We recently did a photoshoot with the talented Ruth Smith and as she is so passionate about dance we decided to find out a little more about her and why she loves what she does.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ruth Smith. I’m a 30-something Cape Coloured who grew up in Kensington in the Northern Suburbs. I am a photographer and videographer who does the majority of my work in the performance arts industry.
2. You used to be a dancer yourself. How long did you dance for? What did you love most about dancing and why did you quit?
I started ballet at about 7 years of age and trained with a community organisation called Wilvan School of Dance. I was with them for about 15 years and during that time, in my teenage years, I discovered contemporary dance through Jazzart Dance Theatre and as much I loved ballet, contemporary stole my heart. After high school I spent a year performing with Jazzart but it didn’t take me long to realise that despite being good at dancing, it didn’t make me a professional dancer. Although I don’t dance much anymore, I occasionally take adult ballet classes.
3. How and when did you become a professional photographer?
When I was a teenager my best friend was also a dancer. I would encourage her to dress up and we’d put on informal photo shoots with the little point-and-shoot camera that my parents had bought. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but that was the beginning of my photographic career. After I left Jazzart, I put myself through a few photographic evening courses and a family friend, Mark Stephenson, helped me buy my first camera. After that it was just about constant practice and asking dancers who I knew if I could photograph them or their shows. The rest, as they say, is history.
4. What inspired you to photograph dancers?
When I left Jazzart and stumbled into an office job to make money, I wanted a way to stay in the arts industry that I had grown up in and fallen in love with. I also had so few photos of myself as a dancer and wanted to be able to document the work and stories of dancers and dance companies in a way that hadn’t really been done for me.
5. Does having dancing experience give you a better insight into what is possible to achieve in a shot?
Definitely. Sometimes I wonder if I’m harder on a dancer than a photographer with no dance experience would be because when dance technique happens to go wrong I’m the first to say, “No, we need to try again”. There’s also an immediate sense of trust. Some dancers don’t even ask to see the photographs during the shoot; they’re happy to let me decide what’s best. That’s creatively liberating.
6. What are some of the unique challenges/difficulties of photographing dancers? The biggest challenge, especially with ballet, is making sure I shoot the right second, especially when I’m shooting a stage production and there’s no second chance. Contemporary dance is more forgiving because often, it’s the seconds in between movements that can be the most beautiful when captured in an image. But with ballet, each step is so specific and the peak of each movement often only lasts a split second. If you miss that, you miss the shot.
7. You use your photographs in designs and products. Tell us more about that.
I’ve always wanted my photography to be usable in some way. I love framed photographs decorating walls, but I also use my images in designs for tote bags that I make myself and greeting cards. I stock my merch at Nova Core Dance Studios, but I am always happy to do pop-ups at dance studios around Cape Town where they aren’t able to stock items permanently. In the future, I hope to expand the range to tees and hoodies.
8. There’s also your video work. How challenging is it balancing photography and videography?
I’m very much a one-woman band at the moment and it can be hard doing the work that multiple departments normally do on a film set or video shoot. I’d love to expand into a slightly larger operation in the future, but that’s something I’m still laying the groundwork for. As most people know, camera equipment isn’t cheap, so I’m building and growing slowly, but also taking my time deciding exactly how I want to work going forward because I’m not always comfortable with how things are expected to be done - I like to forge my own path in a way. All that being said, I’m always looking to do more film projects and there are a few creative ideas I’ve been mulling on that hopefully will be able to get made in the next year or so.
9. What is the best/most exciting/dynamic thing about photographing dancers?
It’s actually over a period of time that the most exciting thing happens, and that’s seeing the development of a dancer. Some dancers I photograph more than once or I photograph and then see them perform on stage later on. For me, it’s witnessing their growth over a period of time that excites me the most and keeps me shooting and motivated to be better.
10. What do you aim for with your photographs? How do you know you’ve hit the jackpot?
For me, the jackpot is not about the illusive perfect moment, but about knowing I’ve captured the essence of a dancer and that I’ve done so in a moment that for them was a personal best. Their grand jeté (leap jump) today might be better than the one they did when we shot it a week ago, but as long as I’ve done them justice on the day, I’m happy. I want a good photograph, but I want a well-captured dancer more and the aim is always to try and achieve both.
11. Lastly, how can people get in touch with you?
If you want to follow me on social media, I am @RuthSmithCreates on both Instagram and Facebook or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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A statement all too true for a dancer, this flows through our veins. Well, the ‘Dance’ part but how about the Eat?
Dancers are tough, they train exceptionally hard for long hours at a time so we thought to ask you, the dancer, what is your daily diet like?