Guest blog post: The Little Girl Who Wanted to be Ansel Adams
By Tammy Ruggles
I had a secret dream that I barely acknowledged to myself, let alone tell the world: I wanted to be a fine art photographer.
Not such a far-fetched dream for someone who loved the arts, and especially the striking black and white landscapes of my photography hero, Ansel Adams. Growing up in rural Kentucky, I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes.
But it was far-fetched because I was born with RP, or Retinitis Pigmentosa, a blinding disease that steals your vision over time by destroying the retinas. My first pair of glasses came at the age of 2, I had night blindness, which is associated with RP, and it was impossible to read settings on a camera to shoot manually, so traditional photography and photography courses were out, accepting the fact that I would have to be happy with taking family snapshots with a disposable camera, and I was.
Instead, my artistic pursuits turned to sketching, writing, and studying the arts. I took four years of high school art, and then almost three more in college. Almost every elective was arts-related.
I had another dream too. Social work. And I earned two degrees in order to enter that profession.
At age 40, however, I was declared legally blind, and had to retire from my position. I was no longer legal to drive.
In a tailspin, I wasn’t sure what to do except take a chance on my art-related hobby, writing. Fortunately it turned into a second career.
I couldn’t let my visual impairment get the best of me. I couldn’t. I had a son to raise by myself, and a precious life to live. My positive nature told me I just needed to figure out a new way to do that.
I always believed firmly that if you are given a gift, you should use it to the best of your ability. This is why the arts came easy for me. I was born with the desire to create, and becoming a writer felt as natural as becoming a social worker.
I’ve said it before, and I have to repeat it here. People are lucky to have one dream come true in a lifetime. I’ve had more than one.
As the years passed, my writing career flourished while my vision declined. The time came when I could no longer sketch with a charcoal pencil or a Sharpie, and I was ready to give art up for good when a Facebook friend suggested I try finger painting instead.
This opened a door I never knew existed, and I created several hundred finger paintings in less than a year.
When I was satisfied with the number I’d finished, it was late 2013, and as I was browsing videos on the internet, I happened on an Ansel Adams biography. This, along with information about the ease of point-and-shoot cameras, rekindled my strong desire for photography.
I was a fool to try. I was legally blind. How in the world could I do this? WHY did I want to do this?
The idea wouldn’t let go of me. I was at once excited and terrified by the idea.
A legally blind photographer? Was it possible? What would people say? What if my pictures were terrible? What if they were pretty?
With more fear than hope, I ordered a point-and-shoot camera. One that would be set on auto, that could do the work for me.
No darkroom required. No reading the settings, or turning lenses. Just point and shoot.
I certainly didn’t feel like Ansel Adams with my camera still sitting in its box on my kitchen counter.
It took a slight nudge from my son to click the shutter for the first time, and view the captures on my 47-inch computer monitor, but once I did, the floodgates were open, just as they’d been opened with finger painting.
I was an artist losing vision. I didn’t know how long my vision would hold out at this level, and I was going to enjoy every second of every snap I took.
The first pictures were practice, I know. I don’t know a beginning photographer yet who hasn’t shot the heck out of rocks and wood. But the more I photographed, the more I realized that I could do more than just be like the photographer Ansel Adams. I could take all that I knew and loved about art, and let the artist in me come forth as the photographer Tammy Ruggles.
In the last two years, I’ve been privileged to have had my photography featured in literary journals, art magazines, and photography publications around the world.
Repeating earlier what I said, I don’t know how long my vision will hold out at this level, but I’ve enjoyed every second of every photo I’ve snapped. If this isn’t a dream come true, I don’t know what is.
On a side note, last winter I had a dream that a living Ansel Adams came to my house and said, “Come on. We’re going to take some pictures”. We climbed a few hills together and took some photos. Not in Nevada, but here in Kentucky.
My artist statement goes something like this:
I want people to see the fine art photographer that was born in 2013, with the help of a point-and-shoot digital camera, 47-inch computer monitor, and remaining vision.
I also want others to see what is possible for the disabled with the right tools and the right outlook.
For more on Tammy Ruggles including her photography portfolio: