WHY PLATINUM PRINTS?
In an era of highly evolved digital photography with mechanical prints that emerge from super-sized ink-jet printing machines, visitors to my website may legitimately wonder why someone would choose to work exclusively with the apparently anachronistic methods of platinum printing. Photography, for me, reduces to its essence in the final print, a lasting object to hold in my hands, to hang on a wall. Printing in platinum, the gold standard in the first quarter of the last century, may no longer be readily accessible commercially, but the technique continues to be nurtured by aficionados and admired by collectors and photographers alike for its unique tone and luminance. Aside from the renown qualities of the platinum print per se, the velvety blacks, untouched tonal range and brilliant luminosity unique to the method, hand-crafting each individual print offers me a personal satisfaction far beyond what I experience from watching electronic prints emit from my digital printer.
Paradoxically, the potential advantages of the modern “digital darkroom” seduced me back to full-time photography, but I soon realized that, as my skills with digital processing and color management progressed, my personal satisfaction with machine-made prints diminished. The penultimate punching of buttons to initiate a cascade of electronic events became a personally disquieting method to produce a lasting piece of art. In the same vein, many contemporary methods for making monochromatic digital prints aspire to mimic the aesthetics of the platinum prints made in the early 20th Century. Stieglitz, Adams, Weston, and Strand among the many great photographers of that era invariably had mourned the passing of platinum paper from Kodak’s inventory during WWI to its final discontinuation in Britain in 1938. Today, in the hurried era of multitudinous virtual images that never see paper, the aesthetic and archival qualities of the platinum/palladium print transcend the electronic digital age.
Given the time and the skills required, I resolved to make only hand-crafted platinum/palladium prints of my work whether from recent photographs or those taken over the past six decades. By the same token, I wanted to retain and exploit my experience with digital image processing to create large scale digital negatives with sufficient breadth and subtlety of tone to exploit fully the tonal capacity of the arcane printing process. I import photographs, past and recent, from film or digital files into a computer and process them digitally. Then, instead of electronically printing onto ink-jet paper, I adjust the tone to optimize translation to the platinum process, invert and print onto transparent media as a large format negative. This “digital negative” can then be taken to the traditional chemical laboratory and contact printed under ultraviolet light onto hand-coated sensitized paper to produce a traditional platinum/palladium photographic print.
The methods for producing the digital negatives specifically designed for this traditional process and for making the final platinum palladium print on watercolor paper or wood surfaces are discussed in separate textual pieces on this website and elsewhere.