Over the last six months of shooting, testing, and experimenting with wet plate collodion I didn’t realize that it had been leading up to this shoot with Levi Brown. I never thought I would do something that has never been done before but this was in the back of my mind. Photography has been around for over 100 years and it still seemed to be an almost impossible feat. I have been looking into the works of Eadweard Muybridge, which is where the inspiration for the shoot came from. His photography has revolutionized photography forever. Just one of his many creations is the famous photo array of the horse running. It was the invention of motion pictures. Up to this point, no one had captured motion and since then I don’t think anyone else has using the wet plate collodion process. I wanted to see if I could do what he did.
Ian Ruhter: Capturing Motion on Wetplate from What the Fleet on Vimeo.
I set out to see if this was possible using modern day equipment. I took a few weeks of planning and asking for a ton of favors. It finally came down to shoot day. We started setting up and everyone was excited to see what was going to happen. I explained to Levi that this might not work out-- I didn’t want to waste his time. I had never worked with him and I knew he has a busy schedule. He is a professional skateboarder for Element and was about to go on tour, so his time was limited. Levi said, “This will work, you just have to be positive.” This may sound kind of hippy, but I believed him—the power of positivity. I was stoked on all the good energy. I asked him to stand in so I could get a light meter reading. I had to ask him to wear sunglasses because the light was going to be very intense-- I didn’t want to damage his eyes. I fired the strobes (he said could feel the heat from the flash). To do this, you need a tremendous amount of light-- much more light than I had ever used before. Everyone stepped aside and I hooked up the camera to the lights. I tested it once to see if they would all fire at the same time. It sounded like a bomb went off. One of the flash heads had exploded right in front of Levi and my assistant Mark. Glass was propelled from the light like a shotgun-- right at their faces. Somehow, it did not hit anyone. My first thought was “this is going to be really bad…” but there is something to be said about having positive energy. No one from my crew had ever seen anything like this happen before. I thought Levi was going to be hesitant about going through with it after that. He wasn’t even fazed by it. He said, “lets do this!” and we all went about our business like nothing happened.
I set up and we shot the first photo. I had no idea what was going to happen. I grabbed the plate and ran back to the portable dark room. I poured the developer onto the plate and an image started to appear. I was so excited to see a faint image start to emerge. It was very light, so I knew needed more light; that was a crazy thought but we added more. I shot another photo and ran back to the dark room. This time it worked. I felt proud as I walked out of the darkness holding this image. Everyone was super stoked on it. Our glory was short-lived when Levi made a good point. He said, “If you really want to do this, then I have to be moving while you shoot.” I knew he was right. We set up in a new location for this shot. We were pretty limited. Because of the power situation, we had to stay close to the studio. After we finished setting up, we made history. It worked!
(Dubbed click image to enlarge)
You may be asking, “What is the big deal? Why is the process so important? Why not just shoot this digitally and call it a day?” When I started with photography I was shooting on film and enjoyed making the images with my hands. As my career progressed, my process switched to digital and I somehow ended up spending all of my time in front of a computer editing code rather than capturing life. At this point, anybody can shoot digital. You don’t even have to be a good photographer. Digital is a sign of our times: we want things now. But with that mindset, we sacrifice so much. Digital is an unreal representation of something that is real. When you see an amazing photo nowadays, you assume that it’s been Photoshop’d; which devalues the image. In these times we try to fix all our imperfections and hide them. Nowadays it’s acceptable to disfigure (edit) a body in order to achieve “perfection”. I prefer to see the imperfections—that is what makes us individual, unique. The same principles should be applied to a photo and it’s process. Being able to produce something that is one-of-a-kind and real means everything in the world as an artist.
(Dubbed click image to enlarge)
I to give a special thanks to every who helped make this possible:
Skateboarder: Levi brown
Wet plate technician: James Alegria
Lighting: Mark Mc Clanahan
The edge rentals: Tyson
Filming: Matt Stanley
Video editing: Lauren Graham