A photographer, inventor and alchemist, Ian Ruhter is doing what no other fine artist is doing and taking the art scene by storm. Ian, a Lake Tahoe native, became a successful professional photographer in the 90s after a stint as a pro snow boarder. His subjects were mostly boarders like himself. As film evolved to digital, Ian became disenchanted with the process and that lead on a life changing journey. A journey that eventually set him apart from all other photographers and artists. In a realm of fine art so unique it’s hard to categorize. Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing Ian about this journey and the incredible fine art he creates.
Simplified Bee: When did you fall in love with photography?
Ian Ruhter: I fell in love with photography when I realized it was more than just the act of documenting things. I learned that I could communicate through photographs. This change the way I saw the world.
(images above – Ian, his truck and at work)
SB: You have stated that over the years you became disillusioned by the advances in photography and it lead you on a journey to the amazing images you create today. Please elaborate.
IR: To me the advancements in photography symbolize the society we are living in today. We are encouraged to purchase these mass-produced items that only last for a few years and then end up in a landfill. These items allow us to communicate through the Internet in place of real human interaction. This revelation left me feeling disconnected from the people and things I love. Once I found the wet plate collodion process I realized I could make handmade one-of-a-kind images that would last for hundreds of years. This process is incredibly time-consuming you can take an entire day just to make one image, but because it is so slow it allows you to really get to know the person or landscape you’re photographing. With digital photography I feel like you take the photo instantly and then you move on. I wasn’t interested in just taking things anymore.
(above image: Ian holding one of his works of art)
SB: Tell us about your process of creating these unique works of art?
IR: The process I use to create these images is quite complex and yet simple at the same time. In order to make these images I created the world’s largest wet plate collodion camera out of a delivery truck, but the idea did not happen overnight. During the designing and building of the giant camera I reached a point where I thought it wouldn’t be possible. A year of failures and disappointments had passed and one day it came to me. My thought was that the camera was so large that I could actually work inside of it. I realized that I would become the mechanics that operated this device and my brain would act as the computer that would allow it to operate in unison. After this all the pieces started coming together and it eventually worked out. Looking back on it the answer was so simple and my biggest hurdle was not being able to see the potential in myself. Today, the camera truck enables us to make images of this kind in a size that was deemed impossible for the past 150 years and with it I have successfully created a 48 x 60” image.
SB: Do you have a favorite you’ve created?
IR: I don’t have a favorite image.
The plates are physical reminders of the people and places I’ve encountered in the process of making them. The thought of finding the next image is my favorite.
SB: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
IR: I can’t think of one item that is indispensable. Everything that’s in my studio is used or has been a part of this incredible journey.
SB: If you could work alongside with any artist (living or passed), who would it be and why?
IR: I would love to work alongside Leonardo da Vinci. He was a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. The combination of all these things allowed him to create works of art that were far beyond the physical objects. They were many years ahead of its time maybe and our time.
SB: What’s next for Ian Ruhter?
IR: I would like to continue working with this process and traveling throughout the United States. I want to tell the stories of the people and places that I call home.
(above image: Ian and team holding a wet plate collodion of old growth pine trees on Lake Tahoe’s Nevada Beach)
Keep in mind that these images of Ian’s work don’t even start to translate the incredible beauty, emotion and uniqueness that each one processes. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Ian’s studio in Tahoe. I was thrilled, memorized and simply in awe to see first hand some of the incredible masterpieces he has created. The scale of the original wet plate collodions are mind blowing. The depth and intricacy of each work is truly amazing. His landscapes instantly reminded me of some of Ansel Adams work. And I believe Ian’s work will one day hang in fine art museums around the world. They are that special.
Ian, I’m so glad you took a leap off the cliff to this new world of photography. You’re an inspiration!