Sheffield girl’s on film for instant success with photography business

Ruth Storey from Norton who sells her Polaroid triptychs of Sheffield online  Picture Dean Atkins
Ruth Storey from Norton who sells her Polaroid triptychs of Sheffield online Picture Dean Atkins
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The march of technology has put the ability to take pictures instantly in the hands of almost everyone who has a smartphone.

But photographer Ruth Storey is part of an image-making revival of a more tangible medium that was almost consigned to history.

Ruth, from Norton, sells mounted, framed triptychs featuring Polaroid images of Sheffield and the Peak District which are proving popular with buyers around the world.

Ruth has amassed a growing collection of classic instant cameras, mainly from the 1970s, and believes her new business taps into an increasing enthusiasm for analogue devices in a digital age.

Ruth has captured locations ranging from the Ladybower reservoir to Graves Park and Sheffield University’s Diamond building on the cameras’ signature small-scale prints, and also undertakes commissioned work for clients.

The mother-of-two, aged 34, is on a career break from her job as a probation officer, and is new to the photography trade.

“As far as photography goes I’m self-taught, I’ve not done anything remotely professional with it,” she said.

“It’s a passion, really, and a hobby.”

Ruth explained that Polaroid art had always piqued her interest, but she was dissuaded by the price of cameras and film – until recently, that is.

“For years I’ve wanted to do it but it’s such an expensive hobby... but then my husband and son got season tickets at Bramall Lane and I thought if they can have an expensive hobby, so can I!

“I bought cameras and film and it just spiralled from there, really.”

Many of Ruth’s pieces feature three pictures, mostly depicting local scenes.

“Sheffield and the surrounding areas have so much to offer in terms of photography when it comes to landscape and countryside.

The urban side of Sheffield is great, too – the old and new buildings are just perfect for photography.

“As well as doing all of the photos I do all my own mounts, frames and glazing. From start to finish, I do everything. It’s great, because I know it’s all been done properly. They’re proper photos, not prints, and everything I use is acid-free to preserve the photos for as long as possible.”

Polaroid’s first instant cameras reached shops in 1948, and by 1960 sales had reached almost 100 million a year. However, in 2007, following a steady slump in popularity, the company stopped producing cameras and announced it would cease to offer film.

But in 2009, an organisation called the Impossible Project took on a 10-year lease of a Polaroid factory in the Netherlands, and began making film for existing cameras.

“The Impossible Project is really keeping it alive,” said Ruth. “It’s probably quite cult and a bit niche, but a lot of people globally are still using the cameras,” she said.

Her keenness is not fuelled by nostalgia, Ruth pointed out.

“I didn’t grow up with them – they weren’t really around when I was a child. I love the rawness of it.

“Not every photo is the same. You can achieve some really interesting affects, sometimes the pictures don’t come out the way you think they will. Because it’s ‘point and shoot’, every mistake is there. You can’t change it, or mess about with it.

“With a Polaroid camera you can open it up, focus on something, push shoot and the rest is just magic – pull the film out, wait 30 seconds and have something in your hand.

“I’ve got thousands of pictures on my phone, but you’d maybe print off one per cent of those. Someone once said that the nice thing about Polaroid is if you take a photo of a group of people, everyone in the shot has probably held the picture.”

Traditional instant photos are a hit with children too, said Ruth, who has a son, Evan, eight, and daughter, Isla, three, with husband James, 42, a finance director.

“Kids love it. They think it’s amazing! They’re in a generation of children who are used to things being digital.”

Polaroid isn’t the only unlikely technology enjoying a comeback – vinyl records and even cassette tapes are making a strong return, she continued.

“There is something really precious about these old analogue things, they’re having a real resurgence.”

Ruth now owns seven cameras – “I’ve gone from nothing to everything,” she joked – and is on the brink of breaking even from her set-up costs.

“I’ve just this week shipped my first two triptychs to America. A lady there used to live in Sheffield, found them online and they really struck a chord with her.”

A triptych of the viaducts at Ladybower, and a snow scene in Graves Park, are Ruth’s favourites among her work.

“Aesthetically the Ladybower one is really nice. The colours are great and there are some really lovely reflections on the water. And Graves Park is really local to me, I walk through it every day.”

Her pictures are on display in the café at Ponsford on London Road, and Ruth’s plan for 2016 is to sell her work through shops.

She owns a device called an Instant Lab that ‘acts like a small darkroom’ by transferring images from smartphones and tablets on to instant film, which should help with any future need to increase production.

“What I need to commit to doing is to get out and about and find which shops are interested – that’s where I want to take it this year.”

l Visit www.etsy.com/shop/InstantlyRetroPhotos or www.facebook.com/Instantlyretrophoto for details.