Ruth Dingwall: Holding Up A Lens To North-East Creativity

The North-East photographer documenting our region - and making a compelling case for the arts.
Ruth Dingwall
January 22, 2024

I first discovered photography in sixth form at high school. I opted to study GCSE Photography alongside my A levels and immediately fell in love.  

I learnt the old fashioned way, in the dark room with chemical trays, film, paper and most importantly, patience! I feel lucky for that. I feel I lived through the transition and modernisation of photography. The anticipation of waiting for the image to develop was special, unlike today, as digital photography is so instantaneous and such a rapid process. The appeal of photography was and is, an art form. You paint with light, you compose a frame and you create a work of art.  

The kickstart of my ‘career’ was winning the ‘Great Exhibition of the North’ photography competition. Sirkka-Liisa-Konttinen selected my image from over a thousand entries. That made me think, people must like my work? I pitched to Fenwick’s (Department Store) and the Baltic (Centre for Contemporary Art) and they both stocked and sold my winning image. So, RED Art Photography was established in 2017.

Ruth Dingwall's Photography from across the North East

Alongside photography I also paint. I mainly paint portraits. I use acrylic paint and more often than not, on canvas, sometimes wood. I have been commissioned to create portraits of family members and pets. I also like to reimagine Victorian silhouettes (Cameo’s) and paint family or sibling silhouettes, these have been very popular. I like to combine art and photography and produce double exposures where I overlay my images to create a bespoke final piece. One of a kind.  

My full-time job is a Creative Arts Technician in a secondary school. I gain huge satisfaction from this role, interacting with students and facilitating their practice in the arts and all the pleasure that comes with it. Art is a therapy, the benefits for emotional wellbeing are immense. Students gain an hour or two of peace in creativity which in turn, enables them to face science or maths. I ensure, when given the chance, that’s students know that the arts is a viable and sustainable career choice. Not every child is academic, they excel in other areas, art is as equal as any core subject and should be given the same accolade.

My subject choices are my happy places, mostly the city and the sea. They are my inspiration. I like to portray and visually interpret the regeneration of the North East, in particular, NewcastleGateshead Quayside, Whitley Bay and North Shields Fish Quay. They are home, I grew up at the coast so the sea captivates me.

Ruth Dingwall's Painting

The light is different every time I photograph it. My dad was a member of the Tynemouth RNLI crew for many years, so I feel a loyalty to the North Tyneside coast, to represent it and portray it in all its splendour.  

We are blessed in the North East, we have the city, the sea and the countryside. We don’t always get the respect and acknowledgement we deserve. When the Turner Prize was exhibited at the Baltic in Gateshead, the closing numbers for visitors was double the average attendance of that in London. 149,770 people wanted to see contemporary art in our region, we ‘get’ culture.  

I currently go between my iPhone and my Nikon D850, depending on the content. If I have a commission that needs to be high resolution, or a photoshoot, it’s the Nikon. If I am out and about it’s the iPhone. Digital photography is so accessible nowadays and iPhones are the perfect tool. Its got to be a positive that they are introducing everyone to the world of photography, more is being captured, the only negative, is sometimes it’s not as honest and raw as ‘old school’ photography. Too much manipulation and trickery. But, its art, and open to interpretation.  

Everything is digital and online these days, images are stored on phones or hard drives, not many photographs are printed anymore. I had an extensive digital portfolio, but no one was getting the pleasure of it. That’s how my book manifested, I selected 63 of my best, most diverse images from around the region and had 20 books printed. I use my social media platforms to gauge the popularity of my photographs. The high scoring ones made the book, alongside my favourites and the winning entry selected by Konttinen. I produce a calendar every year. I sell around 60 annually and this also encouraged me to print my book.

Ruth Dingwall Photography

Next for me is a new job in September at a school just outside of Newcastle. Its an exciting prospect as they are going through a huge transition and employing lots of new creatives. Also, two weddings booked in for 2023. This, alongside lots of wandering, taking photographs and discovering new places.

I have every faith and belief in the creative sector in the North and North East. We know our worth and what we have to offer. Money is being invested in the arts and audiences diversified. Regeneration is prevalent and historical buildings are being restored. As long as there are passionate creatives in our region, it can only get better.

You can catch up with Ruth on her Instagram