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She's Legally Blind but Northern Kentucky Photographer Captures Nature Through Lens

Lewis County photographer Tammy Ruggles is different than the average photographer. Though their techniques and products may be similar, Ruggles, in a medium centered around visuals and sight, is legally blind, and her condition is worsening.

The retinal disease she was born with, retinitis pigmentosa, destroys the retina over time. Now in her fifties, her sight has diminished to the point where everyday tasks like reading regular books and driving a car has become impossible for her. She was forced to give up her career as a social worker over 10 years ago because of her inability to operate a vehicle.

Despite her visual impairments, though, Ruggles has taken over 2000 photos since 2013 and will have her work shown in the exhibit, “My Mind is a Camera” at the Art Beyond Boundaries Gallery in Cincinnati on August 28. 

Ruggles is not totally blind, though her vision worsens over time.

“I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I live in total darkness, I don’t. I do have some vision, and I use that along with my point and shoot camera where you just snap the shutter and then I use my 47-inch monitor. All of that helps me be a photographer,” she said.

Because of her inability to drive, her exposure to various sites to photograph is also limited. That’s why she likes to take photos of natural settings that are near her rural home in Lewis County. 

“I like taking photos of landscapes, nature, botanical, abstract, just a little bit of everything,” she said. “I do like taking pictures of people, but in a portrait situation in a studio I find that very difficult to do. I can’t tell if they’re looking at me, or smiling or looking away or how the lighting is. It’s kind of tricky. I wouldn’t want to charge people for a sitting if the pictures aren’t good. So instead, I go out into nature and take photographs of landscapes and flowers and colors and things that are around me close by that I can get to. Since I can’t drive, I’m really limited to where I can go to take pictures. I don’t always know what I have captured until I get it on the computer where I can see it and zoom in and look around it.”

Because of her condition, Ruggles likes to work in black and white rather than color because of the high contrast black and white photos provide.

"That’s partly due to the vision problems that I have. A lot of people that have RP will tell you that they see better in high contrast. It’s easier for me to see black and white over color,” she said.

The upcoming exhibit will be her first photography showing, though she previously had her finger paintings shown at the Art Beyond Boundaries gallery. Her nephew, Sean Ross Sapp, agreed to give Ruggles a ride to the exhibit which is not always easy for her to find.

“I’m anxious to meet the other photographers that are there. Normally I don’t get the chance to go to these art galleries because I can’t drive, and people aren’t really lining up to take me. I live in a really rural area, but I do have a ride to this exhibit of mine to make sure I get there and back,” she said.

Ruggles hopes that this is not her last showing of her photography, but because her retinal disease continues to get worse, she will not be able to take photos for much longer.  Many of us would be sad by having the ability to create works of art, but Ruggles has chosen to take a happier approach to her situation.

“At this point, I’ve taken 2,000 photos, and I really like the collection. I have a body of work that I really like and am happy with. I’ve been able to use my limited vision to do those, and that’s the way I’d like to keep it. I kind of want to quit while I’m ahead. I think that the actual photographing will have to stop, but what I want to do next is get them into galleries. I’m really happy with it, so I think it’s about time I let it go as far as taking the pictures,” Ruggles said. “If I didn’t have a bunch of pictures I love, I would say that it would be a tough decision, but to have the chance to do this, and just being a photographer is great and having the pictures that I like, that’s great too, so I’m not really as bittersweet as you might think, because I have so many pictures that I like.”

People interested in seeing more of her black-and-white photography can visit the gallery or visit her website.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photos provided

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