Yosemite’s Natural Beauty Inspires Generations of American Photographers
Sure, zillions of iPhone snapshots are taken at Yosemite National Park every year—often filtered for pinker sunsets in Instagram or otherwise altered—but it’s not every day that someone takes the kinds of pictures Ian Ruhter shoots.
Using an old-timey form of photography called wet-plate collodion process, which was invented in 1851 and popularized during the Civil War, Ruhter creates finely detailed images on glass plates nearly the size of a car window. The process requires going into the field equipped with those plates, a heavy camera, and a portable darkroom tent with all the attendant chemicals.
Back in the day, some photographers hauled all that equipment on their backs to hike to vantage points and capture vistas. Ruhter, though, retrofitted a big white step van with a darkroom and everything else he needed and drove it to Yosemite.
His big experiment didn’t work the first time around, and his struggle and labor to make it happen is captured in the video above.
“In the process of losing my way, it has taken me on a tremendous journey back to the 1800s. I have time-traveled the way you would in a dream. Taking me backwards into the future, a future where you paint with silver and light,” Ruhter writes in his artist statement.
Images of Yosemite National Park have been capturing the imagination of the American public for a long time, and Ruhter is undoubtedly aware that he follows in a grand tradition of some of the greatest American photographers, such as Ansel Adams. Adams’ images not only captured the glory of Yosemite and America’s natural beauty but were instrumental in convincing Congress to establish Kings Canyon National Park in 1940.
Group f/64, Adams’ crew of San Francisco photographers, wrote in a 1932 manifesto about a form that came to be known as “pure photography,” emphasizing qualities of clearness and definition, while Ruhter’s artist statement decries photography that is “less personal and true.” What freed Ruhter from modern artifice was getting back to the “never-ending search for that image, absent of any words or supporting information, that reveals a hidden truth.”