ABOUT A month ago, I sat in the shade-dappled courtyard of the Central Library downtown with photographer Ian Ruhter when he was back in Los Angeles, ostensibly for a small West Hollywood gallery show. But our conversation was about something larger, a life-shifting exploration that has been threading through his mind for a couple of years now.
For this latest endeavor, The American Dream Project, Ruhter has taken to the road, traveling the country in an reconditioned delivery truck that serves as both camera and darkroom. He has set about to record personal stories about dreams — success and failures — across America, while pushing the boundaries of an antique photographic process — wet-plate collodion. The images feel like dreamscapes — they float, they hover in your consciousness — the stories and the faces. The germ of the idea started here, in Los Angeles, in the heart of old downtown:
From my piece now up on the KCET Artbound blog:
“If image is any real measure, Los Angeles might seem an unlikely launch for the pursuit of truth: It’s a place better known for the evocation of the hyper-real — with its impatiently re-imagined landscape, its denizens, nipped and tucked into subjective perfection.
But photographer, Ian Ruhter, who also calls himself an alchemist, knows enough about chemistry to understand that stumbling upon new ways of seeing — is about reactions — a collision of forces — that create something new. . . .
Against the backdrop of stepped-up gentrification, Ruhter, holed up in a downtown L.A. loft at 6th and Main, two years ago, had begun tweaking and bending the possibilities of an antique photographic process — wet-plate collodion — a technique that dates back to the 1850s. Instead of “film,” a photographic surface is coated with sensitized material — the exposures, protracted, the development, too a sensitive affair.
The results dismantle our concept of time. The effect of the chemistry — the dappled surfaces, the blurs and bubbles, the shock of the perception of texture on a two-dimensional plane, an iridescence that sometimes mimics the luminescence of a half-shell or a surface shimmer that replicates motion — demands a second look at something or someone you might look past or through.
To read more about Ruhter’s background and the full trajectory of the project click here:
photo by Ian Ruhter via KCET