Tim Rudman Exhibition at The Lightbox, Woking
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.