Ruth is a violinist, guitar player, composer, lyricist and vocalist. Her musical journey began with an eighth size violin and Piccadilly Circus. She moved through the spheres of school choir and orchestra, area string orchestra, national youth training choir, county youth orchestra and then to the Birmingham Conservatoire where she gained a BMus in Music Composition. There she discovered that folk and acoustic music was where her heart lay. She plays in the Peacock Angell band with her partner Sid Peacock with whom she collaborates on a range of projects including Sid’s eclectic large ensemble SURGE. She has worked with Ashley Hutchings, including the Rainbow Chasers band and has also played with Rufus Wainwright. She is a member of folk quartet The Froe and regularly gigs in other formats including a duo with Becky Mills.

Picture: Ruth getting ready to go out with the uniform she used to wear on care home shifts hanging on the wardrobe, Birmingham.

“It’s such an unreliable profession – that’s the hardest part about it. Because…you can be working lots and you can be gigging lots for several months of the year and the rest of the year is absolutely dead, there’s nothing…I found myself working in the care home round the corner for minimum wage doing six hour shifts starting at half seven coming home at half one, grabbing a shower, going and picking up my son from school, teaching some children as well and then doing whatever – other work I had to do in the evenings and doing it all again the next day.”

BH: This shot was suggested by Ruth to highlight her quote. It turned out she still had the uniform despite having stopped doing shifts some months before. In this case the business of a domestic bedroom location added rather than detracted from the shot. Light was not great so I positioned a lamp on top of the wardrobe to make sure Ruth’s face was lit – the window was to the right of the shot. I used the 28mm prime f1.8 lens set to f2.8 and 1/160th second shutter speed to make sure her reflection was in focus with some depth of field while putting the uniform and her face to the right out of focus to emphasise the care work was in the past but in her mind. Although shot at 28mm Ruth suggested a tighter crop which does look better, so in practice this is probably the equivalent of 35mm.

Picture: Ruth and her son cycling home from his Primary school in Selly Oak.

“Becoming a mother for me was an extraordinary shock to the system…You have to put your music and your art to one side. The thing is though, I never stopped working, we did London Jazz Festival when Elvin was about a month old. Pumping milk in the dressing room and thinking, what am I doing, this is just crazy. Finding it really, really difficult. Being a mother and a musician is a very difficult balance…suddenly I was like – I’ve got a baby! I can’t just go off and tour for three or four nights in a row.”

BH: I arranged to meet them on their way back from Elvin’s school to reinforce Ruth’s comments. Outside lighting meant a low ISO400 and the zoom 24-70 f4 to allow me to quickly reframe as they cycled. As this was a moving subject I used the tracking focus settings on the Nikon Z6 and a small aperture of f8 and shutter speed of 1/160th for sharpness. Focal length is 42mm. The challenge was to get a natural look for a set-up shot. So after checking my first shots this was a second pass-by where I asked them to keep closer together to get the composition and relationship between them to match the feeling from the quote.

Picture: Ruth teaching students at her home in Birmingham.

“I teach violin and…I’ve upped my teaching practice and we turned our musical activities into a proper business now. So, we work properly from home, it’s a company and yeah we do that most days now, booking gigs, ringing people, sending emails, practising, writing, filling in forms, doing the whole thing.”

BH: Ruth during a session at home showcasing her students’ progress to their parents. Lighting was poor and because Ruth’s living room was packed with students and their parents there was little room to work with. So I was in the doorway using 70mm on the 24-70mm f4 zoom. The image is also slightly cropped to focus the composition so it’s probably equivalent to 80mm. ISO3200 wide open at f4 1/125th second. In this instance the location reflects the use of home in making a living and the family images on the piano enhance that. I debated whether the violin student’s face being cut off by the music stand worked or not but decided that as she is not the main focus it was acceptable.

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Chris Young
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