a sweet gesture. 

The circumstances that occurred during the assignment were all wild and absurd and I definitely shouldn’t put them in writing. Sorry friends! haha.

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