Interview with Tim Rudman
#1 Please introduce yourself
I’m Tim Rudman, a UK photographer and silver gelatine darkroom printer specializing in Black & White printing, Lith printing and toning. I have authored and illustrated a number of books on these processes and I have taught darkroom workshops in a good many countries around the world. I find the eagerness to learn darkroom skills is still very much alive and even growing.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
Like many I am sure, I recall being quite excited by using the family cameras as a very young boy. Especially when an Ensign Ful-Vue appeared in the family, which compared to the box brownie, had a wonderful large bright glass viewfinder. I commandeered this and felt quite important!
It was mostly family snaps of course but the seed was sown, although it wasn’t until my student days that it germinated – quite suddenly. I still recall the exact moment clearly.
I was a young medical student in London. I had always liked to draw and sketch in black and white, particularly detail from Rodin and Michelangelo statues. I also had cartoons published. I was browsing in a bookshop for textbooks, which I couldn’t afford. Whilst in the store a striking graphic black and white book cover picture caught my eye. The book was by Sam Haskins and inside were exciting graphic contrasty black and white photographs – blown out skin tones, deep blacks, huge grain and dynamic compositions. I had never seen photography used this way, as Art rather than Record, and I remember knowing with certainty in an instant that I could and had to do this. Within a couple of weeks I had found a communal darkroom facility and was teaching myself to print. I’ve never stopped.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
No, although I always had an interest. From the age of about eleven I used to hang out next-door a lot in our neighbour’s upstairs studio. He was an artist and made large oil abstracts that I thought were amazing. I used to watch him paint. I also first heard the blues there and fell in love with them immediately. At school Art and Zoology were my favourite subjects and I most looked forward to the art classes. But I always drew in black and white, never colour.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
There have been many of course over so many years.
In terms of Art, initially it was Rodin. I loved the way the hands and feet were always so large and powerful but still looked just right. Then Michelangelo and Durer (I had a thing about hands). Then Dali and the Surrealists and later the Impressionists.
Photographically the first was obviously Sam Haskins. I loved his then daring use of contrast and grain and I found his dynamic composition and cropping exciting. I tried, as a penniless young medical student with little technical knowledge and the cheapest equipment, to emulate his style. It was exciting – but very inferior!
The next profound influence was Eugene Smith. He could do no wrong in my eyes and I really loved his use of darkness and mood. It was inevitable therefore that for some time my prints were full of dark tones.
Although I never really worked in their genres these two photographers strongly influenced the ‘feel’ I carried into my work for a long time when I worked only in cold tone black and white.
I was also drawn to the work of some early Bromoilers and Pictorialists.. Although I eventually did a lot of landscape it was many years before I developed a real appreciation of the West Coast style of visually ‘apparently straight looking’ large format fine art photography. My prints had always been overtly manipulated. They still are of course, but in a very different and more gentle way. Ansel Adams, and more especially John Sexton and Ray McSavaney have been strong influences on this later development over the last 20 to 30 years. On the surface, my work is entirely different to theirs as I use a lot of toners and lith processing, but underneath, their influence on subject matter, tonal control and composition runs deep.
However, it was through the AoP (Association of Photographers) Awards and year books that I became aware of another world of coloured monochrome. This was to be a far bigger influence than I realized at the time. I began to experiment and as I explored, gradually my whole practice changed in a way I never anticipated.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
It’s a mixture. In terms of images I’m basically a responder rather than a planner. I plan where and when I want to shoot, but not always exactly what. I don’t set shots up at all and although I have some ideas in mind, when the time comes I respond to what is there rather than try to make what is there fit my preconceptions. As I often work in themes, broad brush macro planning is essential, but thereafter it is spontaneous.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
That’s a really difficult question because it depends what I am working on.
I like to be and work in the landscape. I particularly like trees. So it’s often about light, form and composition. Sometimes it’s timing – trees don’t move around a lot, but the light does and in some places weather changes frequently. Often it’s weather conditions. I like the wind and I seem to have gradually developed an affinity for cold – often very cold – climates, pre-dawn and late evenings. Which is unfortunate, because non-photographically I naturally gravitate towards warm sunshine and late mornings!
#7 We can see your photographs mainly in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
I didn’t really. It chose me. From school days I always drew and sketched only in black and white and although I have normal colour vision I sort of ‘see’ pictures in black and white and I commonly ‘see’ finished prints in my head when I compose a subject, even though it looks entirely different. I suspect this isn’t unusual. It isn’t really a decision; it’s just the way it is.
But although my prints used to be ‘pure’ black and white they rarely are now and although I only use black and white materials the results are now often quite ‘colourful’.
Black and white photography has an enduring place in fine art photography, not simply as a result of an historical accident. It simplifies the subject to light, form, shape and texture, concentrating the viewer’s attention on these aspects. But also it abstracts the image from reality and in so doing it frees the viewer to some extent to put something of his or her own interpretation on it. But we have become used to black and white as almost reality, so the addition of ‘false colour’ by processes such as lith printing and toning serves amongst other things to abstract the image a step further from reality, thus giving the viewer ‘permission’ bestow on it their own feelings and emotions, which I can ‘direct from the wings’ as it were, by the use of colour and process. Lith prints also look less photographic than straight black and white prints do and this aids me in guiding the viewing experience.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
I work in my darkroom with silver emulsions on film and paper. I use digital technology for web use, for scanning my work and matching the scans to the prints as best I can.
I have no idealistic stand for film or against digital. I see no point in that. They are different media and largely they serve different purposes. I like the physical craft aspect of darkroom work where I make my work with my hands. I enjoy the tactile connection with the work as I take it through various stages of production to the finished product in my hand. I also quite like the enclosed atmosphere, subdued light, smells and sounds of the darkroom, but I appreciate that others may prefer a computer, daylight and fresh air! We do what we choose to do.
My starting point is a negative and my end point is a print. The bits in between can vary quite a lot but are all chemical not pixel. My transition from cold tone black and white to ‘colourful monochrome’ was quite unplanned and unexpected.
From my early days I had used selenium toner. I had seen that the ‘Masters’ in the USA commonly used it, but I didn’t then know why and it wasn’t obvious to me as they all produced ‘pure’ black and white work. Selenium toner wasn’t available in the UK in those distant days and I couldn’t find out much about it (there was no internet then) and so I made up my own and experimented. After some years and presumably influenced by images I can’t now identify I began to experiment with other toners and gradually I realized the added dimensions they brought to the work.
I also began to explore Lith printing. It was very little practiced then, even less was written about it and what was written invariably described it as unpredictable and unrepeatable. I had always tried to tightly control the processes I used so that I could both predict and repeat them and so I set about trying to do this with Lith printing. After all, it had to respond to the laws of chemistry and physics. The reason it had been so described was I think because there are a good many variables in the process and all independently affect the outcome and nobody had really teased them all apart. The more I explored the process the more I fell in love with it and the more flexible and creative I found it to be and in a way that was never planned it quite changed the way I interpreted many of my negatives.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
The more I shoot and the more I print, the luckier I get.
In other words, there isn’t a short cut. Learn from others. Use what you learn but don’t copy. Have an enquiring mind and follow it. Be your own harshest critic. There is no ‘good enough’.
Being obsessional helps.
#10 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I have been working on a body of work on Iceland for a number of years and exhibited it in several venues in Australia, where it was well received. Since it recently returned to me I have continued to grow this work and would welcome interest to show the exhibition in the UK/Europe.
I have a new exhibition opening in Australia this summer and I have also started work on a new book. A book of images this time, which I plan to publish it in early 2014. Details will be on my website and in my occasional newsletter in due course. Other plans are currently under wraps.
Tim Rudman Official Website: