ESSAY 13 - WHY PLATINUM PRINTS?
In a busy world where photography has become a digital commodity, I have chosen to stay the course and create handmade platinum prints the same way they were made in the 1870’s with sheet film and large format view cameras.
I develop my film, and I hand coat my paper with a platinum 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.
The masses are consuming digital technology at an astounding pace while I continue to hone my craft while employing traditional 19th-century methods. Each fine art platinum print I create is an artist original making it rare and valuable.
In 2015, my son and I built a cabin for each of us, a full production off the grid darkroom, and a workshop on my land in the Ozark Mountains. 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 and ultimately for my collectors.
When someone views my platinum prints, they know that I invested a significant amount of time, energy, and focus on creating that print. You should also know that I only create platinum prints of important and significant subjects that need to be passed down for generations. Our world is continually changing, and the natural order continues to march forward over time.
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
CHARACTERISTICS OF PLATINUM PRINTS
The matte finish is characteristic of a platinum print. The platinum emulsion, a mixture of ferric oxalate and metal salts of platinum and palladium, are coated onto and absorbed into the paper. The fact that the emulsion is slightly in the paper as well as on the paper, gives the image a sense of tactility. It’s as though you can reach out and touch every aspect of the image.
Due to the impervious properties of platinum and palladium metals and the absorption of the sensitizing layer into the paper, platinum prints always and inevitably have a matte finish.
The detail in the platinum print is exquisite. The matte finish and visible grain in the paper lends itself to crisp, well-defined edges, soft gradient mid-tones, and luminescent highlights. The highlights of a platinum print offer themselves to a depth of image some people describe to have a three-dimensionality. Platinum prints can range from cool to warm blacks to reddish or sandy browns based on the choices and skill of the photographer.
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 certify and disclose the exact platinum materials for every limited edition print that I sell. A test with an XRF X-Ray fluoroscopy scope can validate that my prints are accurately disclosed.
Collectors and curators know that making a 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. I chose to master my craft using traditional artisan methods and only work with the finest materials.
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 printmaking 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 PLATINUM PRINTS
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 include the ability to control the tone of each platinum print based on the humidity of the emulsion at the time of exposure among many other variables. Not many people have the skill to do this in the 21st century.
I create my platinum prints by placing a large format film negative on top of a hand coated platinum paper in a hinged printing frame and exposing this "sandwich" to UV light before being developed, cleared, and processed.
I currently use 4x5, 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14 large format view cameras to create my negatives for 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 completely these photographs must be seen and experienced in person. It is impossible to translate the unique and subtle qualities of this process with digital photos and display them via a computer screen. I highly encourage anyone interested in the fine arts to visit a gallery or a local museum to experience a platinum print in person.
THE ADVANTAGES OF PLATINUM PRINTS
The tonal range of platinum is unmistaken once you have seen the difference in person. 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 classic 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 platinum print.
Platinum, like gold, is a stable metal, with platinum being the most stable of all metals. Collectors seek 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 available. 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 handmade artisan process. I create unique pieces of valuable art.
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