Last week I went to the Lightbox gallery in Woking with some of the TV group, kindly organised by Catherine. We saw Tim Rudman’s, Iceland: An Uneasy Calm. Rudman works with film only, and the images are all mono. He goes to considerable lengths, concentrating on and manipulating how the shadows and highlights appear when creating his extremely beautiful prints, and the quality is really something to be in awe of. Rudman describes the work as follows:
“Iceland, ‘The Land of Ice and Fire’, has a strong and omnipresent ‘Middle Earth’ feel to it. Evidence of its volcanic origin is everywhere. Geysers spurt, mud pools boil and steam billows from the ground. The central highlands are unpopulated and barren. Glistening glacial caps crown the mountains and extend long white fingers down to light-sucking lava deserts, whilst bible-black beaches lie fringed with white surf.
Thundering waterfalls abound, whilst craggy caves and peaks, often shrouded in mist and low cloud, provide a home to some of Iceland’s trolls and ‘hidden people’. In summer the days extend through the nights. In winter the nights eat up the days. Changes in the weather are frequent and storms can be spectacular. Brooding skies accentuate the already dramatic and sometimes eerie landscape where trolls lurk at night and get turned to stone by daylight. It is a land of myth and magic, of fearsome subterranean power and spectacular scenery”. (Rodman, 2015)
Printing is crucial to Rudman’s process. I found the following video in which he describes how he goes about making a print, and which is played in the gallery on a loop, fascinating and informative, learning answers to questions I had either wondered about for a while or hadn’t even thought to ask. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=em4LxWxy_Is
For me the very beautiful work had far more of a sense of authenticity than Salgado’s images have, which I was somehow reminded of, and which I thought about so much two years ago. I’m not entirely sure why I made the comparison, but perhaps simply since both are working in black and white, although one focuses on the land and the other on the people in the land. Or perhaps because I recall that Salgado’s digital prints are printed to look like film (at Beetles & Huxley where I saw some in 2014 at any rate) whereas these incredibly beautiful objects by Rudman are made very carefully himself using all the darkroom techniques available to him.
Saying that, I think this photography is very different to the conceptual type which I have spent a lot of time looking at on this course. I do not necessarily favour one over the other as I think they are very different and it would be like trying to compare afternoon tea with a Chinese banquet. Each has its place. I will need to think more about this though, in terms of visual culture and how the various genres within photography, which is such a wide platform, inform or shape our world. As well, I was reminded of Ragnar Axelsson whose work I saw on a TV documentary probably in 2013. Axelsson is very different, far more dynamic, which appeals to me, and perhaps his images express something of the character of Iceland from within, whereas Rudman’s view is an outsider’s view. I wonder if he finds a more delicate, mysterious, enchanting beauty than Axelsson who sees the intense drama, the contrast, the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. If Iceland were a woman then Rudman makes her look pretty and sultry, but not too dangerous because she is a thing to look at and admire from a distance. Axelsson makes her look robust, crazy, beautiful, strong, nuanced, dramatic and he’s right in there too.
It was really useful for me to see this work, especially the print process, shortly before going on a course where I would be learning about ambrotypes. It seems to me I am being drawn to finding out, at least, about the processes that preceded digital photography, which is where I started my own photography adventure. I feel like I am delving into the technical history a little bit and beginning to make sense of the birth of photography, how images were made; of the immense thought, effort and energy that went into making an image. And I suspect that experience may begin to help me to slow down when doing my work, perhaps to take more time and think more carefully, which is probably a good thing.