Exhibition: Tom Goldner’s Passage captures Mont Blanc landscape in monochrome

Photographer Tom Goldner spoke with Clique about his latest series Passage, which documents two journeys in Europe's Mont Blanc region.

Goldner, who is based in Melbourne and runs Fox Gallery and Darkroom, shot the series on medium-format film.

Voyage. <cite>Photo: Tom Goldner</cite>
Voyage. Photo: Tom Goldner

Tom, tell me about this series, the context, where were the images taken and how were they taken?

This body of work consists of 22 atmospheric black-and-white landscapes, which have been in the making for the past year and a half. The series was produced over two hiking expeditions in 2015 and 2016 to the alpine regions of France, Italy and Switzerland – Tour du Mont Blanc.

Passage.  <cite>Photo: Tom Goldner</cite>
Passage. Photo: Tom Goldner

The landscapes were all captured on medium-format film, developed, printed, toned and finished by hand at my darkroom in Kensington. I can honestly say I have never put so many hours in producing work. As I run The Fox Gallery I am also curating the exhibition. There isn't one step in this process I bypassed. This body of work represents a transition in my creative practice and my life – I am unable to separate the two. A few years ago I found myself disenchanted with photography. I felt the need to get back in the darkroom to start producing work with my hands again. This series of work reflects this changing state in my practice. I see parallels to my work in the changing state of the landscapes – the fact you can stand in the same spot one year later and finding everything is different.  

The fact these images were produced on film and printed in the darkroom is only relevant for me if the work is received as being as good or better than what can be produced digitally. My work doesn't focus on nostalgia or trends but rather the relevance of film and darkroom printing in the contemporary age of photography. 

Why go with the term "passage"?

I try not to overthink the titles for my work. In fact, I often can't pinpoint when they come to me. 

I like to pick words from the local language in which the images were taken. In this case, "passage" translates conveniently to both French and English, the definition of  "the process of transition from one state to another" also resonates with me.   

Why shoot in black and white?

I see so much room to move in this medium, I will work within it for the rest of my life and never feel tired. I love exploring how different subject matter translates to monochrome. I also enjoy how much control I have fine-tuning this process in the darkroom. 

Even with the images being photographed on black-and-white film there are many wants to incorporate shades of colour into my work. The paper I use is an Ilford warm tone fibre paper which inherently holds warmth. I have also put a lot of time and effort into toning my prints. Without getting overly technical (which I am not) the prints were split-toned using thiocarbamide and selenium. The thiocarbamide gives a subtle sepia tone to the highlights and mid-tones where the selenium pushes the blacks deeper and produces some subtle purples in the shadows. There is a lot of colour to be found in black and white!

This is rugged terrain, was it quite challenging to shoot? If so, how?

I find the challenges come when I'm back home and dealing with everyday life. Hiking these landscapes was a real pleasure and I hope to continue doing it for many years to come, we run annual photography workshops on the Tour du Mont Blanc. The first trip in 2015 was also very special to me. I got to share the 12-day hike with my father. 

At times the hiking can be physically testing but the rewards of crossing horizons, watching light shift over mountains and being creatively stimulated is all I could ask for. The work producing the prints is much more testing. Some days I spend nine or 10 hours in the darkroom and only produce one or two final prints. Working like this in the darkroom is very different from what most people experience, it is the same reason many working photographers were happy to move, swap chemistry for keyboards. I will let the pubic be the judge on the relevance of the work. 

What do you want the viewer to take away from this series?

I teach these processes day in and day out, this work has put everything into practice. These days when the media touches on film and darkroom it is more than often represented as a dying art form, I think the conversation needs to shift on why it is still relevant in 2017. 

For me, this work has been part of a healing process. My previous focus has been on social-documentary. I got so burnt-out a few years ago I honestly wanted to throw it in the wind. Passage has allowed me to mature and rediscover the darkroom and other important facets to my practice. It has allowed me to continue. As a result, I am already working work on my next body of work titled Of The Sea

Passage is on show at Fox Gallery and Darkroom from 5 to 21 May.