Ruth McMillan

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© Ruth McMillan

I’ve been following Ruth McMillan‘s work for years, after seeing her raw, gritty photographs on Tumblr. Whether documenting her travels or capturing intimate moments spent with her muse, Sandra, her pictures are always interesting. We recently chatted about her work and inspiration.

Hi Ruth, please tell me a little about yourself. 

Hiii, I’m Ruth, I live in Glasgow but I’m originally from Northern Ireland. I’m currently
working on self publishing a poetry/prose book and also a photography book.

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© Ruth McMillan

How did you develop an interest in photography?

My Nana helped me to buy a digital Nikon camera because I wanted to photograph sunsets. I had that for a couple years until a few friends started using film cameras, so I bought a Holga and fell for the magic of film. Shortly after that, I met Sandra and she became my muse, and I bought a Kodak point and shoot camera on eBay which helped me develop my aesthetic further.

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© Ruth McMillan
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© Ruth McMillan

What cameras do you prefer to use?

I’ve been using the same 3 cameras now for a couple years, before that I experimented with many until I found my favourite. I use a Pentax slr, Mju and a Kodak point and shoot.

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© Ruth McMillan

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I have many, some of them are… Justin Apperley, Perpetual Kitten, Joe Nigel Coleman, Isa Gelb and Alessandro Ruggieri. You can find these guys on Instagram.

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© Ruth McMillan

Thanks Ruth!

If you’re interested in seeing more of Ruth’s work, go check out her website or find her on Instagram.

Not every shot is a masterpiece

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I love to look at photographer’s contact sheets. They’re private and intimate, like leafing through a sketchbook or reading someone’s diary. So often, we see a finished image and forget all about the process behind it. Henri Cartier Bresson likened contact sheets to the analyst’s couch, It’s all there: what surprises us is what we catch, what we miss, what disappears.” It’s amazing to think about all of deleted, discarded or forgotten photographs that go unseen. 

Some of my favourite contact sheets belong to the photographer, Robert Frank. While working on the The Americans, he took thousands of photographs however, just 83 made the final cut. His contact sheets helped him sort through huge amounts of film, while figuring out which shots worked best.

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Spencer Bentley sums up brilliantly in this PetaPixel article, “Great photographers don’t just take great photos. They build them, they work at them, they move about a scene testing, and probing, and experimenting to find that one shot that will be shared. While I’ll never be Bresson, I can do that. I can test. I can move. I can probe. I can experiment.” 

Contact sheets remind us that great photographs don’t just happen, they’re carefully crafted, considered, framed, and often, edited.

Not every shot is a masterpiece.

Insights rarely occur fully baked

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In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday asks Scott Barry Kaufman, a leading psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on creativity, about how ideas happen. He says: “Insights rarely occur fully baked. The creative process is often nonlinear, with many detours along the way that inform the final product. The creator often starts with a hazy intuition of where he or she is going, but breakthrough innovations rarely resemble the seed idea or vision. This is because creative ideas, by their very nature, evolve over time, reflecting the colliding of seemingly disparate ideas.”

My ideas rarely appear fully-formed. I hope for successful images but never go out seeking them. It’s important that I remain open to outside influence while I’m taking photographs because I like to experiment and work with what’s available.

As Kaufman says, “the best we can do is sit down and create something, anything, and let the process organically unfold.”