Ian Ruhter




Handmade + Cameras + Film + Photographs

Ted X Ian Ruhter: Prerequisites of love

Artist Ian Ruhter asks the question - What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to find love? Through his extraordinary journey we learn that true love requires no sacrifice and the requirements of the question were the only thing preventing him from finding it.

OBSCURA short film | “Ten seconds of this dream were recorded on a 200 pound sheet of glass coated with collodion. The result was a 66”x 90” Ambrotype, which is recognized as the world’s largest wet plate collodion image.”


Ian Ruhter | Silver & Light | STATEMENT 2018

As we move forward into the digital era we seek easier and faster ways of doing things. We've grown accustomed to living through the artificial instead of experiencing the authentic. What has suffered most is our need as human beings to interact, touch, feel and experience life's events together. As this deeper shift happened, Ian yearned for these human interactions and the physical things that are being rapidly replaced. Ruhter's response to this was to embrace the past by working in a contemporary manner with a 19th century photographic process called wet plate collodion. 


This allows him to produce one-of-a-kind handmade photographs called Ambrotypes and Tintypes. Working from 19th-century literature he was able to make his own film using USP collodion, silver nitrate, iodides and bromides to produce what he considers to be the most beautiful film in the world. The way the silver halides reflect light creates a three-dimensional viewing experience unlike any other photographic medium. 

In the process, Ian also questions what it means to create an original image. The advent of the photographic negative (in the 1890s) replaced what had been a one-of-a-kind object with secondary objects, prints from the negative that could be enlarged and mass-produced, making photography a commercial application. The idea of the original was lost. This shift also rendered wet plate collodion obsolete. Now, in the digital era,  analog photography is being replaced by code. Because digital images can be manipulated so easily, we also often find ourselves questioning what is real. 

Based on this perspective Ruhter engineered the worlds largest wet plate collodion camera out of a delivery truck and giant camera lens. The back of the truck served as the body of the camera and mobile dark room required to make wet plates in the field. After facing years of setbacks with the internal function and design of the camera, he realized that the answer had been with him the entire time. 

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Due to the sheer size of the camera it would allow for him to work inside the apparatus where it would become a combination of human and machine working simultaneously together. Incorporating this human element allows degrees of imperfections, ensuring that no two captured images are alike. 


Rendered impossible to this point, Ruhter's collection of  Tintypes and Ambrotypes ranging in size from 24" x 30" to 48" x 60" are unlike anything that has existed in photography.  Over the past seven years this giant camera has served as the vehicle guiding him to make wet plates in pristine locations such as Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and Monument Valley. It is also led him to declining urban locations like Skid Row in Los Angeles, Slab City, Bombay Beach, Seattle, and Downtown  Eastside Vancouver, BC.  The camera has even brought him overseas to the United Emirates.  This giant camera allows Ruhter to create a body of work that illustrates Mother Nature and man's impact on it. Within this observation he realizes that these impacts on the environment also effect the quality of life of the people who inhabit it. 


This led him and the Silver & Light Team to a forgotten town on the edge of the Salton Sea called Bombay Beach, located in California's Imperial Valley. The idea was to create a camera out of an abandoned house. The structure would serve as the framework for the camera. Instead of focusing on the decay from the outside, this house camera allowed a view from the inside into someone's dream. Once the giant lens was placed on the front of the house, images of  Ted, a 100 year old resident who recently found himself homeless, were projected in breathing new life into this abandoned structure and once again making it a home. During this brief moment in time when Ted's photograph was captured, he was present in both places. In reality, he was homeless in the outside world. However, the projected image simultaneously allowed him to be sitting in the living room where he was once again home. The life sized plate serves as a mirror, allowing one to reflect upon where they will be in the twilight of their life.

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Ten seconds of this dream were recorded on a 200 pound sheet of glass coated with collodion. The result was a 66" x 90" Ambrotype, which is recognized as the worlds largest wet plate collodion image.


New York Times |By: SU WU | NOV. 4, 2015

Ian Ruhter camera truck

"When a Photographer Is His Own Camera" 

For the photographer Ian Ruhter, whose first New York show opens tomorrow at Danziger Gallery, success has come from climbing into his work. “The game changing moment came when I realized I could be the camera. I could be the mechanics of it,” Ruhter says. From inside the lens of a delivery truck converted into a camera, Ruhter becomes the machine’s very manual settings: the shutter and the processor, and also the “film,” which he makes from scratch on sheets of aluminum up to five feet wide. (Light-sensitive collodion plates, once wet, need to be exposed and developed in a matter of minutes, but the whole set-up takes about a day for a single image.) “It takes so much time,” he says, of choosing not to “jump out of a carand take a selfie” at a lookout. “It really makes me sit there and be part of the environment, and suck it up and enjoy.” 

If, as Ansel Adams once said, negatives are composer’s scores and the prints are aperformance, then Ruhter’s modern tintypes — the images suspended in silver — are more akin to listening, with limited intervention between exposure and impression. “You learn to let go, and you get these mistakes that are so beautiful that you wouldn’t change them if you could,” Ruhter says. In their imperfections, and in their relatively high failure rate, the one-of-a-kind plates also reveal something of the unpredictable environment that is rarely captured in photographs: the moisture in the ambient air, whether the day was cold or hot and the gusts of wind that came through before, scattering dust. Ruhter, who is based in Lake Tahoe, has driven his camera across “one of the most fascinating places ever,” the United States, taking portraits and wide views of the sorts of places — Half Dome in Yosemite, the buttes of Monument Valley — that have long beguiled photographers of the American West.

“The land tells a story about the people, and the people also tell a story about the land,” Ruhter says of his ongoing expeditions, on which he is often accompanied by the filmmaker Lauren Vance. Ruhter bristles at the idea that in the age of megapixels and postproduction, his techniques have a certain antiquarian bent: “A lot of people are caught up in romantic idea of being in the 1800s,” he says of pushing a predigital process, popular around the time of the Civil War, into the contemporary. “But I see people who worked in this process as being on the forefront of everything: art and science, and technology and exploration.”