Wet Plates with Photographer Ian Ruhter

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L.A. River, Ian Ruhter Photography

Ian Ruhter is a wet plate photographer with a camera on wheels, always going somewhere, so I consider myself one of the lucky few for getting to see his large, unprecedented 24×36-inch and 48×60-inch silver nitrate collodion wet plates in person. His special camera truck was parked at the Brewery on a warm L.A. day, and under the sounds of the 5 freeway I looked into a virtual window where there was life in silver, and this is what it looked like: Every dimension and detail — what I love to see and don’t love to see about my L.A. — cast in a shade that reveals life glowing.

Ian looks like a chemist with his mask on, and when he says:

there isn’t a backup plan

that goes for both his wet plate photography and life, on a large scale and unparalleled. He says:

We didn’t just take what people had been doing [in wet plate photography] on a small scale and make it big. To make it that big, everything had to be redesigned and reworked.

In the past year, he has shot portraits, landscapes and cityscapes, and has done action too (!), in L.A. and Lake Tahoe, all with his truck and the help of two others, Trevor and Lane. There’s a longer trip across America planned, but crossing borders is something I wouldn’t be surprised to see from this team very soon.

One of the most interesting parts of the whole project is its impetus. Says Ian:

The silver used in wet plate photography reflects light in a way the no other film can. When I wanted to show the world this process, my first thought was to make enlargements, but that created a major dilemma for me, taking something so beautiful and reproducing it.  I couldn’t justify it. Weeks went by. I sat down on my couch one day staring out the enormous windows in my loft over downtown L.A.  It was late afternoon and the light became soft. There was a four by five window that framed the city and I saw it right in front of me. I knew I had to make original images that size. I started researching and everyone that I talked to said it hadn’t been done or couldn’t be done.  That was all the motivation I needed to try.

That was a couple of years ago. I am so excited to see more – definitely in person again, because once you’ve seen life captured and glowing in silver, nothing else compares.

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