“Iceland : An Uneasy Calm” Exhibition Visit June 2016

Tim Rudman Exhibition at The Lightbox, Woking

“Iceland: An Uneasy Calm”

 

Tim Rudman has been a photographer for many years – having first become involved with photography in the 1960s whilst he was studying medicine.  He has continued to use film and is internationally respected  as a photographer and authority on darkroom printing and toning techniques. I have been twice to see the exhibition of photographs documenting his experience as he travelled through Iceland.   I understand that Rudman also lives in Woking so it was good to see his work exhibited in that town at the LightBox Gallery there.

On the first occasion I chose not to read the literary quotations but to concentrate on the prints themselves. I found them beautiful to look at, drawing me in so that I wanted to touch them. They look almost like paintings with the creamy tone of the whites and the sooty softness of the blacks. There is a calm about them, even though I know that it can be a harsh environment with its inhospitable terrain and the inevitably of nature claiming the volcanic landscape back to itself. For the first time since beginning the degree I realised that I was not looking for a ‘story’. There are no people in these photographs although some of the prints hint at their presence and work. After the sense of calmness came wonderment at the process that must have produced the prints which look almost like paintings (which indeed they are, albeit painted by light and chemicals).

By the time of my second visit, with three others from Thames Valley Group, I had acquired a 1990s medium-format Mamiya Camera and so film and development processes were in my mind. The “Iceland” prints are hand-crafted using traditional ‘wet’ printing techniques to produce unique Selenium and thiourea toned silver gelatine prints. Selenium toning is an archival toning process devised to increase print permanence and reduce fading. It enhances a print’s tonal range and can produce tones from red-brown to purple-brown. Thiourea toning gives rich brown sepia-like tones. There was a continuous loop video running where Rudman talks us through his process. It’s about ten minutes long but worth watching if you are interested in his darkroom techniques.

 

The process seems a long, laborious one and watching the way in which he uses the chemicals to produce the effect he desires did make me think of all the comments made about Photoshop, manipulation and photography and truth. It was interesting to read some of the reviews of the accompanying book, e.g. one commented on how his body of work is done ‘without any digital trickery or artifice…. He hand processes his film …. making any needed adjustments through variations in exposure and chemistry’. Where is the line then, in fact is there a line really between the older and newer when both processes are used to achieve similar ends? Either of them are obviously suspect in photo-journalism but, to me, they are parallel with effects created by artists in a painting.

Are these prints documents? Can they be said to be indexical?  Certainly Tim Rudman was there in Iceland and took photographs of the actual landscape. His darkroom processes are used to evoke the atmosphere he wants to convey and turn the prints into Fine Art.

I also paid attention to what was written about the prints. There are quotations at the beginning of the Exhibition setting the psychological tone for a viewing and mirroring Tim Rudman’s linking of Iceland with ‘Middle Earth’ and a land of myth, magic and trolls.  I could begin to imagine that but, as I went round the exhibition again, my main feeling was still that of calmness and admiration for the beauty of the prints. They are inset into black frames that enhance the effect of being drawn into the scenes. I was struck again by the almost cream of the whites and the differences in the tones. Some high-key bringing out the ice of the landscape and others low-key intensifying the darkness of the volcanic rock.

There are two editions of the accompanying book . The standard edition containing 98 quad-tone plates made from the prints and the Deluxe Collectors Limited Edition presented with a handmade limited edition silver gelatine print of one of the three images from the book.   You can see the books here  and also a video preview of Rudman unwrapping, opening and turning the pages of the Deluxe edition.

I enjoyed looking at Tim Rudman’s work and intend to visit for a third time before the Exhibition run ends. It was very different for me to experience that sense of calmness in viewing photographs produced in such varying tones of light and dark – without the distraction of colour. I’m thinking as well that something of the lengthy development process also feeds into the work. I’ve been aware recently of how absorbed I become in using Photoshop to achieve the effects I need and am imagining this must be even more so working in the darkroom.

 

References

http://iceland-anuneasycalm.com/book/
http://www.thelightbox.org.uk
http://www.thelightbox.org.uk/tim-rudman-iceland-an-uneasy-calm-2016
http://www.timrudman.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYlICxbF6LM

 

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12 comments

  1. The experience was such a different one. Usually I’m analysing/interpreting but this time I could do no more than stand their and ‘gaze’. Fascinating process of printing and as I wrote to Pete above, I would like to visit a darkroom one of these days. I’m envious of you going on your workshop and looking forward to reading how you find it.

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  2. I’m glad you found his work alluring. I had started with printing – one of the principle techniques he employs – just before I closed my darkroom down, so I never really got to grips with it. He is a master at his craft.

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      1. I haven’t had a d/r for well over a decade, I still develop film (black and white) and scan my own neg’s etc. But alas no d/r. I gave my enlargers (three of them) away to an OCA student soon after I started this course – but they hadn’t been used for a long even by then.

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  3. It’s interesting to consider how analogue photography is still perceived as being ‘truthful’ yet as you point out both digital & traditional processes are used to manipulate . Sounds a great exhibition.

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  4. A nice perspective Catherine. I was impressed by the quality of the images and like you, was drawn to the process but as you noted in your comment to my post, I’m not in a position to restore my darkroom for many reasons but principally, dealing with the preparation and disposal of the chemicals. Like John, I still occasionally develop black and white negatives to scan and print. Over this weekend I have assembled all of the components for a self assembly 5 x 4 field camera. I have decided that it is time slow down and simplify the photo making process which will require the determination to make every single sheet of film count because of the costs involved. Scanning and digital processing will be part of that process. I have a book by Paul Gallagher called Aspects of Expression (Argentum 2008) which details his Photoshop workflow for each of the images in the book. I will bring it to the next meeting. He is also giving a talk to the RPS in November in Newbury, which I may attend.

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    1. the field camera sounds very interesting. I must bring along my Intrepid Project camera so we can compare. I still haven’t tried mine, feeling a little scared about all the technical procedures. However, I am discovering more confidence in using the Mamiya MF now so, hopefully, this will spare me on to the land camera. Jeff is currently absorbed in a book on b+w photography – seems to be relying on zone theory quite a bit. I’m in receipt of regular mini lectures all about it!

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