This week, CoCo & Rico contributor Kara Nolte begins a new series, Kara Gets Creative About Why Creatives Do What They Do.
Follow her as she chats up the colourful people around her about their work and their lives, and gains some insight into why we create.
This week, Loren Ruby: a photographer on seeing clearly.
“I can never be 100% sure of anything…but I can see”
Loren is the photographer behind Pearl Photographics, and also happens to be my housemate. We shot an impromptu dance shoot at the park near our house a few months back and she was all too happy to let me traipse around the tennis court, climb fences and head butt trees to my heart’s content while she clicked away. Her all black attire and jet black hair are the fronts for a soft sense of humour and silly speech peppered with faux gangsta slang. From her room waft sounds from her contraband sub-woofers or her acoustic guitar. Loren is a riot to be around but don’t let that fool you because she is piercingly observant. This girl gives you the goods straight up and her photography reflects this part of her strong personality.
A 27 year old from small town Ontario with a background in nursing, she’s got something to say and the life experience to boot. About a year ago she was featured on an episode of Intervention Canada and made the trip out west to attend a treatment centre on Vancouver Island. She’s now been clean and sober just over six months. When I told her I wanted to interview her as a part of my newest venture for CoCo & Rico she said yes. My intention was to focus more on the photography and less the recovery, however Loren made the personal decision to include her struggles with substances. She’s come to terms with the fact that her addiction and time in recovery is essentially public knowledge. (The Intervention Canada episode has been airing consistently since it’s original air date in September). “Use it.” she said, “It’ll be a good thing.”
The day Loren’s carton of cigarettes arrived at the house was the day we set to do this interview. Mid-afternoon, as I was cooking a pot of chili, she came into the kitchen, threw a pack at my broke ass and said “Here”. “Alright” I said, “I’m gonna smoke one of these and then let’s do it.” We sit outside, it’s a bright yet incredibly windy day and Loren’s new emo-rocker chick hair do is having none of it. “I really gotta wash my hair, it feels like I have butter in it.” she retorts.
“What do you think of those smokes? They’re pretty good eh?”
I like that they’re free. I also like that she’s agreed to walk the semi-awkward line with me between friendship and creative work. I tell her so and I tell her I’m nervous. “Why?” she balks, “If it was MTV maybe I could see that”. She’s right, I get over myself and we set up in the dining room upstairs. I bring my ancient laptop and iPhone, she brings her Candy Apple Red nail polish.
Kara: How are you?
Loren: I’m doing pretty good.
K: So how long have you been doing photography for?
L: In and out? Probably since I was about 19 or 20. I got out of it for 5 years and then I started getting back into it a year ago.
K: What made you start photography?
L: I think what made me start to get back into it was that…I could see things clearly again right? When I was messed up all the time…when I was under the influence I couldn’t do that. What I see through the lens is what I see going on in the world. It’s my perspective on things. Now since I’m sober I have a lot more feelings I can feel and I guess a lot more compassion for people…I wanna be able to capture that through the photography.
K: Why did you choose the name Pearl Photographics, where’s that from?
L: I actually learned a lot of my photography through my dad and his company is called Ruby Photographics. So I sorta wanted to go along the same lines as that…keeping the business in the family sorta thing too, and I chose to do something similar to what he did cause he taught me a lot of what I know.
K: Is Pearl your middle name?
L: Pearl is my middle name.
K: So Loren Pearl Ruby?
L: Loren Faye Pearl Ruby.
K: Ruby’s your last name?
L: Yeah. And actually what’s significant about the name Pearl, my great-grandmother her name was Pearl and she died the same day that I was born…she was 106 years old when she died. So, it’s a long living name, therefore so will be my photography!
K: Ah. I like it.
L: There’s an oomph to it.
K: So did your dad give you your your first camera?
L: No…my ex actually got me my first camera. Where we lived there was a lot of farmland and I kinda just started taking pictures of…my surroundings. My second camera…was a fluke…it got packed in my bags on my way to treatment. So I had that with me…was kinda bored, picked it up and started playing with it…that’s how I started to feel like this is what I wanna be doing again. My first birthday sober was in Victoria and my friends Matt and Paulie; they knew how much I loved my photography so they went out and got me the Nikon that I have now.
K: You said you were shooting your surroundings and there was a lot of farmland, where was that?
L: That was in Ontario where I owned my house in Harrow. It’s about an hour outside of Windsor.
K: So I guess your dad really influenced you in the beginning then?
L: Yeah…he had a huge studio and that’s where he spent most of his time so if I was gonna spend time with my dad I was gonna spend time at the studio. I got to watch him do what he did, right? [I was a] 10 year old kid developing pictures in a dark room because he needed some help. So that’s what I did, and I learned it all at a really young age. We just happened to be similar that way…where his creative side comes out in him…how he sees things…is through the lens and that’s how I see things too right?
K: What inspires you now? How have things changed?
L: When I was doing photography before…I was taking pictures of the kids and the dog and my family and now it’s different because I take pictures of things…the way I see them. I feel things, take a picture and it’s almost like I capture that emotion in the photograph…and I don’t do my photography as a way to make money. As much as it is a business, I hope it will become a business, that’s not what it is for me it’s a passion, right? That’s what I wanna try and focus on is keeping that passion.
K: Okay. Perfect scenario, perfect world. Imagining yourself as a photographer, you’re working, do you have an image of what that looks like? You out there in the world, doing your thing.
L: If I had to take a guess at what that looks like, it would involve a lot of traveling. Yeah it would involve a lot of traveling. What I take pictures of…some people may interpret it as depressing. I don’t think it’s depressing. I think it’s reality. There’s a lot of things that are going on in this world that I’ve never seen. Like first hand. I’ve never seen it and those are the kinds of things, whether it be poverty or war or whatever it is that’s going on, things that really affect people. [That is] what I want to be able to capture and I know that to do that I’m gonna have to go other places, right?
K: Where would you wanna go, what is the first place that pops into your head?
L: Africa. A friend of mine who I went through treatment with…his mom has gone all over the world and she’s got like, thousands and thousands of photographs and it was actually one of her photographs that inspired me [to travel]…it was this picture of a woman that was taken in Africa and she was an elderly woman. It was just this picture of her feet and they were so weathered and just…told a whole story through this one picture. All I had to do was look at that picture and I had a pretty good idea of where she may be coming from.
K: Picture’s worth a thousand words kind of deal. That’s so cliché. But it’s true!
L: It’s so true!
K: So what are you currently working on?
L: I actually got in contact with my dad and he’s working on a portfolio for me. I’ve sent him what I’ve chosen as my best photography…he’s working on that and he’s gonna send it back to me. I have been doing some stuff of the homeless, like Downtown Eastside kind of stuff and I really like it. It can just be dangerous sometimes right?
K: Right. But it’s also kinda like, you’re in Vancouver, that’s a big issue here. It’s something that’s close to home.
L: Well exactly, and it’s one of those things…you know I talk about that lady in Africa and that’s what’s going on there: this is what’s going on here. Right? It’s that part of Vancouver that Vancouver wants to hide. It’s like Vancouver’s dirty little secret. But it’s there and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon…there’s a lot of issues down there right, it’s not just addictions it’s people with mental health issues, it’s loss of employment, it’s stuff that affects everybody right? Those people down there… I just think that it’s definitely worthy of photography.
K: Definitely. Is there any moment in your creative past as a photographer that stands out for you?
L: (Loren actually pauses here for the first time the whole interview). Yeah you know there was a picture that I took of this old barn when I lived back in Harrow. That would probably be the moment where I’m like…this actually looks pretty cool. But emotionally it wasn’t there for me. That changed. When I lived in Victoria I was downtown and I got this…shot of this older African-American man…he had these checkered pants on, was clearly high on something, holding onto this rail and leaning back…it was weird cause [the photo] made me feel very connected to him. On this whole like different level of being connected to somebody, right? I could feel what was going on for him. So ever since then it’s been…it’s been a little different for me.
K: You talk about how you feel something and aim to capture it. Do you every feel like there’s a disconnect? That perhaps what you’re trying to portray doesn’t quite get into the photo? Is there a frustration of wanting to get that thing out and it not being quite right? Does that happen often?
L: Yeah that happens to me. I’ll be feeling a certain way and take the picture but then when I look at the picture my feeling doesn’t match up with what I took. But…I can either get really upset about it or I can…not. Right? Like I’ll always keep the photo. I’ll never ever get rid of any photos that I take even if they’re duds. Sometimes it’s frustrating cause I’ll put something up and what I see isn’t what other people see. You know? But that’s just part of photography. That’s part of art. It’s sort of the beauty of perspective too.
K: It’s such a tough thing right? Cause it’s personal but at some point you kind of have to let it go as well. If you’re wanting to release this thing for other people to see you have to give it over to them.
L: I do and I have to be open to the feedback whether I like it or not. I can take a picture and think, “That’s the most phenomenal picture I’ve ever seen.” Someone else might look at it and say, “That’s a piece of shit.” You know what I mean? So. It is what it is!
K: I know we’ve talked about this before. When you are just…engaged in the act of taking photos…like shooting…what happens for you?
L: I’m completely in a different world. I don’t hear anything around me. I don’t even know that there’s people around me…like friends…once they know me well enough they’ll just sort of stop and stand there and do whatever they’re going to do cause they know…right? People actually take pictures of me taking pictures cause apparently I’m so…zoned out. But that’s because I’m feeling everything that I’m looking at.
K: Do you equate this state of being with the oblivion you sought when drinking and using?
L: No. It’s a very different feeling. When you’re fucked up it’s a fake euphoria. With the photography it’s real.
K: We talked a bit about Vancouver and the issues that there are here. And you’re fairly new to the city. Do you like Vancouver?
L: I love Vancouver. I think it’s the best city ever. I do. And its so diverse, right, there’s so many different ethnicities here and cultures…there’s so many artistic people here too with different perspectives. There are things that I never paid attention to before I moved here. Like I was at the bus stop the other day…there was this lady next to me, she was East Indian and a pretty old woman. She had this kind of head wrap on. I just wanted to walk up to her and take a picture of her face. I never would have thought of that before, I didn’t look at people before and I didn’t have the opportunity before because where I lived was so…black and white.
K: I notice that you like old people. Is there something about them that interests you particularly?
L: They’ve lived a life. I’ve worked with so many older people…the majority of them will never ever have a chance to tell you their story. I can never be 100% sure of anything but I can see…people’s pain in their eyes…their struggles and sometimes their hurt and sometimes their happiness. It’s like the eyes are a window to the soul really and with elderly people there’s so much in there to talk about.
K: What was your work with the elderly?
L: Personal support worker.
K: How long did you do that for?
L: Seven years.
K: It seems that job and photography don’t go together but its so clear that the things you’ve experienced and the things you’re attracted are aligned. It’s not like you made that happen or chose that interest.
K: I have some really random questions for you now. What’s the last song you listened to?
L: Chuck Ragan “Nothing Left to Prove”
K: How do you choose what you wear?
L: My mood.
K: Do you watch TV?
L: No cause I think its a waste of time and it rots your brain.
K: Do you or would you ever use the word “Ciao”?
L: I have used it in the past. But it’s just not one of my words.
K: What do you think of mustaches?
L: You know I used to hate them but now I kinda like them. Like my brother had a handlebar mustache going on not long ago and it looked really cool.
K: Do you support Starbucks?
K: How would you make homemade Oreos?
L: I wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s possible and I’m trying to live in the solution! I just can’t see how it would work!
(As I listen to the recorded interview and type in my notes to this old ThinkPad I can hear Loren on the other side of the wall strumming “Time of Your Life” by Green Day. Classic Loren Faye Pearl Ruby. Later in the day, Loren washes her hair.)
CoCo & Rico Contributor, Kara Nolte