ESSAY 13 - WHY PLATINUM PRINTS? 

INTRODUCTION

In a busy world where photography has become a digital commodity, I have chosen to stay the course and create handmade pure platinum prints the same way they were made in the 1870’s. I use a large format view camera, film, and I hand coat my paper with an emulsion that I mix myself.  When William Willis Jr. created the first platinum print almost 150 years ago, he had no idea that he would be influencing the art that I am creating today and passing it along to my son Tim Jr.

I could very easily create digital images on a modern DSLR, or even my smartphone for that matter, import the file into Photoshop and print a digital negative on a sheet of clear film via my inkjet printer.  Many contemporary alternative printers choose this path, it  just isn't for me and I think my work speaks for itself.  

The masses are consuming digital technology at an astounding pace while I continue to hone my craft using raw materials.  Each print is a labor of love.  I hope that I have another 35 years to explore this incredible art form and express all of the experiences, feelings, and emotions that I want to share.

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In 2015, my son and I built a cabin for each of us, a full off the grid darkroom, and a workshop on my land in the Ozark Mountain Region.  The ability to focus for extended periods of time without interruption coupled with the time to explore the landscape continues to open up new creative areas for me.

When someone views my prints, they know that I invested a significant amount of time, energy, and focus on creating that print.  It might take me weeks, months, or even longer to complete the process from beginning to end.  The people that appreciate and value the skill, uniqueness, and beauty of creating art without the use of computers and technology are the people that I want to partner with.  

"Of all the modern printing processes at the command of the photographer, whether amateur or professional, none deserves to be more popular than the platinum." -Alfred Stieglitz

PURE PLATINUM PRINTS

Rocky Creek Shut-ins in St. Francois Mountains - Pure Platinum Print Hanging to DryRocky Creek Shut-ins in St. Francois Mountains - Pure Platinum Print Hanging to DryFree Darkroom Newsletter for Analog Photographers - The Darkroom Underground, Your Analog Photography Magazine 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, and many have described their viewing experience as very rich and three-dimensional. Platinum is the most archival of all photographs, and it is impervious to light fading and acid damage.  A platinum print it is capable of lasting thousands of years without change. In fact, the platinum never changes, only the paper that it is suspended on can change.  No other type of print, analog or digital, has the emotional impact and elegance of a platinum print in my opinion.

I create pure platinum prints, not a mixture of platinum and palladium.  This is an important point that is relevant to collectors and investors.  I certify and disclose the exact materials for every limited edition print that I sell.  A test with an XRF X-Ray fluoroscopy scope will verify the specific chemical makeup of a print, and a test will validate that my prints are pure platinum.

Collectors and curators know that making a pure platinum print is a delicate and elusive art form that requires significant skill and knowledge.  There are no shortcuts to mastering the platinum printmaking process.  Chemists and other photographers discovered by mixing palladium with platinum or only using palladium in place of platinum, that this provided a remedy for many of the routine obstacles and troubles experienced by photographers.  I made the choice to master my craft and by combing my skill and knowledge with the finest materials, I create pure platinum prints that I am very proud to exhibit and share with others.   

PLATINUM PRINTING OVERVIEW

Many of the Pictorialists, a group of photographers primarily between the years 1880 to 1920, created some of the most famous photographs in history using the platinum process.  They did this because of its delicacy of tonal range and its potential for expressing the characteristics of more traditional art such as drawing and etching.  This was a time when photographers were fighting to elevate photography to an art form equal to painting.  One hundred years later, I feel that I am living in similar times where photography has all been overtaken by digital equipment and computers.  The masses are racing to everything that is digital and computerized, and I am digging in a staying committed to the art and craft of creating fine art prints one at a time with my hands.

Some of the most notable photographers in history used the platinum process: 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.  Emotion overtook me when I experienced the beauty and elegance of their platinum prints.  This experience continues to motivate me today. 

THE UNIQUENESS & VALUE OF PURE PLATINUM PRINTS

Measured out my Ferric Oxalate and Platinum Salts for my printMeasured out my Ferric Oxalate and Platinum Salts for my printFree Darkroom Newsletter for Analog Photographers - The Darkroom Underground, Your Analog Photography Magazine Platinum prints are the most sought after type of fine art print. Only very few photographers in the world have the knowledge and skill to create a body of work via the platinum printmaking process, making them rare and unusual.  It is one thing to create a single platinum print, but it is another dimension to create a body of work that is connected and printed as a group.  This is challenging for a number of reasons which includes the ability to control the tone of each platinum print based on the humidity of the emulsion at the time of exposure.  

I create my pure platinum prints by placing a large format film negative on top of a hand coated paper in a hinged printing frame and exposing them to UV light before being developed, cleared, and processed.

I only use original large format negatives to make my pure platinum prints.  I don’t use any digital technology or computers in any part of my platinum printmaking process.  If I want a bigger print, I use a bigger camera.  I currently use 4x5, 8x10, and 11x14 view cameras to create my negatives and platinum prints.  I have special 4x10 and 5x14 reducing backs which allow me to create very special and unique print sizes from my 8x10 and 11x14 view cameras respectively.

Anyone that has seen a platinum print in person knows that to appreciate the emotional impact fully, these photographs must be seen in person.  It is impossible to translate the unique and subtle qualities of this process with digital technology.  I highly encourage anyone interested in the fine arts to visit a gallery or a local museum to experience a platinum print.

THE ADVANTAGES OF PURE PLATINUM PRINTS

The tonal range of platinum is unmistaken once you have seen the difference.  The range of deep blacks to bright whites evokes an emotional response unlike any other type of print in my opinion. The gradation between tonal values is unparalleled by any other kind of fine art print.  Platinum prints are collectible pieces of art that can be passed down many generations because of the archival qualities and ethereal beauty.  

Unlike the traditional darkroom silver printing method, platinum lies on the paper surface, while silver lies in the gelatin layer. The absence of a binder layer allows very fine crystals of platinum to be embedded into the paper giving it a 3-dimensional appearance. 

Because platinum is suspended on matte paper, it is much more diffuse than glossy silver gelatin prints which are prone to specular reflections.  It feels like you can fall into a pure platinum print.

Platinum, like gold, is a stable metal, with platinum being the most stable of all metals.  Collectors seek pure platinum prints because they possess all of the qualities described above, and they are the most permanent of all photographic processes.

WHY PLATINUM PRINTS?

I believe that platinum prints are the most collectible, elegant, and beautiful fine art print.  Fortunately, many other people feel the same way.  I love every part of the process from hauling my massive large format cameras in the field, to controlling every aspect of the creative process with variables that make sense to me.  By altering the relative humidity, choice of film, the chemical composition of my emulsion, paper choice, and other variables, I create art versus creating a photograph. 

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-Tim Layton

Tim Layton
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