Dr. Tim Rudman, a multiple Fellow in Photography and the Arts, is an internationally renowned photographer, author and a well recognized authority on darkroom printing and toning techniques. His works has been exhibited in over fifty countries, receiving numerous international awards, and as well are represented in a number of permanent and private collections. 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. He conducts yearly darkroom workshops in Britain, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Canada and the U.S. Dr. Tim was awarded an Associateship by the India International Photographic Council, and holds the distinction of Excellence of the Federation International de l’Art Photographique. We are honored to post this exclusive interview.
Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.
OpenBeast: Hello Sir, and welcome on to OpenBeast. Could you please introduce yourself?
These might of course be quite different tomorrow, but today I’ll go for… Optimistic, artistic, moderately obsessional and occasionally disciplined – and obviously not good at maths!
We understand your passion for photography. But what drew you into the darkroom?
It was back in the 60’s, long before the age of digital photography. From school days and as a medical student I liked to draw, black and white sketching mostly and drawing cartoons which were occasionally published. Browsing in a book shop one day at med school I stumbled upon a book of B&W photographs which exploited grain and the use of empty black and white positive/negative space as an art form. I had never seen artistic photographs of this sort before that went beyond using photography as a recording medium. It was a moment of epiphany and I knew at once this was something I could and had to do and within 2 weeks I had found a student’s darkroom and was teaching myself to print. It was exciting and was everything I knew it would be.
Could you briefly explain the unique creative process you originated and its superiority compared with conventional development?
I suspect you are referring to lith printing? I didn’t originate it but I think I explored its potential and worked out how to control it and make it do more, than had previously been done. I also was the first and still only person to write books on the process, making it accessible to everyone. Up until then it was little known and described as an unpredictable process with unrepeatable results. I had learned to be very controlling in the darkroom by then and this went against all the scientific principles I had learnt as a student, so I could see no reason why it should not obey the basic laws of chemistry and physics like everything else. So I set about exploring all the variables one by one until I could not only control it but predict and duplicate it. The more I explored it, the more I was drawn into it and the more I found it was capable of offering. So, returning to your questions, I didn’t invent it but I did unpick it and expand it perhaps. I have been responsible for developing some other ways of using it too.
Superior to other processes? I would never say that one process is superior when talking about art, but it is very different to conventional printing, in which development it taken to its end point. Lith printing is more interpretive and creative and is interrupted in mid development.
The developer used is highly diluted Lith developer, which behaves quite differently to conventional B&W developers by using ‘infectious development’. Here the light tones appear first in an unusually fine grain form of silver. This gives them the characteristics of low contrast, fine grain, smooth creamy texture and warm colours, which vary with the development and the emulsion used.
At some point the second phase of development kicks in – the “infectious” development stage. In simple terms this means that an ‘infectious’ accelerator is released locally where a dark tone starts to develop faster. This causes faster development, releasing more accelerator causing even faster development and leading to chain reaction giving an exponentially explosive acceleration in the dark tones. As they progress, the silver grains in these dark tones grow rapidly to full size and assume all the opposite characteristics of the finer grain light tones described above – i.e. they are high contrast, coarse grain, coarse texture and cold tone. The print is snatched at the moment that the desired result is reached in this constantly changing image. The balance of small and large grain silver determines how the image looks and so choice of ‘snatch point’ has a huge effect on outcome and is at the whim of the printer. As prints never reach completion in developer they must be heavily over-exposed under the enlarger to ensure sufficient density at the ‘snatch point’.
It is a very creative expressive form of printing.
Is Lith-Print techniques still relevant in this modern age?
Oh yes of course. It is an art form rather than a literal record. All art forms are relevant. People still make bromoils, cyanotypes, daguerreotypes and every other ‘type’ of photographic art. It also satisfies the craft aspect that is important to artists in most media – the handling of the product through the stages of its development. This is lacking in digital photography.
Do you incorporate digital processing techniques?
I use only silver products for all my personal work. I use digital technology for scanning my prints and preparing digital files to match them as closely as I am able to and occasionally for the preparation of large format digital negatives for contact printing, although not currently. I also sometimes use a digital compact camera for recording and exploring themes before committing to film, but that is about the extent of it.
Most of your work is toned, in a creative way. What’s the value of toning?
Toning is valuable in a number of ways, both for archival and for aesthetic purposes.
The silver that makes up a silver gelatin print is susceptible to attack and tarnishing by any number of environmental agents in our increasingly polluted world and this ultimately reduces its archival longevity. Toning the silver with selenium, gold, sulphides and polysulphides adds considerable archival protection to that silver extending the life of the print considerably. There are a few other less commonly used archival toners too.
Selenium toning also increases the Dmax (depth of black) in a black and white print and adds luminosity to it, giving a little more of that wet print look that a B&W silver gelatine print has before drydown.
Many toners though are used for other aesthetic reasons and introduce colours – false colours of course – into the image. Lith prints are unusually responsive to toners as the silver in them is so very fine grained and offers an unusually large surface area for the chemical toner to act on. We have become so accustomed to black and white media images that we now easily accept them as ‘normal’ or real. The introduction of false colour, either as a monochrome colour or mixed colours, restores a distance from our perception of reality – it abstracts the image a step further from reality again. This is artistically very useful.
False colour can add subtle or obvious atmospheric and emotional overtones to an image and this can be quite powerful too.
Introducing a colour shift to the upper or lower end of the tonal range also allows manipulation of apparent aerial perspective and can add depth to an image, and spatial relationships of objects within an image can be controlled by the use of dominant and recessive hues together.
All these aspects affect how a prints speaks to the viewer.
Any advice for upcoming photographers out there?
It depends on what branch of photography they are planning to work in and how commercial they want to be. But firstly, I would say find your own voice. Identify what it is that attracts you and follow it. Style will follow in time. Influences are fine but remember what first inspired you and build on that rather than trying to copy somebody else’s style, or even worse their content. Having a style that is recognisable as yours means more than having a style that looks like somebody else.
Would you like to add something?
A thank you to OpenBeast for asking me. And an encouragement to photographers to keep using film and silver papers. The less they are used the less incentive there will be for their continued production. There can be much more to making photographic art than producing images on the screen. The tactile aspect of handling materials through the processes gives a closer personal involvement in realising the end product and an extra layer of satisfaction and achievement.
To learn more about Dr. Tim Rudman, his events and, information on workshops visit: www.timrudman.com. For details about his publications and exclusive offers visit: www.worldoflithprinting.com and www.masterphotographerstoningbook.com.
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