Ruth is a UK based documentary, portrait and travel photographer who uses photography to challenge social issues at home as well as countries further afield.
She has worked for a number of charities helping to address diverse issues from leprosy in Nepal to a Romanian home for vulnerable women and children. Read on to have your eyes opened to stories of lives told via imagery – remember a picture really does paint a thousand words…
Hi Ruth, where are you based?
I live in the flat Fenlands of East England. I’m a total outdoors person, so I love spending time in the countryside around me, but I also have the perk of catching a train and being in the crazy city of London in less than an hour, so I get the best of both worlds.
What is the biggest reason for you to take photos?
I take photographs to tell stories, to connect people with the lives of those on the other side of the world. Despite cultures, financial backgrounds and beliefs, we are all human and have so much more in common than many think. My work also aims to raise awareness of social issues that many people face, so that other people can stand with those I photograph and see a change in these circumstances.
Can you tell me a bit about the ideas of photos behind the story of 'The Leprosy Mission' - how did you find the patients' willingness to be photographed?
I was approached by The Leprosy Mission UK asking me to go on assignment for them in Nepal to capture their work out there so that they could use it in promotional material for World Leprosy Day (25th January 2015). I was based at Anandaban Leprosy Hospital, near Kathmandu, which is one of the largest specialist leprosy hospitals in Asia. They have patients from Nepal, India and China, many of whom have travelled long distances in search of treatment. The leprosy patients were some of the friendliest people I have photographed. Many leprosy patients have come from situations of rejection and abuse as Leprosy carries a lot of stigma, with many believing it is a curse from the gods, so when the patients come to the hospital they receive the acceptance, support and love that they deserve. It’s such a privilege to give a voice to these people and let their stories be used to raise awareness and help other people in similar situations.
This project on Leprosy is very much a work in progress, and I am currently looking for funding so I can plan a return to Nepal to continue this work on a personal level. On my return I will have to opportunity to stay amongst locals in the remote villages and capture the challenges that recovered leprosy patients face on a daily basis, the stigma and the personal disabilities.
And from Nepal to Romania...
When I initially shared my plans about going to Romania a few people warned me of how it could be an emotionally hard country to visit due to the communist era that ended 25 years ago. I was based at the Rivers of Life home, a home that cares for abandoned children, elderly ladies and pregnant women/mothers who wouldn’t be able to keep their children without the support of the home. Most of the residents come from backgrounds of poverty and abuse. Instead of finding the country that I expected to find, I found one that was warm and welcoming: every person I met was so lovely and had hope, especially the mothers and children who lived at the home. Instead of a country crippled by it’s communist past, Romania now seems to be a country that looks forward with hope to the future.
There are still areas in the Romanian system that need improvement, as it has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in Europe and there are still corrupt areas in the Romanian public services, but gradually everything improves and Romania becomes more beautiful.
What stories or subject matters would you like to tackle in the future?
I always have a thousand ideas whizzing around my head for new projects, I think one of the prominent ideas is to start a story on drug abuse and people who are trying to pull themselves out of the circle of addiction. I would probably head to somewhere like Mexico, Brazil or South Africa where drug abuse is exceptionally high. My projects have to make me uncomfortable, I always choose ones that would challenge me on a personal level so that I can not only develop as a photographer but as a human being.
Have you found doors open to you from competitions you've won and been nominated for?
I’ve won a couple of competitions that have enabled me to access funding for projects, and these have really given me a great opportunity to develop my work. They've been very formative and helpful, especially the D&AD New Blood Nomination, which is a great non-profit organisation that supports the creative industry. Nothing’s been handed to me out of winning a competition, I’ve always had to seek out opportunities and find doors to push open.
Do you have any favourite photos?
I often change my mind on which photos are my favourites, but currently I have 3 favourite photos, the first being a landscape from Nepal. Anandaban hospital sits on a hill overlooking the small village of Tikabhairab. This landscape was captured in the village and I remember considering moving to the village so that I could wake up to this view every day. Nepal is an incredibly beautiful country, with views such as this one being repeated again and again.
The second photo is of a 4 year old girl called Maria, which is a favourite for more sentimental reasons. Maria lives in Romania at the Rivers of Life home and was born at the home but moved out with her mother shortly afterwards. Back in June last year her mother ran off abandoning Maria and her brother, so they returned to the home without any other relations. Maria is an incredible young girl who is so sweet and caring, and a little bit naughty! It’s crazy how a 4 year old girl can inspire you, but she did.
The final photo is a little closer to home. I took this photo in January at the Straw Bear Folk Festival that’s hosted in my local town of Whittlesey. The festival sees folk dancers from the UK and further afield descend upon the town to spend a weekend dancing together and drinking beer. It happened just a few days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and amongst the frivolities of the festival I saw this one dancer with “Je Suis Charlie” on his hat, bringing a poignant edge to a busy vibrant festival.
What destinations are high on your list to travel to?
My dream is to do the Machu Picchu one day. My great granddad was on one of the first expeditions to discover the Inca sites found there. I never met him, but know that he was a great adventurer and it would be pretty amazing to walk in his footsteps.
The southern countries in Africa have always interested me, I have a friend who has worked in that area a number of times and her stories and experiences have always inspired me. It seems to be such a beautiful and culturally rich area of the world, filled with many stories that could be told.
I also would love to travel to New Zealand. I love adventure and New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world, so naturally it attracts me… and it’s so beautiful!
Click on over to www.ruthjones.org to see more photo essays as well as her film work. Thanks Ruth!