Ian Ruhter

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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.” 

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

 

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