Interview with Tim Rudman

Tim Rudman began his involvement with Photography in the 1960’s whilst studying medicine in London. He taught himself to print in the darkroom and, with his distinctive style of Black and White printing, quickly gained some early recognition and publication. His work has been exhibited in over 50 countries around the world, gaining many top international awards.

For many years he pursued his two loves of medicine and photography together, but now devotes his time to photography. Today he is respected internationally as a photographer, printer, author and authority on darkroom printing and toning techniques. His name is particularly linked with his pioneering work in the beautiful process of Lith Printing, a process in which he is widely regarded as the leading authority and practitioner. His work and publications in this field are held to be primarily responsible for its current popularity as a photographic art form around the world.

Tim is a regular writer and lecturer and has conducted darkroom workshops in Britain, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Canada and America. His four books on photographic printing and toning techniques are critically acclaimed and are widely used in teaching establishments. His work has been published extensively in many countries.

Tim is a member and past Chairman of The London Salon of Photography, A Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and of The Royal Society of Arts. He was a founder member and subsequent Chairman of the Royal Photographic Society’s Distinctions Panel for Photographic Printing and 20 year member of its Distinctions Panel for Visual Arts. He is deputy char the RPS Fellowship committee and a selector for the Tyng permanent collection. He was awarded the Society’s Fenton medal and Hon life membership in 2013. 

He is a member of the Arena group of photographers in the UK and the Freestyle Advisory Board of Photographic Professionals in Hollywood, California. His work represented in a number of permanent and private collections around the world.

His photographic prints are individually hand crafted in the darkroom using silver gelatin materials processed to the highest archival standards and toned mainly with selenium, gold and sulphides, both for aesthetic reasons and to ensure archival permanence.

Interview:

LEMAG: Mr Rudman, first of all thank you very much for accepting our invite and making time for this interview.

When one thinks of fine art photography and asks the question of what can be associated with it, medicine does not really spring to mind. In your case it proved different, perhaps not so much memorising the tortuous Latin names for different parts of human body and medicines but the meticulous approach to work. Would you agree?

Tim Rudman: I would look at it the other way around Derek – photography being practiced by medics, rather than medicine being practiced by photographers!

It might be less unusual than you think for doctors to have interests in photography and other arts. It happens quite often and I think it’s because the arts provide some left brain/right brain balance.

But you are right in that learning lab discipline does help in the darkroom. I do tend to have some ‘OCD’ tendencies anyway (or CDO if you put them in alphabetical order as they belong!) so that helps, as can a reasonable knowledge of chemistry.

I wouldn’t want this to put anyone off approaching darkroom work though, as neither is strictly essential, just helpful.

LEMAG: When we exchanged our initial emails I was very happy to hear from you that long exposure technique was not something you considered much while producing your images and that it was just a mean to an end, one of many techniques you employ to arrive at the image you want to present.

Tim Rudman: I was surprised when you approached me for a folio for LEMAG Derek. I have seen many long exposure portfolios that exploit the technique throughout and to the max in order to obtain ‘that look’, but I never considered myself as working in that genre.

My initial reaction was to decline your invitation on the basis that my work was not suitable for your purposes. But when I checked through my Iceland book I was really surprised to see so many long exposure pictures there. Some are night pictures, which require long exposure but don’t state the fact in a visually obvious way. Others have deliberately used the smoothing effects obtained for simplification, minimalisation or mood enhancement.

LEMAG: You mentioned ‘not looking for specific long exposure subjects’ in your pursuit for images that would satisfy you – and of course many photographers using filters restrict themselves to water or clouds. We do, however, notice steady movement outside of that sphere and many LE excellent images coming from artists who do not necessarily think of themselves as LE professionals. When you are fishing for an image what is that you are looking for?

Tim Rudman: It depends on the location and why I am there. I photograph largely by instinct, rather than by technique. When I get to a location I will have arrived with a purpose, but from then on I react rather than pre-plan too much. So I wouldn’t set out thinking ‘what here would lend itself to a long exposure’ for example. I wait for a picture to speak to me in some way and then respond in a way that will give the image I see in my head. I always see a finished print in my mind and it may not look much like the scene in front of me, which is just a means to an interpretation of a feeling or a message in print form.   

LEMAG: I of course must ask you about lith printing process. Perhaps you could start with letting us know what enticed you in lith printing, which can be rather tricky.

Tim Rudman: It was an evolutionary process for me rather than a plan. The first time I came across lith prints was in Gene Nocon’s London darkroom in the early ‘80s. I had been awarded the AP/Ilford Printer of the Year award and as a result was invited to spend a day with Gene in his darkroom. We became good friends and subsequently spent a few sessions together printing.

Gene was into Lith printing on Kodalith paper then. He had bought up what remaining stock he could when it was discontinued and was excited by his results. He showed me what he was doing and it was lovely work, but I wasn’t interested in using it myself as I was printing a very different look at that time, strictly cold-tone black and white – no coloured hues.

A few London printers then started experimenting with lith and at some point over the next few years something made me want to explore it for myself, but I don’t remember exactly what or why. It was probably because by then I had started exploring toning processes and introducing ‘false colour’ and I liked what I was getting and what it brought to image interpretation. It was a natural evolution.

LEMAG: Lith printing used to be considered very unpredictable. Your hard work stripped it from that perception and gave it stability and predictability with almost mathematical precision. You have spoken about it in a number of interviews and we have no wish to repeat the same questions here but tell us please how long did it take you to arrive at that point. Do you remember what you felt then and the print that proved to be replicable with the desired effect?

Tim Rudman: I remember that it was initially quite frustrating and that it took quite a long time! It was never a case of the single ‘print that proved to be replicable with the desired effect’.

Lith developer was never intended for printing. It was used for developing high contrast lith film for the graphics industry, so there was nothing of any substance written about using it for printing that I could refer to for guidance. Just that it was said by early practitioners to be unpredictable and unrepeatable. Clearly this could not be true. Imagine for example that you decide you want to play the saxophone. You can blow and suck and produce random noises, but if you want to play it well, repeatably and with your own interpretations you have to learn how it works to become good at it.

Lith printing is a chemically driven process and has to obey the laws of chemistry and physics and therefore ultimately has to be controllable. It was just a question of understanding what chemical processes were going on at a molecular level and all the variables that changed the end result. It seemed initially that just about every variable apart from wind direction affected the outcome! Now that this has all been unpicked it is really quite easy, just with a new set of rules.

LEMAG: You run a series of workshops, which are – at least for the time being – suspended. Lith development process can be challenging and of course belongs to darkroom. While digital photography has long become mainstream, there is also a number of people returning to darkroom work or picking it up. I take this revival must please you and wanted to ask what your students say about it, what they look for.

Tim Rudman: I think that they like making art with their hands. The fusion of art and craft. The whole darkroom experience is a manual process and feels more ‘real’ that working on a virtual image on screen. It is wet, it is tactile and it has recognizable smells. And there is still some magic in watching an image emerge in the dish, especially with lith printing where this emergence is not only considerably delayed and slowed, but requires the printer to interpret the precise moment to intervene, snatch the print and halt its development before it changes forever to a different interpretation. It’s very creative and interpretative.  

Many sit in front of computers much of the day at work and they enjoy the practical hands-on craft side of printmaking. It satisfies a different need that many photographic artists have. Many tell me they use digital for commercial work but analogue for personal work.

LEMAG: Your book “Iceland – An Uneasy Calm’ took eight years to make. It is an amazing project full of images so different from what we can see produced by most of those who go there. But has it started as a project? What made you return to Iceland so often? What inspires you there?

Tim Rudman: It didn’t start as a project at all. Iceland had held an attraction for me since the ‘80s. I had been doing some dark moody landscape work on Dartmoor for some time and developed a yen to visit Iceland. Having a contrarian streak however, I cancelled those plans when, like now, it suddenly became the popular place for photographers to go.

Around 2000 the urge returned. Iceland had largely slipped of photographers’ radar by then. In 2006 Bill Schwab announced his first Iceland tour and so I applied to join it. 

For the first days I found Iceland really difficult to identify with photographically and I thought I had made a big mistake. For some years by then I had been working with Lith, delicate tones and subtle soft colours, often with trees. Iceland then had almost no trees and was far from delicate. Also, working usually alone I wasn’t used to photographing in groups. It was fun, a great introduction and a lovely group, but initially it wasn’t working for me photographically. About halfway through the trip I wandered off alone into a barren rocky area and gradually everything changed. It referenced me back to my wanderings over Dartmoor and the adrenaline started to flow. I knew then I would be returning as soon as possible. Over the next couple of years’ visits, as I learned more of its history and mythology it gradually evolved itself into a project, one that changed its shape many times over subsequent years.

I loved the weather and the landscape, particularly off the tourist trails and came to see it as a metaphor for the forces of nature, man and the recycling of matter within our universe.

LEMAG: All your work originates on film and you print and tone your images yourself. It offers you the advantage of the need to be careful with your subject selection, composition, pre-planning all the work from choosing the subject to finished print. Iceland and trees are, reportedly, your favourite subjects. You may be thought of as a landscape photographer, would you agree?

Tim Rudman: Maybe. I’m not a big fan of labels, but I do like working in the landscape a lot, but not exclusively.

LEMAG: Landscape photography involves a fair amount of solitude. Combining this with the rawness of Iceland, which you visited about 10 times, (not to mention the lack of trees, your favourite subject) I could not help but wonder what made you so hooked on this harsh environment. How did Iceland become for you ‘the place to go’?

Tim Rudman: I’ve touched on this already to some degree. It’s a perfect storm of so many things. Its stark uncompromising volcanic ‘black and whiteness’, its weather and light. I like being out in ‘weather’ and have so often been there in storms, gales, hail, snow, ice and whiteouts. It makes me feel alive. Also the weather changes so often, bringing wonderful lighting and magnificent receding skies. It’s a perfect home for trolls, elves and goblins! One is constantly aware of the power of nature, both underfoot and overhead.

LEMAG: I have seen your name mentioned amongst those who practice ‘alternative photography’. It immediately caught my attention and I pondered the term ‘alternative’ for a while trying to decipher its true meaning. I reckon the person who mentioned that meant something along the lines of ‘not mainstream by today standards’, ‘not digital’ – but then I thought about the positive meaning of the word– ‘focused’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘with a clear intention’. How would you describe your own photography today?

Tim Rudman: I have never considered what I do as ‘alternative’. Perhaps everything becomes alternative eventually? I think I am just very lucky to be able to make photographic art as I want, that’s all.

LEMAG: Very often photographers talk about feeling spent or jaded, about experiencing an inner blockade, of some sort of choking that stops them from going out with their camera and creating images they would otherwise pursue. In such times nothing feels ‘right’. Did you ever have such a moment and if you did, how did you snap out of it?

Tim Rudman: All creatives will experience this. It is part of their life and not only in the visual arts. The usual advice is to accept that it happens, not worry too much and keep working until the muse or inspiration returns.

LEMAG: To create your images you use quite a number of tools that make it possible. Can you name one that to you is the most important across the entire image creation process?

Tim Rudman: No, I don’t think so. The enlarger is a pretty important tool though!

LEMAG: If you could send your younger self a note with an advice regarding photography what would you write?

Tim Rudman: Oh my. I’ve been around for a while, so maybe a photo of myself now, pointing out that life is shorter than you think when you are young and that you don’t stay young. Don’t waste any of it. This is no rehearsal.

LEMAG: Thank you very much for your time Mr Rudman, we wish you best of luck in your career in the coming year.