Euphus Ruth is a self-taught photographer who has lived the majority of his life in the small city of Greenville, Mississippi, where he is currently based. He began tinkering with photography in the mid-1990s, but it was not until his retirement from public utility work in 2012 that he was able to devote himself fully to his photographic practice. Ruth first learned his favored process, the wet-collodion technique, in 2005. He uses antique view cameras and vintage lenses and appreciates the slow, labor-intensive work required. He completes each of his one-of-a-kind images from start to finish in around thirty minutes. Since the collodion process requires that all of the work—coating the plate, exposing the image, and developing it—be completed while the plate is still wet, Ruth has created a portable darkroom in the back of his vehicle.
Ruth often chooses as his subject matter things and places that are forgotten or half-remembered. His photographs harken back to a particular Southern past characterized by the gothic and macabre. The Road to Hushpuckena (2014), for example, presents a turn in a road overgrown with trees and vines. Ruth made the photograph in winter: the leaves have fallen and the plants appear devoid of life. The cloudy sky ripples with patterns created by the way the chemicals have been poured and developed on the plate, producing a haunting, mysterious effect. Hushpuckena is a ghost town in northwest Mississippi, and Ruth’s photograph conjures a moody landscape where one could likely encounter a specter.
Ruth has also photographed the unique cemeteries of New Orleans with their crowded, often above-ground tombstones and mausoleums. Cemetery Walker (2012) peers through the decorative iron gates of St. Vincent De Paul Cemetery, which can be seen on either side of a road crossing through the graveyard. Because of the long exposure times of wet-collodion photographs, which can extend to thirty seconds, Ruth was able to capture a partially exposed glimpse of a passerby pausing on the curb between the gates. This faded figure resembles an apparition haunting the grounds. The Southern Gothic genre has often dealt with ways in which modern technologies can help revive or reach out to the dead: think of Victorian spiritualist photographers, Clarence John Laughlin’s imagery, or Dr. Frankenstein’s use of electricity. Ruth’s photographs partake of this tradition by using his camera to evoke the spirits that haunt the contemporary Southern landscape.
Moon Lake Baptism Day (2010) also provides powerful imagery for Ruth. Baptism, especially full immersion in a lake, is a sacred experience filled with the intangible and spiritual powers of conversion and transformation. Ruth’s handmade image produces visual effects—blurring, patterns resembling electric currents—that seem to manifest the powerful metamorphosis brought about by the holy rite. Ruth’s photographs reflect a deep love for the land and also a powerful connection to the Southern past by way of its spirits.