Simply put, Ian Ruhter is an inspiring human being. His start in the snowboard industry wasn’t exactly a promising one, as a pro rider known as the “Green Cowboy” and thought of as a rowdy, misguided kid. But over time Ian put down the snowboard, picked up a camera, and climbed his way through the ranks of snowboard documenters to being one of the few really pushing the limits of what could be done with a camera. Recently parting ways with his position as lead staff photographer for Forum, Special Blend, and Foursqure Ian has found another way to break the boundaries with his “Silver & Light” project. Dropping everything and following his passion, Ian managed to turn an entire truck into one giant camera. Through one of the original photographic processes known as wet plate collodion, he is making a name for himself on a whole other level.
I caught up with Ian as he cruised through Los Angeles with his photo truck and put together the video below. Learn more about his career in snowboarding and his latest project in the interview the follows the video. - Laura Austin (SNOWBOARDER Magazine’s Online Editor)
L: Tell us a brief history of your career leading up to now… you used to be a pro rider right?
I: I grew up in Lake Tahoe and I started snowboarding since I was surrounded by mountains, and than I got good at it and got sponsored, and the next thing you know people are wanting to take pictures of me for magazines. As time went by that all came to an end, but it really sparked an interest in photography with me, in those photographers. Like Bud Fawcett was a big influence, Chris Carnel, and Justin Hostynek, to name a few. I probably missed some dudes.
L: Kevin Jones also played a big part in your career didn’t he?
I: Oh the biggest, the biggest. When I got I started, I was on LaMar and that’s how I met Kevin. In snowboarding I was really rowdy and just misguided. People probably didn’t have a lot of faith in what I could do, cause I was just really wild. So then going into photography and taking that serious as a career, no one at that point had faith that I would ever do anything with it based on my prior experiences in snowboarding. But Kevin Jones and Jimmy Halopoff, the first year I said “Hey I want to take photos,” they really took me under their wing, and they were like “Ok Ian”. I remember being so broke that I couldn’t even afford to buy film, and those two guys bought me my first hundred rolls of film. I mean that was huge, and then Kevin Jones was like the greatest snowboarder of all time at that point. And he brought me out to shoot with him, and it was a favor, but his career was in my hands. If I didn’t capture these tricks and these things he was doing than his career was going to suffer, so there was a lot of faith in that.
L: In snowboarding I remember you as the photographer who was always pushing the boundaries of what could be done with snowboard photography… What made you want to go above and beyond and put in the extra effort to make something different?
I: At the time, the guys that I was working with were pushing snowboarding to the next level. With the tricks they were really pushing it, so I felt it was my obligation to push as hard as they did in my photography. It wasn’t just like “Ok whatever,” and exploit it. We were all pushing that hard to really give back.
L: Do you have a most memorable snowboard shot or shoot that you have done?
I: Oh wow, there’s so many. One that comes to my mind, is a shoot I did a shoot for Transworld in Chile, and it was one of the only times in my whole career that it was strictly just a photo shoot, no filming. And what was a summer trip turned out to be like a photo annual cover and a spread in there, and it was really cool to be able to work on that level with people and JUST focus on photography and nothing else. It was really cool that Forum let me do that.
L: To go along with that… do you feel like photography has taken a backseat to video these days?
I: I could only really speak to my experience. I think just in general that photography, as of right now because of the internet and everything, everyone wants content so fast. So I think the quality of photography and the video work has kind of been modified to fit these needs of just pushing things out so fast. I think it affects both you know.
L: You shot the whole Foursquare campaign using the wet plate process. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I: I didn’t tell Foursquare at the time, I know like Knox and Keller knew, but I didn’t even have the process completely figured out at that point. They just went out and really trusted that when it was time to deliver, I would deliver. And there’s a lot of stuff that no one had ever done with wet plate photography level, no one, and especially not on the snow. No one had even come close to using artificial light to freeze action with a wet plate camera. It was really one of the scariest moments in my career. They really invested in me with the budget and everything that I would deliverer, and it was really intense to be able to make that happen.
L: And are you happy with how those photos turned out?
I: I’m super happy with it. The reason why it worked is because it was a collaboration between so many guys. Even the riders, to the people helping at Mammoth, everyone pitched in, it wasn’t just the efforts of me. And that’s how things get done, is when you have a really good group.
L: What made you want to branch out from working specifically in snowboarding?
I: Well, ahh lets see… I’ll put it into snowboard terms so people can understand. It would be like if for the past ten years you only could ride the park, you know, and you get bored with that and want to go out in the backcountry. I want to explore more avenues and more things, it’s just about continuing on that spirit of pushing myself.
L: With digital photography so accessible right now, what influenced you to go in a complete opposite direction… even to make your own camera, and out of a truck no less?
I: Yea, I feel like in the last ten years I had been learning and growing, I didn’t have any formal schooling, so everything I had done was just learning. I got to a point where I wanted to have my own signature and my own style. So to do that, I felt like I needed to make my own film and my own camera that would take photos the way that I wanted to take them. I created this whole project around the way I wanted to photograph things.
L: So you just felt like everything else looks the same and you wanted to make something that was completely unique to yourself?
I: Yea, people think I hate digital and I don’t. It’s more like I had a vision in my mind, how I see the world, and there wasn’t the tools and pieces for me to make those images, so I dreamt up this whole thing to produce what was in my mind and in my heart.
L: It looks like the process involves a lot of chemicals. Are any of those dangerous?
I: Yeah, its dangerous. But it’s no more dangerous than going out on a snowmobile standing on a slope wondering if an avalanche is going to take you out, its just part of it.
L: What is the general idea of the project you’re doing now “Silver & Light”.
I: What we’d like to do, and I believe we can do, is connect everyone, and not just America, in the world through this project. Were using the social networking sites to connect everyone. When we shoot them through photo and video, we use those people to link to the next person in the project.
L: What’s your biggest struggle with this project so far.
I: We are really trying to work on getting financing and sponsors for the project cause it’s become quite expensive, so that’s our only limitation as this point.
L: What do you want this project to lead into? Do you plan on making a book, a movie, an art show, all of the above?
I: We are currently releasing pieces on the internet. But we’re also filming in a way that, over the next couple years or however long it takes, to release a larger documentary about America. Then the photos would be put into a book that accompanies that.
L: What do you hope people take away from what you’re doing, obviously not everyone can go out and make their own camera, but is there a bigger picture that you want people to take away from what you’re doing?
I: The bigger picture is, no matter what you’re doing, it’s important to take time out and follow your dreams. You know, if you dreams are snowboarding or learning a new trick, or if your dream is to have a family or whatever… it’s important to step aside and try to really follow some of your own dreams. That’s the message behind the whole thing.
L: Was it scary for you to decide to take that step? To drop everything, and put all your resources into this project?
I: Yeah, this is by far been the scariest thing I’ve ever done in so many different ways. When it started I was investing in something that I didn’t even know if it would work. I didn’t know if we could make the camera, or make images to that size, or if we could even travel on our first trip. By far on every level, financially, emotionally, like you go down the list, its been the most terrifying thing that I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.