Platinum Printing Overview
PLATINUM PRINTING OVERVIEW
Platinum printing is one of the oldest photographic processes, dating back to the 1870’s. It is noted for its subtlety in rendering the tonalities of the middle grays in particular. It is the most archival all photographs and it is impervious to light fading and acid damage. A platinum print is capable of lasting thousands of years without change.
Many of the Pictorialists, a group of photographers primarily between the years 1880 to 1920, produced some of the most famous photographs to date using the platinum process. They did this because of its delicacy of tonal ranges and its potential for expressing the characteristics of more traditional art making methods. This was a time when photographers were fighting to elevate photography to an art form equal to painting. I feel similar struggles are happening right now between different types of photography.
The tonal range of platinum is unmistaken once you have seen the difference. The range of deep blacks to whites evokes an emotional response unlike any other type of print in my opinion. Unlike the traditional darkroom silver printing method, platinum lies on the paper surface, while silver lies in the gelatin that coats the paper. The absence of a binder layer allows very fine crystals of platinum to be embedded into the paper giving it a depth and 3-dimensional appearance.
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Unrivaled by any other printing process, platinum, like gold, is a stable metal, with platinum being the most stable. Because platinum is suspended on matte paper, it is much more diffuse than glossy silver gelatin prints that are prone to specular reflections. It feels like you can fall into the print.
The platinum printing process is based on the light sensitivity of ferric oxalate. Ferric oxalate is reduced by ultra-violet light. The ferrous oxalate reacts with the platinum reducing it to elemental platinum, which builds up the image on the paper. It is possible to vary the contrast and color of the print by varying the amount of oxidizing chemicals and working in coordination with other variables such as humidity of the emulsion at the time of exposure.
Some of the greatest photographers of all time have created platinum prints to include: Imogen Cunningham, F. Holland Day, Frederick H. Evans, Irving Penn, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston.
I have personally viewed platinum prints from Irving Penn, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand. I was overtaken by the beauty and emotional impact of their artwork. I hope that I can have a similar impact on others through my platinum prints.
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Keywords: Platinum Print, analog photography, black and white, darkroom, fine art, large format, photography
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