Ben Ward – Documenting Colorado – #TheNewOnes

Documenting has always been a big deal for me as a storyteller. The main core of a documentary project is to empathize with the audience, to let them know that they’re not just watching, they are partecipants.

While scrolling to the pictures and projects of Ben Ward this was my feeling. I was there, in Colorado, living the same moments as he. His ability to show his home country is the real demonstration of a much more deeper connection between the land and the man.

Thanks to his project I Dream Of Dust, Ben has succeeded in expressing through photography the sensation of isolation and tension related to the geographic identity of a place. A significant visual language originated with the author himself, which is still in full development today.

The following is an interview I had the pleasure of conducting. Ben told me about his background, his passions and the ongoing impact of his work on his experience.

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Hello Ben, I’m glad you accepted this interview. Tell me something about your story and your relationship with photography. Most of the people found this passion in their childhood, it was the same for you or did you have another kind of experience?

I grew up in Colorado and have lived here for most of my life – I spent a lot of time in the outdoors as a kid and I always had a camera with me. I grew up constantly making home videos, so the transition to photography was a pretty natural one. From there I went on to study journalism and I started to hone in on what I wanted to do in the realm of photography.

I know that you are from Colorado, and since I’ve never been there, I can’t tell personally, but your pictures have such strong storytelling that I almost feel like I know the place. How do you describe the connection between this land and your photographic work?

That’s good to hear! I think there’s something special about photographing the place where you grew up. It’s easier to communicate a story in a meaningful way and pick up on nuances when you have a longstanding relationship with the area. The population of Colorado has been surging for the past decade and has changed the landscape a ton. I try to make work that takes notice of that.

Your style is very focused on a documentary approach, which I love. How did you find this kind of visual narrativity? Did you have any meaningful reference, like a specific photographer, that guided you on this path?

For this project in particular, I was inspired by other photographers who worked on the plains and the American West  – Robert Adams, Dorothea Lange, etc. Adams in particular always fascinated me with how he was able to create photos with such historical qualities, while simultaneously creating something that felt personal and poetic. I tried to approach the photos with a documentary lens, while being selective of how the subjects were presented – stripping away context and presenting subjects in a very minimal way.

When you’re creating a project: is the idea that chooses what to photograph, or is it one single image that suggests the following ones?

For I Dream of Dust, I knew I wanted to make a project about eastern Colorado. I set some geographical parameters for myself and had some general themes in mind, but I tried to be open to discovering things along the way; often new photos would push the project in a different direction as I saw new themes emerging.

Ben Ward – © All Rights Reserved

I checked out I Dream Of Dust on your portfolio, and in the description, you wrote that the project explores themes like isolation and tension, in relation to the influence of geography on identity. Can you tell me more about the feelings that you had when shooting this project? Are there any relevant moments that you remember that can highlight those feelings?

<p value="I spent a lot of time driving through the sparsely populated plains by myself and felt isolated by the often barren landscape, especially in the colder months. The landscape could feel very harsh at times – visually, ecologically, and politically. But at the same time, there was a warmth and sense of peace held by the landscape and the people living there. I tried to explore this relationship and highlight some of that dissonance that I felt.

Did you find any moments that you consider crucial during the development of the project?

Some of the most crucial moments in this project came during the winter. I think some of the winter photos really tied the project together and solidified a tonal direction that I was going for. Certain themes from the project were amplified in the winter months and I think some of my favorite photos came from those long, cold drives.

Do you ever revisit or re-edit a project that has already been published?

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I’ll revisit old projects often and sometimes find something new that sticks out to me, or something I may have missed before. Sometimes I’ll go through outtakes from finished projects and realize they may work a lot better for a different project. That being said, I typically don’t re-edit projects once they’re finished.

Ben Ward – © All Rights Reserved

Very often photographs have a double meaning, either because of their visual nature or because of the photographer’s own choice. According to this statement, where do you think your style falls on a continuum between the completely intuitive and the intellectually formulated?

For me, the shooting process has always felt the most intuitive, but it’s typically the editing/selection process that feels more intellectual. While editing, I feel like I learn more about the project and can step back and look at it as a whole – from there I take notes and let the edit inform the next time I go out to take photos.

Let’s say you can now shoot in what you consider your natural voice, have you ever wished your voice was different?

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I think our voices naturally change over time, but it really is the one thing that is always unique to you. I try to trust my voice and realize I can’t intentionally change it – the only thing I can change is my circumstances and my methodology.

Last question. Do you have any planned exhibit or any other project currently in work in progress?

There’s nothing set in stone at the moment but we’re working on getting some exhibits set up soon. I’m slowly starting to conceptualize some new projects, but not rushing into anything. It’s been nice to take a step back from this project and give myself some space.

Thank you very much for your time, Ben, it was a real pleasure for me to have this conversation.

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