Educator & Theatre Artist

Self Portraiture Series

2018 Self-Portraiture Short Series

Ruthie leave behind.JPG

“Leave Behind”


“Bring Forward”

Artist’s Statement

In planning for and executing this project, the composition of my image took many turns before arriving where it did. My first piece is the leave-behind piece. This piece is a photo of myself slumped in a bare bathroom. I’m on the cusp of a major transition, graduating college and figuring out what’s next. I’ll be in some new city with some new job around a bunch of new people. That’s terrifying and exciting at the same time. It’s the opportunity to experience a lot of new. I interpreted what I want to “leave behind” as what I don’t want brought into that new life chapter-- and every life chapter after. I want insecurity left behind. Insecurity takes many forms. For this piece, I captured the insecurity surrounding body and appearance. In the use of space, I tried to evoke the haunting sense of emptiness that Gregory Crewdson achieves in his narrative pieces. I chose an empty, color-devoid bathroom with this purpose in mind. I also chose this bathroom for the visual interest of the many stark lines, as well as the visual interest of the record visible in the left of the frame. I staged myself with overly dramatic contouring on my face and upper body and heavy, dark makeup on my eyebrows and lips to appear artificial, as if I’m trying with all my might to seem thinner-- to be different from what I am. Hiding. In doing so, though, I (I being the version of myself in the piece) actually made myself look sickly. Unwell. In trying to hide that which I don’t like, I inadvertently reveal parts of myself that I don’t even recognize. That part that is not well, that is disconnected. I also taped my breasts, but used measuring tape rather than binding tape to externalize the bodily shame I’m harboring in the image. I’ve literally constrained myself with these digits-- obsessed with the numbers. Additionally, in my conception of womanhood, freed breasts can be both exposing and freeing. There’s a liberation about existing with a freed body and exposed breasts. But these measuring tapes that I’ve put on myself prevent this freedom and this expression. Another element I wanted captured in this photo was fatigue. I wanted to appear tired, both end-of-a-long-day type tired and emotionally tired. This piece summarizes how I internalize shame, insecurity, and fear: things I want to leave behind.

In considering what I want to take with me, I thought about legacy. I thought about making my leave behind piece about legacy, as legacy is something one leaves behind, but I feel more at a place right now where legacy manifests more as something I’m breathing in. I’m experiencing the legacy of others as I try to figure out what my own legacy will be. I thought about this after experiencing one of Sophie Calle’s books in the library. It was called Rachel Monique. The book was a collection of her mother’s journal entries and photos of her mother. It made me cry. It touched on the complex relationship between Sophie Calle and her mother and how everything Calle did was in some way influenced by her mother. I wanted to capture that in this piece, so, I immediately thought of my mother, her mother (my Grandma), and her mother (my Gigi). My relationship with these three women is not simplistic. Our values aren’t always aligned and the complexity of Southern womanhood manifests in the cracks of my relationship with each of them- sometimes it feels like a knitting needle through the head! But despite this, I feel each of them guide me. They give their love so generously and are each bada***s in their own right. I wanted my piece to show their influence on me. To represent crafting and home trades, a significant part of each of their lives, I used that knitting needle to connect photos of myself, my mother, my Grandma, and my Gigi. When aligned correctly, you can see the eye of my Gigi through my own eye, my mother’s eye, and my grandmother’s eye. I did this to show how each woman has guided her daughter and each daughter sees the world and her life with an aspect of her mother influencing her perception. I never want to lose the lessons from each of the matriarchs before me. Their drive, kindness, and perseverance in the face of immense struggle are all things that I always will take with me. 

This is one of the only photos I’ve made that shows my face close-up. My insecurities about appearance (as showcased in the first piece) have made it uncomfortable for me to take a direct photo of my face. But in the context of these three women behind me, I find aspects of them in myself and my own appearance. And I think each of them is so beautiful. In connecting myself and my own features with theirs, I’m able to find a lot of beauty in that. My wide cheeks, for example, which I’ve spent so long despising, come from generations of strong women that I admire- they come from a beautiful history that I’m honored to continue.


process photos

above: Gigi, Grandma, Momma, and myself.


some outtakes

(above and right)

There once lived
a woman named Delphia
who walked through these hills teaching children
to read. She was known as a quilter
whose hand never wearied, a mother
who raised up two daughters to pass on
her words like a strong chain of stitches.
Imagine her sitting among us,
her quick thimble moving along these lines
as if to hear every word striking true
as the stab of her needle through calico.
While prophets discourse about endings,
don’t you think she’d tell us the world as we know it
keeps calling us back to beginnings?

an excerpt of Mountain Time by Kathryn Stripling Byer