Ashley Inguanta, a SmokeLong Quarterly contributing artist for seven years and its art director for six, will be stepping down from the art director role after this issue to concentrate on her art, writing, teaching, and yoga practice in Florida. Her latest poetry book, Bomb, was published last year. You can see her photographs here. Our current art director, Alexander C. Kafka, asked her about her experiences with SmokeLong and her plans.
First off, I want to thank you for bringing me into the SmokeLong fold years ago, letting me create images for this wonderful zine. Now, after seven years you’re leaving the publication but planning to still contribute art, yes?
You’re welcome, Alex. Thank you for being a courageous collaborator for all of these years.
Yes, I will be leaving SmokeLong Quarterly as art director, but I will be staying on staff as a contributing artist. I have been a contributing artist with SmokeLong since 2010 (I began by illustrating “Eulogy to Maria Mamani, Fire-eater,” by Ed Bull), and I have been art director since the very end of 2011.
What went into your decision to step down from the position of art director?
For a while now, I have been wanting to create interactive, tangible art. I admire Andrea Zittel and Noah Purifoy so much, and this summer I had the honor of spending time at Purifoy’s art site in Joshua Tree. I love how both Andrea and Noah connect “art” and “home.” I have a project in the works that is inspired by both artists. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but I will build part of it in the Southern Californian desert, and it will be a portal of sorts. The portal is from a home I dreamt of.
You’re a poet, a photographer, a literature and writing teacher, and a yoga instructor. You’ve also modeled for other photographers. How did each of those components of your life emerge? How do you coordinate them?
I became a photographer by chance. I was writing for my college newspaper, The Central Florida Future, and the photo editor’s camera got ruined (a leak made it unusable), and none of the other photographers were available to photograph the band Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. I was supposed to interview them that night and write an article about their show at the Social, but I ended up taking photos for the article, too. I loved photographing the band. I used my point-and-shoot. I am so grateful that I had that opportunity.
When it comes to being in other photographers’ photographs, I will usually build a connection with that photographer first. Usually we have been friends for quite some time. Many of these shoots are expressions of what we think of together.
I’ve been writing since I was young. I loved making books in fourth grade–our teacher would make books for us out of cardboard, and she would use wallpaper as cover art. In seventh grade, I kept to myself often and wrote in private. Writing was (and still is) my first love. I’m honored to now be a writing and literature teacher.
Yoga came into my life from several directions. I’m not sure how to write about this exactly, but I owe my style of teaching (Iyengar-based restorative classes) to Yogamaya New York. The teachers there are extraordinarily intelligent and kind.
For the last part of your question, all of these branches (yoga teaching, English teaching, writing, and photography) feel very connected to me. I have the ability to work with others (the owner of each yoga studio, for example) to set a schedule for workshops and photoshoots.
As art editor, what kind of images and artists have you found yourself gravitating toward?
I love working with artists who aren’t afraid to try new things, artists who have fun with the assignments I give them. There is a soft spot in my heart for art photography, but I am also grateful to work with talented painters and other types of visual artists.
As a photographer, what are your favorite subjects and approaches?
Right now, my favorite subject is natural landscape. I love photographing people interacting with the landscape in a way that helps them feel connected to it and empowered by it (for example, swimming in the ocean). I also love to photograph miniature houses — houses that can fit into the palm of your hand, or houses that come up to your knees while standing. I’ve been fascinated with exploring the concept of “home” for years now.
If you would, please tell me about the Issue 56 cover image.
For issue 56, which will be my last issue working with SmokeLong as an art director, I’ve chosen an image of Tara Michelle Young, my best friend who suddenly passed away in March. I took this photo of her a few years ago, in Florida, near my house. I remember how hot it was outside. Tara found a spot in the park that felt like a nest to me, even though the space was open. Something beautiful was happening in those moments–something solid and something real. I feel like I can sit with this image and experience Tara’s story through it in a way that feels thorough, deep.
Who are your favorite poets and short-story authors?
I love poets Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Molly Gaudry, and Peter Everwine. My favorite short story authors are Francesca Lia Block, Mary Gaitskill, and Stephen Graham Jones.
Who are your favorite photographers and other artists?
I am very obsessed with Julia Margaret Cameron’s work at the moment. She is new to me, but she is slowly becoming a favorite. I love being transported back in time, to the 19th century. It’s a gift to be able to view such incredible photographs. My favorites are the ones she took to illustrate Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.
I also admire Gregory Crewdson, Diane Arbus, Karrah Kobus’ work. In terms of other artists, Donald Judd, Andrea Zittel, and Noah Purifoy are my favorites.
What are you reading this week?
I’m reading In the Penny Arcade by Steven Millhauser, and it is powerful. I recently finished the second story, “A Protest Against the Sun.” I also recently revisited The Walled Wife by Nicelle Davis.
What are you listening to?
Moby’s Long Ambients. They are beautiful.
If you could have dinner with any creative artist from anytime throughout history, who would it be and what would you serve them and what kind of entertainment would you arrange for the two of you?
Virginia Woolf. I would take her to the Mojave desert. I would ask her what she would like to experience and do my best to help her experience those things. We would talk about the people we love. We would cook minestrone, go exploring, see the remains of Ryan Ranch.
If Diane Arbus appeared to you during a seance and you could only ask her one question, what would it be?
Will you share a “secret about a secret” with me?
Ashley Inguanta is the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books 2016). Her work has most recently appeared in The Rumpus, The Florida Review, Artborne Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, and Paper Nautilus. Last year she received an Orlando Weekly “Best Of” award for her poetry. When she’s not writing, you can find her teaching at Valencia College, Writer’s Atelier, and Sunlight Yoga
Alexander C. Kafka is the new art director for SmokeLong Quarterly.