Ben's Lens: An Interview with Red Ruokyte

Ben's Lens: An Interview with Red Ruokyte

August 18, 2019

On Sundays, I reflect.

I’ve worked with a handful of photographers over the years, in order to preserve art that could break and never be seen again. Documenting not just the products, but also the process is integral to the career of any artist. Sometimes this can be one of the greatest challenges artists face, working on last minute deadlines to finish works and deliver them to shows or collectors before being able to properly catalog them. Time is often the greatest enemy of the artist, and photography makes time stand still. 

I have had an interest in photography since I was a young kid. My father had a 35mm camera when I was growing up and there were always rolls of film in the fridge. I took a photography elective at summer camp where we developed our own film in a dark room. I captured a friend doing a kick flip on a skateboard in mid-air. It’s probably the best photograph I’ve taken to this day and I shot it when I was around ten years old. 

I recently acquired a few Polaroid cameras and plan to get film soon and start shooting again. It’s been a long time, though I’ve been using my iPhone camera in the place of real cameras. I’m still open to trading glass for a 35 mm camera so if you have one that’s in stellar working condition and not being used drop me a line. 

I don’t even remember how I wrangled in Reda to do the first shoot she did at the studio. I know that my prior photographer since settling in Vail was a friend from college named Graham Singleton. He shot for Huffy when I was working at Volta Glass Studio in Bloomington Indiana and we both ended up in the Vail Valley as adults. Unfortunately, Graham and his girlfriend Christy moved to Florida for a year leaving me without a photographer (and a massage therapist)! Fortunately, they’ve moved back (it’s hard to stay away from the mountains once you’ve lived here) and in the meantime I somehow found Red. 

Red is my favorite photographer to work with (sorry Graham and others). I’ve mentioned that I’m a nightmare to work with because my brain is all over the place at once and my existence is very stream of consciousness. Somehow Red interprets my madness which has translated into the product shots from the last year along with the incredible lifestyle content she’s helped bring to life. 

BB: Who are you? How did you end up in Leadville? How did you get connected with Drinking Vessels?
RR: My name is Reda Ruokyte, I am a photographer, an artist, a little bit of a hippie and also an outdoor lover and  adrenaline junkie. I’m someone who sees the beauty in almost everything and that is where my passion for photos comes from. I started my journey in photography four years ago when I found a Craigslist ad for a snowmobile tour photographer. I came in with little to no experience but absolutely fell in love with the job right away and continue to love it more every season.

Drinking Vessels came to me through social media like a lot of other things do, but unlike a lot of other things, taking on the opportunity to shoot for Ben has been extremely fulfilling and exciting. I get to collaborate with an amazing artist that appreciates my work and talent as much as I do his. Creating with him and exchanging ideas has been one of the biggest steps I’ve made in my career as a photographer.

Tell us about some of your hobbies that we can take a peek into through your lens. What else do you shoot?
During a good portion of the year I mainly shoot action sports, snowmobiling, timbersleds, dirt bikes, etc. My passion for photography coincides with my passion for action sports and I make a lot of hiking and snowmobiling trips to shoot, not to mention that my full time job revolves around photographing in the back country.

Will you ever try blowing glass? If you do, can I take pictures of you?
I would love to try blowing glass! It’s something I have never tried, but have always wanted to. Of course I’ll let you take photos of me.

Any cool ideas for future lifestyle shoots?
I’d love to do a shoot that involves fluorescent paint and black lights! And a fairy/ forest type shoot closer to the fall, and of course a snowmobile winter shoot!

Favorite concerts you’ve shot recently?
I recently got to shoot the String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks. On a completely opposite side of the music spectrum, I will get to shoot Big Wild & Whethan coming up at Red Rocks in September.

Are there any photographers who inspire or influence you?
My biggest influencer and the person that got me started in photography is Tim, my manager. He has taught me everything I know when it comes to picking up a camera or riding a snowmobile and continues to guide and teach me every day. There are a million amazing photographers that I admire, some of which are Brooke Bartleson (@Brookelittlebear), Brian Greenblatt (@Darkmatterphotography), Robert Stookey (@Rstookey), Nobu Ishizuki (@Japanesecowboyphotography) and Lucas Hong-Jie Zao (@Lucas Zhao Photography).

Who are your favorite cup makers that you’ve shot? Any favorite cups or drinkware?
I’ve shot so many that I think are so insanely beautiful, but I’ll name just a few of the recent ones that I can remember: The set of shot glasses by Digger Glass (@diggerglass) that look like Tourmaline, In love! The colors are unreal and they look like actual stones. My favorite flasks by Stevie P. are so fun and easy to hold with their round shape, and again, amazing bright colors that catch your eye. All work by Gina Gaffner (@Glassbyboots). I love fruit and her works are so playful and creative, I can’t help but smile whenever I shoot her art.

How’s your cup collection?!
My cup collection is lacking, I currently only have one extremely beautiful ceramic Grateful Dead inspired mug made by Melisa Beth Ceramics from Louisville, Kentucky... and guard it with my life.

Which one do you secretly wish I would tip you with?
A Stevie P. Flask!

Reda with Stevie P. Flask

You’ve shot my studio as well, helping to capture the essence of the space we share so much time in. How would you describe my studio to people who have never been?
I would describe the Drinking Vessels Studio as a shared creative art space in which any artist, or anyone can come in and feel welcome to share their ideas and thoughts to exchange jokes or words, or to not share at all if they don’t want to and just work on their own projects. Aside from shooting I have spent a lot of time there working and collaborating with Ben and meeting other amazing artists that instill ideas in your mind that you would have never thought about otherwise.

Please share your thoughts on the developing art scene here in the valley.
I feel like the art scene just keeps growing and growing. Everywhere I go I run into new artists doing new things, a lot of which are extremely successful in what they do. I love the fact that our valley, being so small, connects everyone in such a way that they feel like your neighbors so you exchange ideas, product, and art space, and you help each other grow and expand. I think as long as this type of mindset continues here in the valley, we will have an ever growing art scene for generations to come.

How many days did you get on your snowboard this season? What about the snowmobile?
I drifted off from my snowboard a little bit this season, but I did still get on my board a lot, probably around 40 days this season. However my stoke and passion shifted to snowmobiling this past winter, mostly because when working for a snowmobile company you’d be having a really bad time if you didn’t enjoy it, but I also saw the places a sled can take me to. I went to places and mountains  that I would have never made it to on foot, and of course I brought my snowboard with me a good portion of the time! 


But let me tell you about snowboarding with Red. I remember the first day we actually linked on the hill, after many attempts. It was early in the morning at Vail with feet of fresh powder and snow coming down. We dropped into Northwoods and went straight for the trees. I was unaware that this patch of trees had a few boulders until I caught up to Red. “Ready for some drops?” She asked me. 

It’s beautiful to watch a rider as good as Red flow through the snow effortlessly. It’s terrifying to ride with someone who has so much courage, on and off the hill. It feels like she bumps into friends everywhere we go, whether it’s in line for the chairlift or when we walk through town and it's establishments. Everyone seems to know Red, and share the same fondness and affection that she seems to attract like a magnet. 


Anything else we should know?
After first meeting Ben and being introduced to Drinking Vessels, I took on the photography portion with little to no knowledge of how to shoot glass, or any product really. I have since then lost count of the amount of pieces I shot, the times I have edited and re-edited photos, and the countless hours spent in and outside of the studio and I love it. It has been a big learning curve, something that I had to basically teach myself and didn’t have a lot of guidance on. It’s a good feeling figuring out a technique all on your own and I hope to continue shooting glass for Drinking Vessels and learning as much about glass as I can.


When you get a chance to check out Red's Instagram, you’ll find gorgeous shots spanning from landscape to lifestyle. Red is one of the most badass babes I’ve ever met, and it’s an honor and a privilege to have her on our team.

Instagram: @rruokyte

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