Thursday, February 19, 2009

Focus On: elephantdreams

My name is Ruth, and I cannot remember when I wasn't an artist.

Great Wall of China

How 'bout a great story that involves a challenge, travel, intrigue, art, and a bit of danger*? Sounds like a James Bond film, perhaps, or The DaVinci Code? Even better: Ruth Radcliffe of elephantdreams has a fascinating story of how she picked up a camera along with her paintbrush and created a blueprint and a song of her life -- a life full of inspiration and motivation. Now here's someone to travel with... do read on. This story, though a combination of our conversation and words from her profile in her Etsy shop, is entirely in Ruth's voice.

How It All Begins, or, Life On a Dare:

I first picked up a camera 32 years ago when some cocky Air Force flyboys said I'd never be able to use an SLR camera because I was a girl. Ah...fighting words. My first was a camera with one 50 mm lens, and with that in hand I spent the next ten years evolving into a professional photographer and darkroom instructor. After those cute flyboys (who incidentally couldn't handle (Thai hot sauce*, either) goaded me, I took over my husband's new Canon FTB and before long I knew more about it than he did. At the time, I was pregnant with my son, and travelled around Thailand quite a bit, with my new "best friend" by my side. My son always jokes that he had a "womb with a view," which was pretty accurate. Thailand took us to San Antonio where I registered for my first photography class, and I instantly fell in love. At the time I had both my Canon and a Yashica twin-lens reflex. This class was my first taste of darkroom work, and again I fell in love, so much so I bought an enlarger and set up a rudimentary darkroom in a back laundry room. It was nothing fancy, but it was a wonderful break from motherhood into creativity. I really loved the twin-lens reflex, and since I was processing all my film, it was a blast to have such a large negative.

The Next Step in the Creative Process:

Our next move was to Midland, Texas, and there I really became intimate with the camera and darkroom work at a local college. This led to a job as a darkoom technician and part-time jobs as a freelance photographer. I'll have to admit that most of my earnings went to pay for my oil paints and other art supplies. With my darkroom job I travelled with my classes all over Texas. I got into the habit of working with more than one camera at a time, and the process of making photos was sealed with a kiss and a click.

How Photography, Painting and Other Medium Work To Define One Artist:

Photography is a big influence on my work as an artist. What I saw and painted was colored by the visions through the lens, and I used photography to set up still-lifes and to see the possibilities of the scene at hand. I think the influence worked the other way as well. I was lucky to be able to take classes in just about anything artistic available. And [I was] even luckier to have a fantastic darkroom to work in whenever I needed it. I still did freelance work, but it wasn't my favorite thing because I never found it to be creative enough. But the exploration of paper and film was. I do miss not having a darkroom.

Living Abroad Enlarges The Vision:

I lived in Asia for about 4 years starting in 2000, and I was blessed to travel to so many countries... with three cameras clicking. My main problem there was the processing. I had no control of the final stage -- the printing process. I began to crop in the camera and have all my photos printed 8x12 inches. That made for an interesting experience. I long to travel back to Malaysia and Thailand, and I hopefully have a trip in the works for next year.

landsome, ACEO

Rice Fields, Bali

Transitioning from Film to Digital:

Since returning home I've been faced with the digital camera, and I admit I'm still working on it. The photographic scene had really changed by the time I returned home and film had been replaced by digital media, and darkooms became computers and software. I bought a DSLR camera, another Canon, so my lenses weren't redundant and began a very slow (and still slow) exploration of a totally new way of looking at photography. But I still had thousands of negatives. With film I knew what to expect, and with digital I'm still learning. And then there is the computer. My goals are to learn Photoshop and be able to be more creative, and with that creativity make my work translate into my vision. I'm not there yet. As for my day job, it's a combination of scanning and manipulating all my negatives and "processing them" in the computer. Between scanning I work with fiber, mosaic tile, beads and paint. I am fortunate to be able to play to my heart's content.

The Great Debate:

I have listened with great interest to debates in the Etsy forums about the validity of computer-generated images versus darkroom-generated images. A photograph always begins, no matter how it is taken, with the image. From there it begins a journey. Whether in film form or digital, it is manipulated. In the darkroom you use the enlarger, and you project it on different films or papers, use different techniques to manipulate the image, mess with chemicals, etc., you get the idea. With digital you basically do the same thing, except the palette is wider and the creativity expands into different areas. But at the end of the day, you have a manipulated image. And if you will, or want, you can describe your different processes, but in the long run it is all the same. Whether in the dark or light you have a photo from an image made with a camera.

red offering


What excites me when I take photos is color, design, patterns and repetition. This flows over into both my paintings, drawings, and mono-prints. With jewelry all of the above count, but the colors tend to be more subdued but still utilize what excites me about taking photos. I think it shows that art is interrelated no matter how it is manifested. I once did an interview, and I said I've always looked at the world the way I look through the lens. I think this is true no matter which medium I'm working in.

Dealing with Three Shops on Etsy:

As far as more than one Etsy shop, that is more complex. As you know, promotion on Etsy is really important. At the moment I'm favoring elephantdreams, because as I scan more photos, I get more excited. I'm not spending as much time working on the 2-d work in Rhadcliffedesigns. The shop I've neglected the most is my newest shop, my jewelry shop. I have so many photos to take of jewelry that I've been procrastinating adding more. The beauty of Etsy is that you don't have to spend a lot of money in starting up a new adventure. It's just easier to portray photos and other 2-d work. Plus, the other problem I see in doing more than one shop is being in the right persona at the right time. I get a little schizoid at times!

You can visit Ruth in many places: her 3 separate shops, featuring photographs, paintings/ACEOs/prints and jewelry; and, of course, her blog.

*Thai hot sauce is very, very dangerous.

Thank you Ruth!

A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website.


ruth hill radcliffe said...

thanks so much for the wonderful post about me. It meant a lot to me. ruth

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Fantastic interview. I really enjoyed learning more about what makes Ruth tick. What a rich cultural experience she has had!

UrbanJunkies/zuppaartista said...

great interview & captures!
proof that girls can rock behind the lens! :p

Josh Jones said...

excellent pictures, I really like the 3rd shot from the bottom

AAZen said...

Always been a big fan of Ruth - one of the very first people I met on Etsy. It seems I've followed her footsteps across Southeast Asia. She's an amazing artist. Great interview!