Ruth Steinberg is one of the 2018 Rfotofolio Selections.
“An elderly mother photographed with compassion and love, showing the challenges and daily rituals of a population often considered invisible. Heart-warming and lovely.”
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Montreal, Canada and spent my formative years there. My neighborhood was mostly English speaking and also predominantly Jewish, and I didn’t realize my “otherness” until I left Montreal for Winnipeg, in central Canada, to attend university. I studied Fine Arts at university, although photography was not offered at that time on the curriculum . Mine was a “classical” eduction, much drawing and painting and art history. Art history introduced me to fine art photography and I knew that photography would become my medium at some point, but I didn’t learn how to shoot until many years later.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I now live in Ottawa, which is the nation’s capital. It is not the big city that is Montreal but it does have an active arts scene and a very supportive photography community. I started studying photography in 2010 at a small independent school in Ottawa. I began with some part-time classes and within two years of hit-and-miss committed myself to full-time studies. The first year of the two-year program was exclusively film photography — medium format— and learning the darkroom. We worked with the digital camera in second year. To this day I work in analog and digital formats, although I post produce both digitally in Photoshop, not having access to a darkroom.
Why do you create?
I have worked professionally in communications (writing) I express myself most deeply through photography. Working through a shoot, or a series of shoots, I find my voice and often surprise myself at what I have to say.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Diane Arbus and Dorothea Lange both have had a profound influence on my creative process, for their unflinching yet compassionate eye on their subjects. My work is predominantly portraiture and the body, and these two auteurs taught me about holding my gaze where I might otherwise want to look away. Arbus in particular: her images fascinate me and scare me, too. I cannot look away although I often have the sense that I’m seeing something quite privileged.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Lange”s Migrant Mother. It’s such a powerful image of weariness and despair yet tenacity. How all that could be captured in a single photograph inspires me still.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Portrait of Franca taught me to stay the course even as emotions were running high and my natural inclination would have been to put down the camera and console my friend. By staying with the process Franca was able to experience a catharsis— and I got a wonderful portrait.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A good day for me is any day that I’m shooting. Even the days that I’m grappling with the subject matter or unsure of my direction, as long as I’m shooting I’m in my happy place. Post production is secondary to shooting, and writing about my work is a distant third!
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
I’m much more inclined to the intimate moment rather than the grand statement, so I’d be thrilled (and a tad intimidated, I suspect) to hang out with Diane Arbus. I admire her fearlessness, and her capacity to build relationships with her subjects.
How important is the photographic community to you?
The photographic community is very important to me. One of the most difficult adjustments post photography school was the loss of connection with my classmates. It is helpful and motivating to be with other creators, and working in isolation can be very challenging to the creative process. I’m grateful to the online community that I’ve gotten to know these past few years for inspiring me and for sharing their work and ideas.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
To me are my cameras — medium format, large format and digital — and my computer and scanner.
What is on the horizon?
I have experimented with Lumens and some platinum printing and I enjoy the hands on aspect of both. I’d like to try some multimedia photography and printmaking, and get into photo encaustic as well. My few attempts at photo encaustic were deeply satisfying in terms of getting my hands in the work and producing unique, unreproducible pieces.
I’m in a quiet phase right now after a very productive 2018. I have some work to prepare for my website, and the on going project of photographing my mother, but no other big projects are on the horizon at the moment. This causes me some concern, but I have weathered these ebbs and flows before and have learned to ride the wave until my next idea gets me back in the studio.
Thank you Ruth. To learn more about the work of Ruth Steinberg please visit her page at Ruth Steinberg.