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Ruth Baldry

Work / Photography

Ruth Baldry on how photographing alternative communities helped her combat social anxiety

Ruth Baldy is still finding her feet as a photographer. “I’m in the process of making photography fully my thing rather than a side thing, but I’m in the weird post graduation limbo right now where I’m working out how exactly to make that happen,” she tells It’s Nice That.

Having picked up a “dodgy digital camera” as a child, Ruth began to use her camera and self-portraiture as a means through which to combat the confusion and crippling loneliness of teenage life. “I lacked the confidence to approach strangers so I became my biggest muse,” she says. In the years since, the Bristol-based photographers’ “social anxiety” has become her strength. Through projects like The Circus and Portugal, Ruth has immersed herself in communities of outsiders, documenting the lives of those who may otherwise go unnoticed.

“I think for me, in order to become fully absorbed in a project, I have to have a keen interest in the subject,” Ruth muses. “My previous two projects have focused on alternative lifestyles on the fringes of society because this is something I’m keenly interested. It’s only a recent, fresh interest and so I feel a little clueless at times. That’s what I found so exciting about my series The Invisible Circus, I was discovering so much with every person that I photographed. And the more I learnt, the more I was building a path for my own future lifestyle.”

The Invisible Circus series was born out of a university project titled ‘Intersections’ and became a response to the social anxiety that Ruth explains “had been limiting me from taking the kind of photographs I wanted to take.” The series documents the many performers and artists of Bristol’s circus scene in their daily lives, preparing and practising for performances, or simply occupying time. “The project encouraged us to approach a social group we were unfamiliar with," Ruth says by way of explanation.

“The Invisible Circus is infamous in Bristol. The performers originally squatted in an old fire and police station which is now known as The Island. During their time there, they held huge events where space would be entirely transformed into an immersive village. There would be as many as 200 performers within the village, acting out various stories for the audience to interact with. Since then, the majority have moved on to other alternative homes in and around Bristol, continuing this sense of communal living. I would visit the performers in their said alternative homes, usually spending the day with them and taking portraits of them in their places of comfort. This project spanned over nearly two years and in the process, I’ve formed wonderful relationships with equally wonderful humans.”

From Bristol to sunnier climes, Ruth’s latest project Tribodar took the photographer on a trip to Portugal. After being granted a bursary, the photographer decided to pursue her research into alternative models of living beyond the shores of the UK. “I’d become increasingly more interested in this idea of sustainable living and thought this bursary could be a way of both educating myself further and creating a series of images for others interested,” she says. “Portugal ranks seventh out of the 20 most environmentally-friendly countries (thanks, Google) and is home to many eco-communities. I was intrigued by this lifestyle and whether it was one for myself. So I suppose the project was largely motivated by me trying to discover more about myself and the life I wanted to lead. And I think ultimately, these images are just a result of that discovery. An extension of myself. I became intrigued by the divide between the people within the eco-communities and the people within the local towns and I became more and more interested in documenting this.”

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