Interview by Poleta Ianeva –
Ruth Baldry is a young social documentary photographer whose work is honest, fuelled from the colourful life around her. We featured an image from her project Tribodar on the portrait page of issue 7, and I recently caught up with her to see what she’s been up to since. We discuss where Ruth finds inspiration, the development of her latest body of work Good Boys and the vivid art of documentary photography.
Poleta Ianeva: What inspires you in other people?
Ruth Baldry: I’m drawn to those living the kind of life that I hope to lead now and in the future. I find myself inspired by the qualities people have that I seek in myself. I’ll meet someone who wants to do something and acts on it, and it makes me question why I’m not always doing the same. I am inspired by people that have chosen less conventional paths because in that choice, there is boldness.
PI: I’m interested in your use of photography as a therapy. In an interview with It’s Nice That you mention that you became your own muse due to social anxiety. How has both self-portraiture, and then later portraiture and social documentary, helped with that?
RB: It’s hard to say how the self portraiture helped – I think it was healthy to keep in check with how I felt and who I thought I was. Having an idea of yourself can feel very alien when you’re a teenager so perhaps it helped me in understanding myself better. The social documentary work started when I was older and was less about figuring myself out and more a way of confronting the social anxiety. There seemed to be no better way to overcome shyness than to confront it.
PI: How did your projects Good Boys come about?
RB: Good Boys was a personal exploration into my own relationships and experiences with men. It’s still very much a new project which I am making sense of through conversations with myself and others. The project itself stemmed from a breakup earlier in the year and the unfolding of emotions that followed. After what had been a healthy relationship – I wanted to rid myself of any negativity towards men, and instead celebrate my platonic relationships with them. Good Boys has since moved on from my past which initially fuelled the whole thing. It’s become about what I have been taught about relationships, about men and my place in it all. The project has become almost a tool to understand it further by photographing the males that I spend time with.
In the past my romantic experiences have paved the way for an unhealthy generalising of young men. But sometimes I wonder if part of the problem is that we are seeking out these relationships with men only to cater to our needs for romance and intimacy and placing more importance on this than friendships.
So, I started to think about the males I know and how they have impacted my life. My projects are very rarely so personal, so I tried to strip it back and keep the premise of it simple – get the good boy and put the good boy in front of a backdrop, however flamboyant as he desires. The backdrops helped make light of something so personal and worked as a playful tool to engage with the subjects. By sharing the power between the photographer and the subject it balanced the dynamic nicely.
PI: That must be liberating. Do you feel that photographing the subjects has changed your relationship to one another?
RB: The project has branched out to men that I don’t know as well so in that sense, it has set the foundations of a friendship. And for those that I was close with to begin with, it was interesting to see what ideas they wanted to explore when there were less boundaries in place. You know, you get a guy choosing a cow print backdrop then you find yourself resting a glass of milk atop his head and it’s great.
PI: When you photograph a person, how do you choose what to include in the composition?
RB: More recently, I’ve enjoyed there being some form of backdrop – something simple that brings the focus back to the main subject. Otherwise, I’m drawn to colours and try to include repetitions of the same colour in the photograph.
PI: When you start a specific project, do you have a certain plan, or do you let intuition guide you?
RB: Coming out of a photographic degree where you are graded on the intricacy of the plan and expected outcome, I wanted to stray from such a restricted approach. I felt pressured by the time restraints placed upon us. Without deadlines, I’ve really enjoyed seeing my projects changing shape and direction and fully allowing the inconsistency of them. My most recent project Tribodar had grown so much from my initial ideas because it had been something that couldn’t have really been rigidly planned.
PI: As a social-documentary photographer, how have the people you have met and photographed changed you; inspired you as an artist?
RB: During my time in Portugal, I came to realise that I was more inspired by the town’s community than the group of people I was spending most of my time with. The locals shared their experiences of living in Portugal under dictatorship, and we talked about their traditional view of families, which shaped the way the project developed. I know that the people I meet shooting my next project will define its premise.
PI: As a recent graduate, what advice would do you have for other photographers looking to find their own path?
RB: Taking breaks doesn’t make you any less of a creative. For me, creativity is often dictated by how I’m feeling. It was just accepting that sometimes great work comes out of sadness but sometimes nothing comes out of it, and that’s completely OK.
Ruth was featured in Issue 7 of Loupe. Most of our stockists will have run out of copies, but they can be purchased along with annual subscriptions here.