Two and a half years ago, on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I met Emily Currin. Like a scene straight out of Meet the Fockers, the stars seemed terribly misaligned upon our first interaction. To break the ice, I told Emily a lengthy and questionable story about a guy who, unbeknownst to me, was her recent ex-boyfriend. This, of course, was only water under the bridge, when she found out I attended her dream school for college. All in all, I would say we each left the museum with lukewarm feelings toward one another. I never would have guessed how a true friendship would blossom from the seeds we haphazardly planted that June afternoon.
Today, I am happy to call Emily a close friend. She is a joy to be around, a straight-shooter — not to mention, a very reliable source of creative inspiration. A few days ago, she sent me Christy Wampole’s New York Times opinion editorial, How to Live Without Irony. Well worth a read, the piece discusses a trend latent in many modern day relationships — the tendency to be self-referential in order to avoid intimacy with life and with others.
Nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to ‘pre-wash’ photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.
I happen to agree with Wampole — and I am willing to wager, so too would Ian Ruhter. Ruhter is a photographer, but he calls himself an alchemist. He has a camera, but he calls it a time machine. There is more to this man than a few idiosyncrasies in syntax. He is his own person — someone who bravely pursues what makes he himself happy, someone whose actions are truly reflective of his words.
In 2010, Ruhter discovered his passion for producing one-off, large-format images, and then strayed from a comfortably paved path in the digital world to reinvent one of the oldest forms of photography — the collodion wet plate technique. When Ruhter couldn’t find a product big enough to shoot on the scale he envisioned, he converted the back of a truck into a camera and mobile dark room. The endeavor was an insurmountable undertaking, both logistically and financially. Pouring his entire life savings into the machine, Ruhter was literally fully invested in the pursuit:
To make [the camera] that big, everything had to be redesigned and reworked…I am [now] the shutter and the lever and the gears. I’m even making the film. I have become the mechanics of the camera.
Earlier this year, Ruhter drove his camera across America, as part of an interactive photo series called Silver and Light. Though its aesthetic is suggestive of an artist deeply steeped in tradition, the project was a testament to the power of innovation. In an interesting twist on the chase for silver and light, Ruhter crowdsourced his inspiration entirely via social channels. With a simple like on his Facebook page or a comment on his Tumblr, an angsty teen from Illinois or a ski bum from Utah could quickly find themselves the subjects of a truly iconic creation.
Upon first glance at a Silver and Light photograph, one could never guess the amount of work involved in its production. That is precisely why Ian Ruhter and his art remind me of Emily Currin. If there is anything my experience with Emily has shown me, it is the danger of taking a first impression at face value. At the core of every solid friendship is an understanding of and appreciation for the raw fabric that makes up the other individual — and those threads, like the construction of an 11,000 pound mobile camera, cannot be woven instantaneously. If you do one new thing today, take the time to learn a little more about Ian Ruhter. To truly know yourself and look deeper within the people around you — to live a life as pure as art– that is what he may inspire you to do.