Tillman Crane – Photographer & Platinum Printer

February 15, 2013

Over the coming months/years this blog will highlight some of the finest and most significant platinum printers in the world both from the past and present. Previously we highlighted the work of Dick Arentz which you can view here. Another photographer whose work I have been following is Tillman Crane.

Tillman has a wonderful eye and is a master at printing in platinum and palladium. He has been professionally involved with photography for over 30 years. Known for his beautiful, luminescent prints of the quiet corners in life that most of us simply pass by, his images pull us in for a closer look. Whether the subject is man-made or God-made, each contains a quality of light and detail that provides both a sense of the “real” and that of spirit.

I first became aware of his imagery on the analogue photographers user group APUG a few years ago, one of the must have books to own at the time was Touchstones. Now sold out and out of print, the book has some very fine reproductions of his platinum/palladium prints. I wanted to learn more about his journey through the world of Platinum printing.

As with many printers there is usually a defining image or set of images that start them on a path to become a platinum printer. Tillman was no different. (I had a similar experience which you can read about here ) In 1976 he viewed a set of platinum prints by Frederick Evans at the Philadelphia Museum

It was at the height of Ansel’s Adams reign and yet I found Evans’ images to be compelling. I was expecting to stay at the Museum for a few minutes however I stayed hours and loved platinum prints from that moment on..’

Sea of Steps, Wells Cathedral, 1903, Platinum Print, Frederick Evans

The first time Tillman actually saw the creation of a platinum print was in 1987 when he attended a Maine photo workshops held by George Tice. Since that time he has been completely hooked on the process (Tice and Penn are regarded as the two main photographers who spearheaded the revival of Platinum printing in the late 60’70’s, both these artists will be discussed in a later post.)

In 1990 Tillman was studying for his MFA at University of Delaware and at the time could not afford to do platinum prints for his graduate show however started working for the Palladio Company in 1991, making demo negatives and positives for their platinum kits. I was intrigued to learn more about the pre-coated platinum paper the company made and asked how it compared to the most common papers we hand coat today ?

‘The paper was slightly warm, very much like Weston Diploma Parchment. Rob Steinberg (the owner) created a developer that worked beautifully with the paper. You controlled the contrast by adding H2O2 to the developer. The paper was smooth and printed beautifully. I taught a workshop at PetersValley Craft Centre a couple of years ago and we found a package of Palladio still in its envelope. It worked 15 years later.I have nothing to say but positive things about the paper. It is too bad they couldn’t get anyone to make paper to the quality they needed. Rob was a genius and never got the credit he deserved. I still have some 16×20 prints that as good as anything I can make today. It was a great paper and a great paper to begin platinum printing with.’

Over the last ten years Tillman has published 4 books each book has a number of stories attached to them, as one can imagine, as does every image.

I was interested to learn more about Touchstonesas as this is the book I am most familiar with and by all accounts has been his most successful publication.

‘Touchstones revolves around the cover image and the closing image. I spent several hours in this small chapel and shot about 20 5×12 images and 30 5×7 images in this tiny space. I loved both images but didn’t feel I could use both in the book. I couldn’t decide which. My brilliant wife Donna said why don’t you open with the detail image and close with the over all image. Brilliant!…. Once we decided to open and close with those images that allowed us to better edit and select the images for the book. It became sort of a day in the life of my travels around Scotland. A circle if you will… Touchstones was about 4 years in shooting, editing and production, in terms of how I sell my books very few of my books were available in stores. After Touchstones we didn’t make any available to stores. Each book costs us just about what they sell for. Retail needs a 40% mark up so that makes my books very expensive in stores. So we only sell them now thru our website and in our home/gallery.’

I went onto ask Tillman what his favourite prints were from the book

‘ The book is about 1% of what I shot. and there are that many 5×7’s as well that have never been seen and may never be seen. The standing stone on Mull, one of the early images in the book has a wonderful feel to it. It was actually made at dusk in a pouring rainstorm. It was a 5 to 7 minute exposure and after I opened the shutter the skies opened up. Not waterfall heavy but more than a wee dampness. My good friend Donald Stewart and I then had dinner in a pub and our clothes literally steamed dry as we ate in front of the fire.

Standing Stone, Dervaig, Mull, Argyll. Platinum/Palladium, Tillman Crane

The image of the Duke and Duchess of Argyle on Iona is one of the most beautiful prints I have ever made. It still hangs in my house. Unfortunately the paper it is printed on doesn’t exist any more so another print will never look exactly like the one that hangs in my house.

Iona Abbey Church (Duke and Duchess of Argyll), Iona, Argyll, Platinum/Palladium Tillman Crane.

The small standing stone shown below looks large but in reality it is about a meter high. The wind was blowing a howlie on Lewis that day. I was determined to make some images at this small standing stone site. So I lowered my tripod top its lowest point, tuned my 5×12 camera on its edge and made a few images. I think my friend Ian Wilson is just out of camera range using my dark cloth as a wind break. The stone looks huge, but a wide angle lens and point of view close to the ground give this stone the dignity I felt it deserved.

Calanais Standing Stones Site II, Calanais, Lewis, Western Isles, Platinum/Palladium, Tillman Crane.

Tillman has a beautifully presented website which can be found here (http://www.tillmancrane.com). You can also view more musing’s from various shoots on his blog here (http://www.tillmancrane.com/news/category/musings/)

As long as Tillman can obtain supplies from Ilford for large format film and the required chemicals he will continue to create exquisite platinum prints and to teach others the process. In terms of the future, Tillman would love to do a book on New Pictorialism, for further infomation visit his website.

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