As a child afflicted with dyslexia, photographer Ian Ruhter struggled throughout his life with the search for purpose and direction in a world that was not geared for him. In this speech he gives for Creative Mornings in Vancouver, Canada, he tells the story of his own personal discovery through a camera lens, and how he honed his creative skills through the mediums of sports and film:
People are often analyzing photographs, trying to explain or articulate their meaning and purpose, but the very purpose of visual arts is to express that which cannot be said with words. In his musing, as in his life’s work, Ruhter embodies this idea of wordless creation. His images show with great intimacy the power of imagery to heal the human soul.
On his website, Ruhter refers to himself as an “alchemist”, which refers to his specialty of wet plate film photograph – a process dating from the 1800s which sees plates of glass or metal coated in light-sensitive emulsion and loaded into a large-format 8 x 10 camera to be exposed. This type of photography requires the use of many different chemicals. Film photography is widely thought to be if not dead, then at least dying, even by those within the photographic industry.
Through his images, Ruhter proves to us that that is not true any more than the idea of vinyl records being dead. Film may have become antiquated, buried in the frenzy of new technology, but it merely lays dormant, waiting for its worth to be discovered by artists who are searching for depth more than digital perfection has to offer.
The process of creating any sort of analog photography means that there is as much to the printing as there is to the shooting. The chemicals used, the way they’re mixed, the length of time exposed both in camera and under the enlarger – all these things affect the final image, and like snowflakes, no two will ever be identical. The many-step method also leaves much room for mistakes, inconsistencies, and surprise – variables which photographic companies have spent billions trying to stamp out, but which give every image a completely unique and unmatchable character.
Whether you’re a lover of film photography or not, anyone can appreciate the underlying story – the misplaced artist with a great dream, struggling against overwhelming practical advice that tells him that his dream is not viable in the harshness of the Real World. The struggle to stay true to yourself and persevere past the objections which engulf you is a story of great legends, and it is this determination which has made Ruhter a true creative in the world of contemporary photography.
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