This month, we spoke with Fotografiska New York member Ashton Gooding, a Brooklyn-based photographer. At the age of 17, Ashton wouldn’t stop pestering his parents for a Holga 120 camera, and he has been photographing ever since.
We spoke to Ashton about his favorite photography projects, how things have changed in New York since the quarantine, and where he finds his inspiration at Fotografiska New York and within the New York community.
Tell us about a particular photography project that has been the most meaningful to you.
There are two milestones for me.
During college I realized that I didn’t love the approach of street photography – the photographer pops up, takes a quick shot, and just disappears. In my Digital Photography class I created a project called “Give Me Happy.” I approached people on the street and asked if they could do me a favor. Then I’d say, ‘give me happy!’ and take the shot. I loved the process of engaging with people and capturing that moment. My goal is to do this project in New York with people who are excited to be back outside interacting with strangers again. Creating happiness is the mission of my photography.
The idea for the “Distancing Socially” series came from the socially distant walks my partner and I took during the early stages of the quarantine. People were trying to have a semblance of a normal life while still following the rules and trying to do the right thing. The photographs show this spaced out canvas where people were interacting with one another, while holding onto their private space. Now that we’re in Phase 1 of reopening, we’re not getting that same type of distanced interaction.
So you’ve been based in Brooklyn during the quarantine?
Yes. My partner and I were pretty strict on what we did and the roof became my de facto office. I liked to come to the roof as my therapy moment to take pictures of the sky. I realized during the quarantine that around 9pm or 10pm, New York was completely silent. It was a little eerie and scary at first, but now that the solitude has been replaced by the car horns, the arguments, and the dogs barking, I shed a tear for the New York that was truly silent and made everyone live more consciously for a little bit.
Now everyone is much more active because of the protests. As a Black man in the United States, we’ve been living with and hearing these stories but there are people who have not been aware of how common these stories are. But now we’re really in a wave of change. I hadn’t felt super comfortable about marching during a pandemic, but I went on a bicycle riding protest where there was space to move around. It felt so good and made me feel liberated to be out there with Black people and people of all creeds and colors. I’ve never felt support like this. And there are ways for everyone to do something. You may not be comfortable to be out there on foot, but you can donate money, you can post on Instagram to tell your story, you can help friends and family understand why you care about the movement. There are many spaces for people to be part of the movement and make a significant change to ensure everyone gets equal treatment around the world.
What are your favorite subjects, or places, to shoot?
Ever since I was 17, I haven’t traveled without a camera. Shooting in new locations is always interesting to me.
One of my favorite places I’ve traveled to is Catania, Sicily. Some of my best shots from there have a humorous and whimsical aspect to them; a feeling of serendipity and effervescence – it’s here and then it’s gone. For me, that’s what photography should be. When I was in Catania I got a shot of a kid on a Vespa with training wheels, it was great. I will also always remember this moment when a young boy was running towards me and suddenly, without warning, he darted left and began hugging an inflatable snowman. I love capturing those moments of human joy and interaction, and that’s what travel does for me. I like the feeling of being alien in a new place.
Who are the artists that have given you particular inspiration?
I love my photography community, especially the groups that support local photographers and provide opportunities for critique. Bushwick Community Darkroom, Seeing Collective, and The Camera of the Month Club founded by Erica Reed are some of my favorites. The Camera of the Month Club invites all kinds of photographers and it’s inspiring to see fellow artists pushing the bounds of their work in a variety of ways. For a lot of people, New York can be a very lonely place and photography groups have allowed me to find a community.
I also really like photos that make me envious – like why didn’t I think of how to do that! The Camera of the Month Club is one example, they always find photographers that are pushing the medium.
Some other working professionals like Petros and Claudia Koublis (@pc.koublis) do these gallery style prints that feel magical and perfect while others like Xavi Bou (@xavibou) use photography to take something completely natural and showcase it in a way you could not and would not ever see with the natural eye.
What attracted you to Fotografiska New York?
I felt like Chaz Langley (@thechazlangley), your last Spotlight who I recently met at The Brooklyn Circus, elaborated on it pretty well – it feels like it’s here for all of us. At Fotografiska, I feel like I could see myself on the walls. The photographers showing there are really trying to say something with their art. I like seeing the work of photographers that are new and work by those who are more established, and love that Fotografiska works with brands like VICE to showcase new photographers with new perspectives.
It feels like a church of photography, where I can take an extended lunch break or stop by after work. And I love the restaurant, which elevates it to another level.
Other institutions cater to more ‘popular’ or modern photography which can be too abstract. The curation at Fotografiska is tangible, real, and relevant. Everybody can grasp something from the experience. Everyone can go home a little different after seeing the art.
Thank you so much, Ashton. We can’t wait to see you back at the museum soon.
Thank you. Maybe we’ll run into each in Brooklyn soon, and I’ll ask you to “Give Me Happy!”