In March the Dublin-born music and portrait photographer decided to capture people all over Ireland at their front window at dusk. The poignant images are published in her new book, which serves as a portrait of the pandemic …
Your career as a music photographer for Rolling Stone, NME and Q Magazine sounds really interesting – how did you get into this career?
When I was about 14, I started going to these all ages gigs in Temple Bar Music Centre. The gigs introduced me to an amazing community of music lovers but also made me realise that I could combine my two passions, music and photography, and so I made it my goal to become a professional music photographer. From there I did a degree in photography at DIT but it wasn’t until I started working at Hot Press magazine that I really learned my craft.
Ruth Medjber photographed by Colm Moore
You’ve clearly pivoted during the pandemic. Can you tell me about the initial inspiration for Twilight Together?
Twilight Together was born out of loneliness and a need to connect with people. In early March all of my work had been cancelled for the foreseeable future, so I was searching for new projects to keep me sane. I had an idea back in college about photographing people in their windows at twilight, but it didn’t really make much sense back then. The idea came back to me during lockdown when, walking the dog one evening, I noticed that everyone on the street was home and everyone across the country would be too. The idea suddenly made sense.
When and how did you put this together?
I took my first portrait on March 23 and then decided to shoot 16 homes, so that when it came to posting them on Instagram they would make a perfect square. As soon as I posted the photos I was inundated with requests from people all over the country who wanted to be part of the series. The Irish Times put the photos on the cover and the following week CNN picked it up, and before I knew it I had offers from publishers looking to turn it into a book. When I started considering the project as a book I decided that I needed to photograph as many homes as I could, not just in Dublin but all across Ireland. I wanted the book to be a true representation of Ireland in 2020, with every race, religion, profession and every type of household imaginable. So I began to travel. I’d drive across the country each and every day for three and a half months, without any days off, eventually photographing 150 homes. From there I began to write the 44 stories that feature in the book. They tell the tale of lockdown from lots of different perspectives.
You’ve gone from taking portraits of rockstars to ordinary people looking out of windows – did your technique change in any way?
I’m a real chatterbox during all of my shoots, and it was the same at the windows. I never seemed to have enough time each night. Whether it’s rock stars or my next-door neighbours, people are just people and if you spend a little bit of time getting to know them you’ll get much better portraits. I find that if you treat rock stars like ordinary people and ordinary people like rock stars, you’ll get some great portraits and make some new friends along the way too.
Have you any favourite images from your new book?
There are 150 images in the book, so it’s really hard to choose. It would probably have to be the first window where it all started. My friend Maeve, her husband Paul and their baby, Beth, who was six months old at the time. If I had taken a terrible shot that night the whole project might never have happened. Thankfully though Beth was in great form, the lighting was incredible and my friends were (as always) so eager to help out. When I looked back at that shot on the way home, I knew I had to continue the project.
Where and how do you work?
I have a studio in Dublin, which I use for portraits sometimes, but mostly I’m out and about. I like to find new locations for shoots when I can, somewhere that reflects the personality of whomever I’m shooting. When I’m on tour though it’s a totally different story. I sleep on a tour bus with the band and crew and wake up in a new city every morning. You could be working in a beautiful concert hall, a muddy field, an old circus, or an amusement park! It’s incredibly exciting and definitely something that I most miss these days.
Need to Know: Twilight Together by Ruth Medjber is published by Doubleday Ireland and is available to order from bookstores now. Ruth will launch Twilight Together in a live stream event at 7pm on November 5, with performances from Paul Noonan (Bell X1), Stephen James Smith and Sinéad White. See here for more information.
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