Ian Ruhter is a Los Angelos based photographer. Below are some samples of his work and two interesting videos about his photographic method as well as a tutorial to try his method of photography. You’ll most likely need to borrow a camera.
Ruhter converted a van into an ultra large format camera and each image he produces is a one of a kind wet plate collodion. A plate is a different kind of printed image which is very expensive to produce in general and on Ruhter’s scale it gets even more expensive. The technique has been around since the American Civil War. To purchase the chemicals to produce the emulsion the starting price is around $200 and up. Plate of choice are additional. Since photographers create the emulsion themselves they can modify the recipe to their liking once the technique is mastered. To get to that point it will take thousands of dollars in chemicals and plates and that’s not including the camera.
The camera most people use is a type of large format camera. Old school bellows and hood to cut glare when focusing the ground glass view finder. Large format cameras are still made today, very expensive and difficult to move around. Ultra large format cameras even more expensive and difficult to move, but Ruhter solved the issue of moving it by converting his van to accept a lens and backplate to hold the image plate. One trick that makes this style of photography even more difficult is that on top of standard exposure calculations, you have to apply the bellows extension factor calculation to determine your final exposure. Here’s some more information about it: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/bellows-factor.html
The chemistry contains highly toxic substances (listed below with starter kit information) and those looking to get in to the craft should take a lesson from a practicing photographer to learn the proper safety precautions and to save money from wasting materials because of the specific method of preparation.
After the chemistry is complete the photographer must hand sensitize the material on which the image will be made. Also another photographer hazard through breathing in of the chemicals or possible skin/eye exposure. Glass and aluminum are two popular plate options.
After considering the cost of materials and the knowledge of the artist to combine camera, chemistry and print the price of Ruhter’s prints are reasonably priced for an artist of his caliber.
Here’s a video from FStoppers explaining the process using a starter kit:
The list of materials from a $349 starter kit from a Bostick and Sullivan not including plates: