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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Updated: April 5, 7:37 PM ET
Photographer Ian Ruhter: "Silver & Light"


On April 2, former pro snowboarder Ian Ruhter launched "Silver & Light," a documentary of his most recent wet plate photography project. The nine-minute video is really doing the rounds with 16,000 plays the first day and 104,000 the next, now totaling nearly 200,000 views. Every social channel is lighting up as fans of photography or artistic originality in all its forms share Ruhter's journey. It really is a must-see documentary.

"S&L" goes behind the scenes of Ruhter's obsession with wet plate collodion photography and the lengths he'll go to get the shot. Though the Tahoe-based lensman recently did a wet plate photo project with Foursquare, this new mini-doc doesn't focus on his snowboard photography work. Here, he is making the film, the developer, the camera -- all of it.

More importantly, he's trying to connect all of America through images and story and the combining power of social networks. From the natural grandeur of Yosemite to a tagged-up, abandoned building, he does it all using a DIY step van he has converted into the world's largest camera of its kind.

This project isn't about the actual photography, it's about doing what you love.

The opening sequence of "Silver & Light" appears, at first, to be footage filmed in a meth lab. A hooded, gas-masked figure mixes chemicals and Everclear alcohol, even cooking some of the concoction on a spoon, heroin-style.

Ruhter's voiceover divulges a sort of addict's admission: "I'm so far down the path that I can't go back even if I wanted to... I can't stop; I've backed myself into a corner." But the mixture being created before our eyes is the chemical cocktail required to develop your own wet plate photographs, which Ruhter does in the field. He's addicted to the process, not the chemicals.

"This project isn't about the actual photography, it's about doing what you love," explains Ruhter, 38. "I think that's why people like it... We all want to do what we love or encourage [other] people to do so."

That said, some of the photos produced by Ruhter and his team are stunning in their depth and originality. Even when things go wrong -- and they do -- it's difficult not to admire the photographer's commitment to a project that costs him over $500 per photo, whether the plates turn out or not.

(Photo)chemical addiction...

Ruhter's addiction to making and creating images with his hands was sparked, in part, by photography's digital revolution. Ruhter didn't know it at the time but he had "lost something [he] loved" when going digital and surrounded by lensmen running the same cameras, the same signature.

This flattening spurred him to return to photography's roots, the art form's very DNA of "silver and light," and he's now pushing some serious boundaries, be they artistic, financial or sanity-related. He went out and "built a camera that no one has..." and, in turn, is making images that are, quite literally, one-of-a-kind. For this very reason he refers to the van-camera as "a time machine."

When asked how his long involvement with snowboarding -- both as a notoriously rowdy Tahoe pro for Lamar in the 90s, and a TransWorld photographer more recently -- might have informed this ambitious undertaking, Ruhter told ESPN: "This project reflects snowboarding in the way that snowboarding was 'wrong' in the beginning and people get it mostly because they love it, not for the money. This type of photography gives me the same feeling as when I started snowboarding."

Follow the "Silver & Light" journey on Facebook and see if you or your town might be immortalized soon. (Wear long rubber gloves!)