About Platinum Prints
Most black and white prints are made today on inkjet printers or use darkroom paper based on light sensitive silver compounds, but silver is a relative newcomer. Platinum printing, invented in 1873, rapidly became the dominant medium of the fine art photographers of the day. Alfred Stieglitz, whose platinum portraits of Georgia O’Keefe are well-known, along with Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Steichen often printed on platinum coated paper. These prints were treasured for their delicacy and superb tonal rendering.
Unfortunately, World War I intervened, and platinum found military uses. It became expensive and practically unavailable for photographic purposes. Silver materials gained almost universal acceptance, and platinum became part of photographic history. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, a few photographers, including Irving Penn and George Tice, began coating their favorite fine art papers with the necessary chemicals, and one of photography’s most beautiful processes was revived. Modern platinum prints are often even more beautiful and quite different from one printer to another.
These coatings are so much less light sensitive than silver that platinum prints must be made with the negative in direct contact with the paper instead of with an enlarger, resulting in a print the same size as the negative. I use both digital and film cameras and digitally enlarge the image to the size print I want to make. The digital step using Photoshop also provides the opportunity to more easily do the same sort of contrast control, dodging, burning and other adjustments I once did under an enlarger in the conventional wet darkroom.
Platinum prints today are made with platinum, palladium (a closely related metal) or a mixture of the two. After processing, nothing remains but metal and paper. Known to chemists as noble metals, platinum and palladium will not oxidize or combine with other elements as do silver or iron, thus creating a photograph that will last unchanged as long as the paper itself. I use a mixture of the two metals to create the tone I desire.
These prints have a tonal richness and almost three-dimensional quality that I believe gives them a “thing-like” quality in addition to presenting the image itself. Comparing them to the same image on conventional paper reminds me of the different experiences I have holding and reading a finely made book on paper to reading the same words in an e-book. I invite you to email me any questions you may have.
It is difficult to compare a platinum image with a conventional black and white one online. If you are intrigued or interested in a platinum portrait or a platinum print of a black and white image please email me. If you have never seen a platinum print I can send you a sample.