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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: November 18, 5:55 PM ET
Ian Ruhter's Wet Plate Project


Photography, the art of capturing and immortalizing the latest tricks and trademark styles of the sport's pioneering riders, has always been a big part of the progression of snowboarding. Even as video has started to command the lion's share of the attention of rotation-hungry fans, the best photographers have always found ways to push their own craft just as far, if not further, than the latest triple-cork Internet clip.

Ian Ruhter is one shooter who has been pursuing the limits of photography, constantly searching for the next level in artistic expression. Always finding time for his projects, even while traveling and shooting the Forum, Special Blend, and Four Square pros, he's come out with several significant re-imaginations of traditional, action-oriented photography.

His latest endeavor, the Wet Plate Project, takes on the exotic, and entirely old-school, collodion process of shooting and then developing film directly onto a sheet of metal. Shooting the action and then developing right in the field is painstaking and dangerous, which is probably the reason why this photographic process has never been used before in snowboarding. We sat Ruhter down to tell us more about the Wet Plate Project.

Have my image immortalized in this really unique type of photo? How about I hold this drink in front of my face? That's young gun Alek Oestreng on the right.

ESPN: Can you explain what exactly the process was for the Wet Plate Project?
Ian Ruhter:
The wet plate collodion process is one of the first forms of photography. You make your film from a chemical called collodion, and then coat a glass or metal plate with the collodion solution. The next step is to submerge the plate in a silver bath, which turns the plate light sensitive. Everything from this point is done in a dark room. You the take the plate and put it into a film holder where it then goes in to the camera. After the exposure is made you have to develop it on location. Everything has to be done within five to ten minutes. After the development you fix and wash the plate.

In the age of digital photography you basically have one film: Adobe Photoshop. I look at all the images people are producing and they have the same look...

Was this a first using the process to capture action shots?
To the best of my knowledge in over 100 years of photography no one has ever frozen a moving object the way I did using wet plate collodion. I asked around and people said it couldn't be done. I feel like I have contributed something to photography we know it is now possible to do this with strobe flashes. I hope this will open doors for people using wet plate photography process.

What are the benefits to creating a collodion photo? How does it compare to photo printing processes today?
There are no other processes that compare to the collodion process. What makes it so unique is you make the film from raw materials, allowing you to work with a one-of-a-kind film. The combination of hand pouring this film onto the plates and then hand developing it gives you a different result every time. I like the hand made look.

What was your inspiration for pursuing such a challenging photo medium?
Eadweard J. Muybridge. He was the first person to successfully stop motion in the 1800s. He was not just an artist but also an alchemist, engineer and an innovator. He is one of the greatest photographers that ever lived. He shot the famous photos of the hoarse in full gallop, and up to that point no one had ever seen a moving object frozen in time.

Ladies and gentlemen: Pat Moore.

Wet plate collodion is a very slow film it takes any where from three seconds to a minute to make an exposure in full light. To be able to have it work in a fraction of a second is all most impossible task. I wanted to do what he did using the technology of our time. It took a year of experimenting with the process and strobes to figure out how to make it work.

You've shot other large-format and alternative processing projects before. Do you think it's important to bring these fine-art photo setups into the snowboarding world?
It's more important to me now than it ever has been. In the age of digital photography you basically have one film: Adobe Photoshop. I look at all the images people are producing and they have the same look to them. One of the biggest challenges for a photographer is having a personal style. I feel like I cannot achieve that by using a computer to create my art.

What were the locations/situations that you shot?
We shot in lake Tahoe and Mammoth. One of the biggest challenges was the weather -- it was very cool this spring. This process doesn't work well in the cold; the chemicals need to be kept an about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Every day we shot was a battle just to make one plate. When we shot the action images it was warm but it was even more challenging because we had to get a huge tow-behind generator and a makeshift laboratory up a mountain covered with snow.

We then needed to run a tremendous amount of power to the strobes. Having all that power laying in the snow we had to take extra steps so no one got electrocuted. I shoot over 200 plates in 3 weeks and I feel like I only scratched the surface.

Any horror stories from shooting processing these in the field?
Every day was a horror story and a love story! There are many compilations with shooting this process on location. You add snow and cold to the equation and it gets even trickier. At the same time I produced the finest images of my career. You have to push it if you want the good shots. The snow added so much to the images -- you don't see to many wet plates photos with snow in them. To do a whole project with wet plate in the snow is a crazy thought.

Andreas Wiig doesn't need two tries to get the shot.

What did the riders think of the process? Did they have to do any tricks over and over, or was it a pretty clean shooting process?
I have never worked on a shoot where everyone was this excited. We would have up to 20 people waiting out side the darkroom to see the image. Every one involved wanted it to work it brought so much positive energy. The riders only got a few tries to get their tricks. With the set up time being so long we were on a tight time line.

Where can people check out the final images?
The Foursquare site and ad campaigns. We will also be doing a traveling art show.

What do you have up your sleeve for this winter? Any hints to what you'll be working on?
In the past year I have been building one of the worlds largest cameras! We are talking about doing something with it.