Photo by Colm Moore
When you’re in school, it’s super hard to decide on your future career. There’s already hours of homework and study, now you’ll soon add decisions about college courses and jobs to your list. Here at KISS, we’re chatting to people in different industries about how they’ve landed their dream role, what they actually do, and their advice to you. This week, we’re chatting to music and portrait photographer Ruth Medjber.
What is your current role?
In 2020 I started out as a full-time music photographer. Since the music industry has been put on pause, I’m now a portrait photographer turned author (but still a music photographer at heart). I’ve toured with Hozier and Arcade Fire and I’ve shot festivals such as Glastonbury and Electric Picnic.
Can you describe what your general day at work looks like?
The best thing about my job is that no two days are the same. There’s not a semblance of a routine to be had and I meet new people and visit amazing new places all the time. Sometimes I’m in my studio on Harcourt Street – I could be in from 11 am (as a rule I never start my workday before 11 am, my creative brain doesn’t fire up until then!) and I’d welcome a band or a musician in, we’d work together to create some portraits, and then I’d edit into the night. When I’m working on a tour things are totally different. I sleep on a tour bus and usually wake about 10 am. I’d stumble out of the bus and follow the signs to the catering and have some breakfast. I’d then make sure the social media posts are ready for the band to post and then I’m free for a few hours to discover the city I’m in. I’d usually hit the galleries or vintage stores and book shops. Then back to the venue for soundcheck at 4 pm. I’d have dinner with the band and crew at 7 pm. The band will be on stage at 9 pm so I’d be ready to shoot the show and run around the venue, through the crowds and up behind the stage. It’s exhausting but the adrenaline and triple espresso carry me through. Then it’s back to the bus for 11 pm where I’ll edit the photos or videos until about 3 am as we drive to the next city to start it all again.
How did you decide on this type of career?
It wasn’t really a decision I made – more of a revelation! I was always a photographer, my Dad used to sell camera equipment when I was a child so he always had cheap cameras for me to play with. I was obsessed with taking pictures of all sorts of random things like shoes and toilet bowls. Once I hit my teens I developed a new obsession, music! I had no real interest in playing music (I’m sure that would have been different if I could actually hold a note though!) but I did want to be around musicians and the buzz of live concerts. I was about 14 when I realised that I could pair music and photography together and try to turn it into a career.
What did you study?
I always try and tell people that college isn’t necessary to be a photographer, or really in any creative role. You can learn a lot if you’re savvy enough to go find the information yourself. You have to be tenacious and self-motivated though, so it might not suit everyone, just as college doesn’t suit everyone. Personally I hold a BA (hons) in Photography but I think it might have been the worst route for me. I was a terrible student, I failed almost every year and had to repeat my exams all the time. It knocked my confidence drastically and it took me about 10 years to build that back up again. It wasn’t that I was abad photographer, I just wasn’t an academic learner. I’m more of a “hands-on” learner. After college, I went to work in Hot Press magazine and I learned more in 4 months there than I did in 4 years of college.
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What are the ups and downs of the role?
They say that when you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. But the truth is, when you love what you do, you’ll work at it every single day. It should be a passion from within and you need to be self-motivated in order to turn it into a successful business.
The job is tiring and relentless with no holidays. You have to be able to hustle and go out and drum up opportunities for yourself. You have to be a photographer, marketer, accountant, studio manager and all round business person to make a successful go of it. It gets a little easier when you climb up the ranks as you can begin to hire people, like an agent or accountant who will handle things for you, but at the early stages be prepared to spend more time working on invoices and marketing campaigns than taking photos. If you’re not self-motivated then being a self-employed photographer might not be the role for you.
This job will become your life and when it’s done in a balanced and healthy way, it’s beautiful. My colleagues are my friends, my friends are my family. When I’m touring it’s the most exciting job I could have ever dreamed of. I wake up in a new city every day and then experience the intense rush of being surrounded by thousands of music fans each night, not to mention getting to work with some of the most talented musicians in the world.
What advice would you give to a student looking to get into your line of work?
Opportunities don’t come to you, you go to them. You really have to make your own luck in the world. If you see someone doing what you want to do, ask them for advice. If you want a certain job or opportunity, ask for it. Arm yourself with knowledge and keep going, day after day. Constantly build your skills and try and improve your portfolio. Most of all, the one rule to rule them all, be nice. Being polite, courteous and professional will get you re-hired, even if your photos aren’t quite up to scratch yet, people will be willing to let you learn on the job if you’re a nice person.
Twilight Together by Ruth Medjber is published by Doubleday Ireland and is shortlisted for Best Irish Published Book in the An Post Irish Book Awards
For more inspiration on cool and interesting careers, check out our series.