Thursday 10 November 2016

10 Question Column: American Photographer Tammy Ruggles

Cover picture Tawny Light and Train (above) photographed by Tammy Ruggles.
Tammy Ruggles is a legally blind photographer who lives in Northern Kentucky. While most people struggle to take a decent looking artistic photograph, Tammy manages to capture the world beautifully with almost total loss of her eyesight, Paul McDonnell reports

Tammy was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) which results in a slow, permanent loss of her eyesight. Based in Northern Kentucky, Tammy dedicates her time to photography while she still can. We thought her story was inspiring and we'd like to share it with our readers.

Photographer Tammy Ruggles
1. Where did you grow up and does this place still influence your photography?
I spent my early childhood (kindergarten, first and second grades, in Cleveland Ohio), and the rest in Northern Kentucky, and both places seem to influence me, but more often it is the rural scenery that I relate to most. Yes, both places very much influence the kind and style of photography I lean toward today. I like a little "urban" along with the outdoor, nature images.

2. Why did you choose photography as your artistic métier?
I chose it because it allows me to express my creativity. I'm a writer too, but a photo can say as much if not more than a poem or story. Photography sometimes expresses things and emotions that words cannot.

Sunrise captures the green landscape of Kentucky
3. At the beginning of your career, how did you break into the photography world?
This was in 2013. Once I had a few photos that I liked, I queried publications or websites to ask if they would be interested in considering them for publication. I was accustomed to this because of my writing career, so I decided to propose my photography in the same way.

4. What aspect of photography gives you the most happiness?
Finding an image that represents my idea of art, or an emotion, or something that I think the viewer may like to see. Finding an image that makes me say, "I'm proud that I captured that. It says something to me, and hopefully to others."

New Life represents the photographer's journey
5. How would you describe working as a photographer in America today?
My way of working has become a pleasant routine, and a little on the solitary side, which is the way I like to work, even as a writer. I'm not an introvert by any means, but I do like my quiet times, and find ways to be an artist. I also think that photographers in America today face a lot of "competition" to find work that is compensated, but I like photography whether I'm compensated or not. Obviously, it is good to be paid for your work, however, but it isn't the most important thing to me.

6. Can you describe the experience, person or training that has had the greatest impact on you?
It isn't just one person or thing, but several. In my early years, even before I became a professional, fine art photographer, it was the study of art and literature that influenced me. My high school art teacher Dan McCane, and my college art instructor Jeanette Blakefield taught me the basics. And throughout the years I learnt from my heroes Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz. I've never had formal photography training, but I use my former art education, self study, and experience as an artist. In 2013, when I really became a serious photographer, I learnt a lot from The Art of Photography's Ted Forbes. He really helped me make the connection between art and photography.

Sun Wash has an abstract play of light among leaves
7. Describe what your studio is like and whether you have a set schedule of working everyday? Or is the process more fluid?
I don't have a studio, just a little corner of a room where my computer and oversize computer monitor sit. Once I've captured my images, I'm excited to connect the camera to the PC to see what I've captured, then begin to delete or save the images. Then I may do a little post production on the ones I like, like converting them to black and white, adding saturation, cropping, or whatever I think the image needs to be complete and "artistic" enough for me.

8. Do you find your creative process is more rational or instinctive?
It's a little of both. I do rely on my former art education and the elements of photography, but some of it is most definitely instinctive ~ sometimes I'm not even sure what I've captured until I can enlarge it on my 47-inch monitor. This is where the artistic part of photography begins for me.

A striking image against wintry trees, Limbs
9. How has today’s technology effected your work as a photographer?
It would be impossible for me to be a practising photographer without today's technology, given my visual impairment. Before digital cameras, large monitors, and computers, I couldn't read cameras or see in darkrooms (due to night blindness, which is a feature of RP, the retinal disease that I was born with), so digital cameras opened the door of photography to me, and so did my large monitor, which enables me to get a better view of what my camera has captured.

I literally point and shoot the blurry scenery around me, but can sometimes make out subjects that are closer to me, say, within a foot or so. That's why I didn't become a photographer until 2013. I didn't realise that I could.

Blue and Green in A New Purpose
10. What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work as a legally blind person?
The most challenging is not being able to see all that is out there in the world to capture. If you can imagine seeing everything in bokeh fashion, this is how I see. Nothing is clear or detailed, but instead, blurry shapes of colours. But the large monitor, and zooming in on my images helps me to see what I have on my camera, and I begin my artistic adventure. It's very thrilling to me.

Another challenging aspect is, of course, my continuous vision loss. RP doesn't stop happening. So I know I won't be able to practise photography this way forever. It will come to an end, and it's getting closer and closer, because my vision worsens with time. I'm pushing myself this year, 2016, to take photos. This may be my last year. But then, I said that last year too.

It's just so hard to let go of photography, but I know I will. I'm not sure if I'll use my camera in 2017. Whatever happens, I'm so proud and happy to have had the chance to be the fine art photographer I always was inside.

The beautiful tones and colours of the photographer's Tawny Light

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