In a recent video, entitled The Making of a Celebrity Portrait, wet plate maestro Ian Ruhter made us question the celebrity culture and how we perceive ourselves. In this post Ian will show you how the portraits were done. Here is the story, in his own words.
The #iamthecelebrity project aims to gain a fuller picture of what we look like today, through our own self-portraits. This idea of creating a self-portrait was presented to me by my friends at Profoto. The idea morphed into something greater, because I was a bit weary of making a self-portrait of myself. We made a video showcasing this journey, entitled The Making of a Celebrity Portrait. The title speaks to the images that influence our own image everyday and how we portray ourselves.
What we wanted to do is to create a tighter photograph than we usually make. This meant we were going to build an entirely new camera. After discussing this with my crew we came up with the idea of turning our office into a camera. This would give us a lot more space to work within.
In order for us to create this tighter image with such a large format we’d need 20 feet of Belios extension, in other words the film plain needed to be 20 feet from the lens.
Our first step was to black out all the windows and doors. We used one of our doors as a place to mount the lens. Since the camera we use is extraordinarily large we are able to work inside of it. We actually become part of the mechanics of this device. The final step was to move all the darkroom equipment inside of the camera. It was very interesting setting up a nineteenth photographic process next to our modern devices (i.e. iMac, ipad, printers, scanners).
The most element of any photographic is the light. For this application we realized it would be quite challenging. The wet plate collodion process has an ISO rating of 1 or less. When we factor in the Belios extension our conclusion was we were going to need more light than we had ever used.
Since we only had four Pro-7B packs and two ProTwin Heads the only thing to do was to move them closer. I knew this amount of light wouldn’t be good to aim straight into my eyes, so I ended up placing the lights behind me. I used the Magnum Reflectors to wrap the light around the front of my face. This gave me a great rim light and light the front of my face at the same time. The film in this process is so slow that we used our two ProDaylights HMI units to fill the image with a 15 second exposure. During this 15 second exposure I fired the strobes immediately after the lens was opened with the Profoto Air Remote. The strobes freeze any movement making the photo incredibly sharp. The HMIs are used to light the entire photograph during the 15-second exposure.
The wet plate collodion artists of the nineteenth century were pioneers who were on the forefront of art, science, and exploration. In my attempt to follow in their footsteps I try and incorporate our modern technology into this process. By doing so I feel as if I am continuing where they left off.
The #iamthecelebrity project continues today, so please consider submitting your image to Instagram. So far the images have all been impressive, from iPhone photos to those made in the studio. So please keep them coming. This isn’t about a right or wrong answer—it’s about expressing yourself. The most important thing is to show who you are through your portrait.
We’ll be using all of our images in a final project soon, so stay tuned! We are so happy to be working with @profotoglobal and all of you on this project. I look forward to seeing your images on Instagram soon #iamthecelebrity.
If you haven’t seen The Making of Celebrity Portrait film yet, be sure to check it out.