All Articles
All Articles

Ian Ruhter


Ian Ruhter

Our interview with the self-taught tintype photographer on the process, struggle and journey behind making the largest wet plate print ever

by Jonah Samson
on 09 April 2012

The 2012 Palm Springs Photo Festival Portfolio Review is the nation's largest photography review program for both commercial and fine art photographers, and it offers the rare opportunity for photographers to get their work in front of some of the world's most important curators, publishers, agents and art dealers. It also offers the opportunity for photographers to connect with one another and discuss their work. I was excited to participate in this year's Festival, and when I arrived on the very first day, I was stopped in my tracks by one of the most spectacular photographs I had seen in a long time. What I was looking at was the largest tintype I had ever seen—in fact, the largest tintype anyone had ever seen—taken by Ian Ruhter.

On the third day of the Festival, Ian posted a video onto his Facebook page called "Silver and Light" documenting the challenging process of making these pictures, which included building what's essentially a custom camera that fills the entire bed of a small truck. The revelatory video immediately began to speed across the Internet, even making it onto the web pages of celebrities like Justin Timberlake. I spent a lot of the week talking to Ian about his work, and witnessing this humble guy's reaction to the mounting interest in his journey as a photographer.

Why did you start working with wet-plate photography in the first place?

As my photography started to become more and more digitized, I began to miss the feeling of being in the darkroom. And then one day, I went to buy film, and I discovered that they weren't even making the type of film I used to use. I felt I was beginning to lose touch with what it really meant to make a photograph. So I decided to take a step into a time-machine and make pictures the way they were made in the 1800s. I started doing my own research, and basically just ordered everything off the internet and started making plates in my loft in LA. Then I took a class with Will Dunniway, and that helped push me further.

What drove you to try and make the largest tintype that had ever been made?

Once I had started to make some nice smaller plates, I began showing them to people. I started scanning them and sharing them as digital files. It was then that I realized I had lost the integrity of the photo again—I had just ended up returning to digital. I realized that if I was going to make pictures in a way I wanted, that I would have to take the process in an entirely different direction.

How much time went by between having the idea and creating your first successful large-scale image?

About a year and a half.

Why didn't you give up?

Even though everyone was telling me that it was impossible, I believed I could do it. Besides once I had bought the lens and the truck I needed to make the pictures, I was so heavily invested, that I felt I just couldn't back out.

The type of lens you needed is incredibly rare, how did you find it?

I checked around and people were telling me that the lens I was looking for was close to impossible to find. They were coming up for auction every few years or something. I started looking on Ebay and within the first month of searching, I had found and bought the lens. I took it as a sign that this was something I was just meant to do.

Can you describe what was actually involved in figuring out how to do what had never been done?

One of the most frustrating things about doing something that no one has ever done, is that there was no one to call and ask for help. This really became a process of trial and error. I mean, I barely even graduated high school, and here I was forced to be a scientist. I had to create design and build models and do experiments. I had to build a camera big enough to stand in. I had to figure out how to get these chemicals onto such a huge plate of metal. And to make it even more difficult, I decided that I was going to go out on location and shoot landscapes, so I couldn't even control the environment. I had to start everything from scratch.

Now that you've accomplished your primary goal, where do you want this to go?

I started with landscapes, and I want to continue to tell the story of the American landscape, but I also want to tell the story of the people who are shaped by the land. Like Richard Avedon's pictures taken in the West. I want to drive my truck out into America. Now that I have the camera and figured out the process, it's time to create.

Perhaps even more than the pictures you've taken, people around the world are reacting to the journey you showed us in your video. It must be amazing to be seen as this inspiration for people who want to follow their dreams?

It's completely overwhelming to have so many people understand and be inspired by my story. Even if it's not the actual photo that is inspiring people, even if they're becoming emotional about the process—connecting with people is still the most exciting part of being an artist.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard
Loading More...