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A photographer who uses his van as a rolling camera

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Still cameras are getting smaller and more digital. At the same time, Ian Ruhter sees his artwork moving in the opposite direction.

Still cameras are getting smaller and smaller. And, at the same time, the computer software designed to manipulate photographic images grows more powerful. Photographer Ian Ruhter sees his artwork moving in the opposite direction: He wants his pictures to be bigger… and messier.

Ruhter has built an enormous, rolling camera. The back of a large van houses his giant lens, and inside the vehicle are two foot-by-three foot aluminum plates that he uses to immediately develop his pictures in the field. "At first, it was a big obstacle," Ruhter says. "But because it's such a large format you can see the world in a completely different way." 

Ruhter built his traveling camera in 2010 in hopes of capturing nature and people how they truly are — imperfections and all. His pictures take on an unpredictable, ghostly look —as if they could have been taken in the 1800s.  

His instrument is similar to a camera obscura — as the light comes into the lens, the images are projected upside down and backwards. This is not only how the camera sees the world, but how Ruhter sees it, in part because he was born dyslexic.

"I slowly started to learn that I could communicate through these images and I could express how I was feeling," he says. Once he learned that, Ruhter says photography became something far greater than just a craft.

His photos have a flawed quality, unlike the digital-photoshopped look that is now dominant in commercial photography. Ruhter uses a technique known as the wet plate collodian process. Collodion, which is a flammable syrup solution in alcohol, acts as a base and is mixed with chemicals to develop film.

Ruhter uses the back of his van as a darkroom and develops his film by hand. The borders of the frame turn out frayed and they gradually change from dark to light. The liquid marks are visible on the photo and the colors range from sepia-tone to black-and-white.

He prefers this process to digital because he had a problem with manipulating life and nature and "wanted something that was real,"  but adds, "Like digital, you get that instant gratification." 

Ruhter’s first show in Los Angeles called, "Silver & Light," is on exhibit at the Fahey/Klein Gallery until November 29.  

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