People of Impact: Meet Andrea Ruth
Matsidiso has had the biggest privilege of getting to work with the amazing Andrea Ruth on set!
I present the lovely Andrea!
1. How did you get your start in photography? Did you know as a kid you wanted to be in a creative field, or did it emerge over time?
I’ve always wanted to be in the creative industry. (Except for that minute where I considered being an accountant). I took all the creative subjects in school because I knew whether it was acting, fashion design or art... I wanted to create. It wasn’t until my dad gave me his camera at 17 that I actually started taking an active interest in photography. I started off photographing animals and for a quick second my dream was to become a National Geographic photographer but once I started my studies in photography and business I dived headfirst into the world of high heels, bright lights and couture pieces and never looked back.
2. What do you define as your personal photography style? Do you have one?
I think the only way I can describe my personal style is if the Minimalism art movement and Bjork had a baby then that would be my style. Mostly minimal sprinkled with moments with organized chaos and quirkiness. My eye twitches when things aren’t aesthetically pleasing and I’ve often struggled with OCD and letting go of certain aspects so finally having complete control over every aspect of my work is incredibly satisfying.
I do think that my personal style is something that will evolve and grow with me a photographer as I can't imagine a life where I'm constantly doing the same things over and over, never trying new things... my style has changed so much already in the last few months as I'm constantly inspired by the objects and people around me and lockdown has forced me to adapt and try a few things that I wouldn't otherwise.
3. What is your life mantra? What are some words you live by?
I can say that there’s quite a bit of cussing involved when I need to hype myself up but something that has stuck with me for years is to trust the vision and to hold the process. Life is so damn messy and I’m the type of person who gets distracted very easily and can often lose my way with daily struggles. I'm really my own worst enemy as I seem to have so much confidence in everyone and everything but myself sometimes so it’s incredibly important for me to ground myself and to remember what my vision and mission in work and my life is.
4. Do you have a favourite photoshoot to date where you just felt you were in flow and all the pieces aligned perfectly?
This is something that has never happened to me until recently. I’ve learnt that while planning ahead is the best way to be prepared, there is also such a thing as ‘too planned or prepared’ and that’s the moment where you get in your head and start to overthink every aspect of the shoot and if it’s good enough, if it’s different enough… This is something that I've struggled with about 90% of my shoots, until I shot with Michaela.
Michaela is a local model who approached me and wanted to work with me. She basically gave me Carte blanche for the shoot and I was free to come up with absolutely anything I could think of and honestly, as soon as I saw her I was able to come up with an entire mood board, wardrobe and makeup ideas for her within minutes. I knew exactly how I wanted to dress her based on her features, the location of the shoot, time of day etc.
EVERYTHING CAME TOGETHER. The day of the shoot was pure magic. Her father accompanied her on the day of her shoot and normally that would put an unnecessary amount of pressure on me to ‘perform’ but it all clicked so well. I could feel it on set… Everything just made sense. Most people don’t know that I conceptualize, style, shoot and retouch my own images. As the incredibly talented @lucy_rookie says, I do my own damn stunts so when I get to live out a vision that was once just a thought it makes it all worth it.
5. I love that with any creative process, it’s just that, a process. And in that, some ideas can be total fails where we look back and think, ‘WHAT WAS I THINKING?’. Have you had any of those? I know I have!
I think I’m a photographer who uses the term ‘process’ very loosely. I fail all the time and I think photographers are not that forthcoming about when we fail. Even when I see behind the scene videos of photographers setting up before a shoot, everything just seems perfectly planned and I find that it doesn't matter how much prep work I do because my brain is constantly filled with thoughts and ideas, there really is no clear path from A - B for me. It’s all a calculated mess with a few moments of magic. I can tell you that there hasn't been one shoot that I’ve done that has gone to plan. Most of them have exceeded my expectations and some have straight out failed, but nothing that I’ve shot has ever come out exactly how I thought it would. For that I'm grateful because ideas can evolve so much and I think we should just allow the process to happen.
6. What are some challenges photographers face that people hiring should be aware of? Ie what do you wish the public knew about the behind the scenes and admin of photography?
Ugh. There are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration and that need to be addressed but there isn’t enough coffee in the world to help me get through it all.
As someone who’s been struggling to make her way through different areas of the industry I’ve come across clients who have an immense amount of expectations from me in terms of what they expect the outcome to be and the quality of work but they never had the finances to back it up which is something that’s sadly become a norm to photographers all over South Africa. We’re so hungry to grow, so passionate, so desperate to get our feet in the door that we’re often willing to settle because exposure is exposure, right? Pfft. This does not mean that we think less of ourselves, our work, our potential, it’s just so tough out there for us and this industry is so fickle that we often have to settle for whatever we can get. Many photographers aren't especially passionate about what they shoot day-to-day and the shoots that they are passionate about are often pro bono.
One of the biggest misconceptions for me would be that clients think your time starts as soon as you step onto the location and ends as soon as you leave. They often forget the prep work that goes into the shoots beforehand. Conceptualizing something out of nothing takes time, so does sourcing of outfits, location scouting etc. Clients often demand perfection but don’t always allow you the time you need in order to get there.
Another thing that has always bothered me (sorry, last bit of my rant) is that people often praise models and designers and forget the photographer as they’re considered a part of the behind the scenes crew... Almost as if the model took the image herself. This does not mean that the model or designer shouldn't be praised! I honestly don’t think people grasp how exhausting it is for models to constantly perform. I just feel that although you may have the most striking face and the most beautiful, couture dress, all of that means very little if you don’t have the right photographer to photograph that face in the right light or to bring that dress to life. I think photographers deserve more praise.
7. How is the photography industry changing?
I think this is a great question because photography changes all the time. Photographers all over the world are constantly pushing boundaries and redefining the principles of photography. What was once taboo in the industry is now celebrated and your individuality lives within your images and makes me so honored and excited to grow and evolve with it all!
8. How have you personally had to adapt to COVID-19 and all the challenges it’s bringing? How can the public support photographers/designers and service-based businesses right now?
I’ve definitely been one of those creatives who have been using this time to take care of themselves and to heal from past experiences. My mental health has set me back and at times have crippled me from doing anything that I love as it felt more like a chore. There’s been this wave of pressure for me to create because that’s what other photographers were doing. I was losing followers daily and it felt like I constantly had to prove myself and my worth as a photographer in order to stay in the game.
It took me until level 3 of lockdown to realize that taking care of myself is being productive. I was so focussed on how my business is going to recover after this time and thinking of ways to be creative and to come up with something because at least something is better than nothing, but I had to force myself to take a step back and to reflect for a minute before moving forward again. I understand that we’re all struggling, especially since the Covid-19 outbreak and supporting local artists can be as easy as sharing their work. I personally don’t have the funds to advertise my work right now so building a community that supports and appreciates each other's work by sharing it and recommending it is really important.
9. And we always ask, what does liberation or freedom mean to you? How do you define that for your life?
For me, it all comes down to being able to incorporate my style into everything that I do. I often had to change my signature style for brands in the past until I got to the point where I couldn't tell my work apart from other photographers and then I asked myself “If they like YOU and YOUR style then surely they’ll let your uniqueness shine through your work.” This was almost never the case.
This doesn't mean that I will never challenge myself and my style to evolve and to adjust according to individual clients needs. My dream is to work with clients where I will be able to bring my uniqueness into everything I do so at the end of the day when I look at what I’ve created I feel proud because this is work that represents me as an artist.
10. Last but not least, what pair of Matsidiso’s call your name?
I am literally always on the go. I rarely sit still when I'm conceptualising or creating and ideas often come to me at random times during the day so I like my wardrobe to contain essential pieces that I can throw on and go but also looks chic and acceptable to wear in public.
Matsidiso's Sifa Diamond Mules are the perfect slip-on for me, especially while I'm outsourcing. They also make the perfect mid-week grocery run companions for when we need to stock up!
Thank you for taking the time to read, Chanel! Your work is nuts beautiful and I’m sure so many don’t realize how much you dedicate behind the scenes! <3
Aaah love this interview so much! Can relate to so many things said here, and it’s great to hear about the thinking of a fellow creative / photographer.
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