Interview with Tammy Ruggles

This is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

Tammy Ruggles is a legally blind photographer from Kentucky whose work has appeared in a number of literary journals, art magazines, and photography publications. She was recently featured in an article on Vox.com. Much of her work can be viewed on DeviantArt. Her photography collection “First View of the Ocean” was published in our inaugural issue in August 2015.

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3288 Review: How did you get started in photography? What was your initial inspiration?

Tammy Ruggles: I was always interested in photography as far back as I can remember. My initial inspiration had to be Ansel Adams and the high contrast black and white landscapes he created. This was when I was young, and he was a household name. This attraction could have been because of the visual impairment I was born with, RP (retinitis pigmentosa), which causes most of us who have it to see better in high contrast.

But it was also because I was surrounded by beautiful scenery in Kentucky, and felt a connection to nature. Given my progressive blinding disease, however, which includes night blindness, I couldn’t pursue or practice photography the way I wanted to, which was in a darkroom, developing and creating photos myself.

This left me taking family snapshots with instant or disposable cameras around the house, and left me putting away my dream of being a fine art photographer, as if into a drawer.

A sketcher and writer from the age of twelve, these are the arts, equal passions, I pursued instead.

Flash forward to 2013, when my dream was revived with my first point-and-shoot digital camera. Applying my art education, and experience as a sketcher, this is when fine art photography began for me.

I’m inspired by nature, family, faith, art–my surroundings in general.

3288 Review: As you gain skill as a photographer, does this offset the RP at all? Do you find yourself photographing more visually complex scenes, looking for the art in the photograph after the fact? Or do you set out with specific subjects in mind and work at it until you get the result you wanted?

Tammy Ruggles: I must be honest and tell you that I haven’t actually photographed anything professionally since July 19, but when I was actively shooting, I don’t really think I was in a position to gain skill beyond this: Knowing where the buttons were, incorporating my art education and sketching experience, choosing which photos to keep, and how to use a photo editor after the pictures were taken.

This is why I used a digital point-and-shoot set on auto, because it took the need for a lot of technical skill out of it, and I’m not sure that any of the artistic skills I mentioned has offset RP, but I do know that without them, my photos would have turned out very differently, with or without RP.

I don’t set out to take visually complex scenes, as I prefer simpler ones, but I may find one that’s unexpectedly more complex conceptually during my selection process.

The difficulty I have in viewing my surroundings prevents me from spotting or planning a complex scene before I click the shutter, but it doesn’t prevent me from finding an accidentally complex one later when I’m browsing through my captures. This is why my oversize monitor is so important to me.

Once in a while I found a subject, like a tree or a flower, and would try to plan an angle or a perspective, but not very often. I rarely had specific subjects in mind.

I think my images give the impression that I saw each and every one of them with clarity before I snapped the shutter, or planned some of them, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I see very little of what I shoot. The clarity of the lens can be misleading. I do what limited seeing I do on my big screen, and am often amazed at what I captured. Not amazed because I think my pictures are so great. Amazed because my eyes had missed such scenery altogether.

3288 Review: In addition to photography you are also an accomplished writer, with several dozen titles to your credit. In particular, you have written a lot of self-help books for children and teens. How did you get started writing for younger readers?

Tammy Ruggles: Although my grandchildren were an influence on my return to writing for children and teens, it’s actually one of the genres I started writing in when I was a teen myself, and then later as a mother. I’ve always felt young at heart, and my experiences as a social worker also play a part in the stories I write about for children and teens. I think stories can be helpful as well as entertaining. It’s a genre that comes easy for me, and I don’t mind writing about tough subjects.

3288 Review: Now that you are a successful artist in your own right, do you look to other writers or artists for inspiration? If so, how do they influence your own work?

Tammy Ruggles: No, I think that was more so as a beginning writer and artist, but once I became more experienced, my own style, whatever it may be, had a chance to emerge and breathe. Some of my influences were Edgar Allan Poe, Byron and Shelley, Keats, Vincent van Gogh, Picasso, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, among others. I’m influenced by many things, from film to music.

3288 Review: In addition to your writing for children and teens, do you do any in-person work, for instance as a counselor or mentor?

Tammy Ruggles: I’m an as-needed mentor for the American Foundation for the Blind, but in the career-oriented sector, but not as a personal counselor, and nothing one-on-one. I haven’t done that type of work since my social work days. I like to think that some of my YA writing is a form of social work.

3288 Review: Have any of your mentees followed in your footsteps as an artist and writer?

Tammy Ruggles: I wish I could report yes, but at this time, no, not that I’m aware of.

3288 Review: What are you working on now? What will the world see next from Tammy Ruggles?

Tammy Ruggles: Since I’m not actively taking pictures, writing, or doing art in any professional sort of way, my attention has shifted more toward making brief videos about the three for my YouTube channel.

I don’t really have any concrete plans, though I’d like to work toward having my photos and/or finger paintings accepted into gallery shows at some point in the future. Also, I’m open to hearing about any special new art projects that may come my way.