Tim Rudman is a photographer who uses traditional ‘wet’ printing techniques to create silver gelatin prints. This week we chatted to him about what lead him into a career in photography ahead of his exhibition, 'Iceland - An Uneasy Calm', open now.
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you come to be a photographer?
I was studying medicine in London. At the end of year one I went with a friend to work our way around America for three months of the summer. We unexpectedly bumped into Elvis Presley walking round the Seattle World Fair. My friend took a picture on a camera he had bought in New York and I did so with an old family Box Brownie I had brought with me. I decided to get a ‘proper’ camera!
But having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer of course and really it initially was an interesting, although rather serious toy. One day I had an epiphany moment that had a major impact on my life. By chance I stumbled across a book of black and white graphic photographs. They were full of big grain, high contrast, empty space and dynamic angles. I didn’t know photography could be used this way and as an art form. I was transfixed and knew in that moment that it was my medium. In two weeks I had found a community darkroom and was teaching myself to print.
Although from a young age I had always regarded medicine as my ‘calling', art had been my favourite subject at school. I drew and sketched - always in black and white - but I knew in that moment that this was for me. It was that simple.
In my hospital posts I was always able to use the hospital darkrooms at night (this was in the pre-digital era of course, when everything was originated on film and hospitals had photography departments and darkrooms). When I went into Practice I photographed all the time when not working and printed in the evenings, into the night. And so it progressed.
What is the most challenging aspect of the photography that you do?
I don't really find anything in the physical aspects of my photography challenging. I love being out shooting in all weathers, especially wind and the cold, which I find exhilarating and I love being in the darkroom printing. I don’t have any problem carrying heavy kit around with me and luckily I still seem to be fairly fit.
Some cameras don’t much like extreme cold and neither do batteries, so these can present problems but can be overcome.
The challenging part can sometimes be in finding the meaningful image - and then interpreting it in the printing to say what you want it to say to a viewer. Sometimes these things come easily, even immediately, but sometimes either can be quite elusive.
Revisiting a scene that has previously appeared uninspiring can be the answer as it may suddenly reveal itself in a new way. It may depend on the light and the weather, but it also can the mental state of the photographer. As the photographer Morrie Camhi said - “We see things not as they are, we see them as we are."
You describe Iceland as having a ‘Middle Earth’ feel to it. Is this what inspired you to choose it as the focus for this exhibition
Yes, I think so - eventually. But I didn’t choose it as much as it chose itself.
I had wanted to visit and photograph Iceland since the ‘70s or ‘80s but life is busy and it never happened. When I eventually did first visit I initially found it impenetrable, difficult to connect with and disappointing. Although I shot plenty of film it felt rather automatic and I think many photographers will recognise days like that. One day and quite suddenly everything changed and the adrenaline started to flow and I knew I wanted to return as soon as possible and explore that connection further.
Iceland is a volcanic creation. No granite or chalk, just volcanic rock and lava formed by the violent eruption of fire and gasses from deeper in the planet. The Middle Earth feeling becomes unmistakable as one explores this country. Its history since The Settlement, underscored by such a rich mythology of trolls, elves and the forces of good and evil seem inseparable from the rawness of the landscape and the powerful subterranean forces that formed it and yet still threaten to destroy it.
As the concept for the book then slowly developed, it evolved from a collection of landscapes into a work including signs of Man’s existence in it, drawing power from it whilst being threatened by it. I began to see it as a parallel to the formation of our universe, our fragile position in it and the recycling of matter that makes everything within it. This gradually became the background narrative behind the images.
What fascinates you most about landscapes?
It has to be partly a combination of the light, the elements, composition and design. But it is also that 'something else’ - a connection in some way and the emotion that produces. I don’t generally take record pictures or stock pictures, I look for something else and landscape often provides that. In the landscape the warmth of the sun, the cold, the sound of the wind and a host of other factors contribute to how you feel and what you experience. A photograph doesn’t have these, but somehow has to communicate them - or something else - to the viewer.
A landscape can be many things. It might be majestic and imposing or empty and minimalist. It might be full of nature’s raging elements or it might be calm and peaceful. Or it might be a way of expressing how you feel.
In my early years of photography I had no interest in Landscape as a genre. I didn’t 'get it’ and it held no interest for me - until another of those epiphany moments that life sometimes gives you. I had been photographing in the West Country and drove back one early evening through Dartmoor. I had been through it before and only two days previously, but now it was different. The light was low, the black tops of the tors gave them a slightly sinister mood and it was alive with an indefinable atmosphere. I ‘got it’ and the next weekend I was back to photograph there again for the first of many times.
Either you get it and it gets you, or it doesn’t.
Tim Rudman: Iceland - An Uneasy Calm is on display from 23 April 2016 – 3 July 2016. Entry is £5 with an annaul pass, under 18s free.
Image Credit: Kirkjufell. -®Tim Rudman. Selenium and thiourea toned silver gelatine print, Catch of the day. -®Tim Rudman. Selenium and thiourea toned silver gelatine print, Beached ice. -®Tim Rudman. Selenium and thiourea toned silver gelatine print.