As an actor/writer/director/photographer, Aaron Ruell must be hectic. Yet, as Belinda Archer discovers, his images exude great stillness, and a quiet, calm devotion to small details

You possibly know Aaron Ruell already. Curiously, he played older brother Kip in Napoleon Dynamite, the breakout movie for which he also created the title sequence. He has written and shot short films too, two of which – Everything’s Gone Green and Mary, were selected for Sundance in 2005, but this talented Californian is, most importantly, a dab hand at stills photography.

Ruell tackles portraiture and still life, and his work is meticulously styled with a rather time-warpy, 50s colour wash. A ginger kid in specs and Fair Isle-knitted tank top is pictured holding a pig. A little girl sits on a sofa with a regimental row of dolls placed beside her. The shots all display almost forensic attention to detail and colour co-ordination. “I find myself using the word ‘quiet’ to describe my work,” he says. “I’m not sure how I arrived at this look. It’s not something that I set out to do or was trying to find.”

Ruell, who is 32, says he has always been drawn to things that have a certain timeless quality, whether it’s in the design of a piece of furniture or clothing, or a particular colour palette. He also confesses to being extremely concerned about the little details in his images, revealing that they are what really interest him and make the overall image work or fail. “And by ‘little details’ I mean the colour of candy that’s in a bowl on a side table,” he says, “or the colours of the wall and how they work with the colours of the wardrobe, or whether or not to set a pair of earplugs on a table next to a bed in order to: a) create some type of narrative in the image and b) to break up the line of a flat table top.” Attention to detail indeed.

Ruell has been shooting since he was a teenager, borrowing his mum’s old camera and taking snaps around the house. He enrolled in a high school class and studied photography for two years – the only formal education he has received – but he only got serious about shooting in late 2004.

Already his work has been used in campaigns for Coca-Cola, Hewlett- Packard, Citibank and T-Mobile – which is not bad for a guy who divides his time with directing (the acting is just an accidental hobby, apparently). “There is a similar satisfaction that comes from both shooting stills and the moving image,” he says. “What’s appealing about the still image is the relatively short lapse of time that occurs between shooting and enjoying the finished product. It’s also more of a solo endeavour which makes it bit more challenging and maybe rewarding.”