A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to hear that Ian Ruhter and his crew were invited to do a live demo on Chase Jarvis’ show Chase Jarvis Live. Ian is an ex-snowboarder and pro photographer who has certainly gone ‘all in’ as an artist. He converted his van and life-savings into the world’s largest mobile camera that uses the ‘wet plate’ photographic process. The technique dates back 160 years and is pretty hazardous – not for those who don’t like getting their hands dirty.
“It’s amazing to see in the digital age this fantastically complicated, hands-on performance that’s needed to make a single photograph!”
The technique, put very simply, involves taking a metal plate, coating it, sensitizing it and exposing it to light (taking a picture) while it’s still wet. The plate then has to be developed and fixed in chemicals to let the image stay on. And what you end up with (if you’ve done everything right) is a single gorgeous positive image unlike anything you’ve ever seen. No negative to make more prints from means that there’s only one copy. My favorite thing about it is that you can hold it in your hands immediately and admire it’s uniqueness.
Lots of factors make taking photos this way extremely tricky and expensive though. For instance Ian had to design and redesign and build the camera and do test after test to make the process work – because there isn’t any standard method or blueprint as he himself said. And everything is done manually by hand. It’s amazing to see in the digital age this fantastically complicated, hands-on performance that’s needed to make a single photograph!
Check out the video below to see Ian’s crazy passion in action!
Here is the full version of the live photoshoot Ian Ruhter and Chase Jarvis did using the giant wetplate camera. Spoilers, they take an infrared camera inside the camera so you can see the process exactly how it happened.