Silver & Light
Ian Ruhter makes photographs with a large camera. A very large camera. His camera is so large that it is essentially the rear end of a big blue cargo van, which at least means transportation is built in.
He’s using the wet collodion process which amongst other things means pouring noxious chemicals over the plates in the field. The introduction to his short documentary shows some of this process in a deliciously misleading way, and has a fair bit of footage of the plate preparation and shooting processes.
The plates themselves, which in this process also carry the final image, are large sheets of metal. I thought I was stretching things a bit when I worked with 5x4 inch negatives: one of Ruhter’s standard plate sizes seems to be 5x4 feet.
If you’ve never seen large images from a direct imaging process like this, it’s tempting to regard this as a bit of a gimmick, or at best just a way of making a really large photographic print. That’s not what you experience when you stand in front of something like a 20”x24” Polaroid. Photographs like this have a physical presence; it’s immediately clear that they are, to paraphrase what Ruhter says in the film, not enlargements and not copies, but original and unique objects.
I’m really glad there are still people in the world crazy enough to do this kind of thing.