Photographer Uses Wet Plate Process to Create True Self Portraits

Recently I wrote an article about tintype photography. Today I’m writing about its brother process: wet plate. The photographer who makes this happen? Ian Ruhter:

I’m excited to see people bringing “ancient” techniques back to life. Photography often isn’t all about the final product and the model. More often than not the process of creating the image adds great value to the final product. Ian Ruhter had to convert a whole office into a camera for the most epic selfie ever made. Unlike Michael Shindler who uses tintype technique, Ruhter uses the wet plate process (also known as Collodion process). This is another more than a century old process of capturing light. No matter how many times I see processes, I’m still amazed.

wet plate portraits

Detailed, damaged and dramatic. That is the beauty of wet plate process.

While Shindler had 10 minutes to use his tin plate before it was rendered useless, Ruhter has to use his plate while wet. That means there is no waiting. You coat it and expose it. Sounds pretty complicated and inconvenient—that’s because it is. But when you produce something that only a handful of people on the planet can, it justifies the hassle.

wet plate processing

Why did he use such a complicated process to pull one selfie out? With all the social media and all the selfies, he was wondering about the real meaning. What do all those pictures say about a person?

“I think in terms of a self portrait, I think it should tell something about us that’s deeper and more meaningful.”

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