For the last 4 years I have posted a photographic record of the highlights of Paris Photo on our sister blog altphotoblog.com which covers more general alternative photographic processes. This year I have decided to split the posts up and devote this one to just platinum/palladium prints.

What I love about Paris Photo is its possible to get up close to some of the most iconic prints ever created. There is usually a good showing of prints by Irving Penn and this year was no different. One of my favorite platinum prints of his is of Picasso as it is a perfect example of great platinum/palladium print, deep velvety blacks, excellent shadow detail with beautiful mid and highlight values.

When talking about this particular image to Sarah Greenough in her book on Penn he is quoted as saying : ‘A great presence, deeply aware of his own image, he peered silently at the reflection of his head in the camera’s lens, occasionally altering the attitude.’

Two years ago a similar print sold for $180,000, the Phillips de Pury auction house noted  in ‘Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, Penn stripped away not only any gratuitous props but also any bodily references or gestures that could have compromised the unique individuality of the famed Spanish artist, by then already established as one of the art world’s most luminary .The close-up portrait is skilfully and almost perfectly centered by Picasso’s cyclopean eye, paying homage to the Cubist style that he was instrumental in popularizing. References to the style, in fact, abound in the photograph: the strong tonal contrasts, the cape slicing the face at an unconventional angle, the abstraction of the ear, the different lines dissecting the plain; the portrait is far more akin to Picasso’s gris-toned Buste de Femme, 1956, than any of Penn’s other portraits. It becomes more of a probable self-visualization by Picasso rather than a regimented projection by the photographer of how a portrait should be. Ultimately, Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, is a carefully nuanced souvenir commemorating the legacy of not one, but two great masters, both delicately revealing themselves through different sides of the same lens.

There is a great deal of detail in the print as is shown below, you can even see Penn’s daylight studio in the reflection of Picasso’s eye.

Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes (Detail 1), Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium Print,1957

Pablo Picasso at La Californie,  Cannes (Detail 2), Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium Print,1957

I have drawn much inspiration from this particular Penn print for quite some time and applied it to a platinum/palladium print of Kate Moss I created for the photographer Rankin, which as it happens has a similar tonal value and composition to the above. I wanted to make it different from the original silver print version and opened up the mid and high values. The 20×24 inch Kate Moss platinum/palladium print was scanned and is reproduced in the latest issue of the International Journal of Contemporary Photography which can be viewed here and is also shown below.

Hat Kate, Rankin, Platinum/Palladium Print, 2005

Another favorite of mine is ‘Women with Roses’  which pictures Irving Penn’s wife Lisa Fonsergrevees, this was showing at the Robert Koch stand. Just such a beautful composition and again printed masterfully.

Women with Roses, Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium Print, 1950

Women with Roses (Detail), Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium Print, 1950

Pace/MacGill had some single layer platinum/palladium  prints from the well known street material series Penn photographed in the 1970’s, they were quite small at 10×8 inches when compared to the his mulitlayer prints of similar subjects. There is a three-dimensional, holographic depth to the prints as well as pin sharp detail.

Street Material Series, Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium, 1975

Pagoda (Detail), New York, Irving Penn, Platinum/Palladium Print,1975

There was a good selection of platinum prints by Jan Groover on show, a wonderful photographer and printer who sadly died this year. You can read more about her here

Untitled, Jan Groover, platinum/palladium print,1983

For the first time William Klein had some of his most iconic images printed in platinum/palladium and were on show at the Howard Greenburg stand. They formed a series of 9 prints avalaible as a box set which by the sound of things had sold well.   These were printed by Martin Axon I really enjoyed viewing these prints as they had a beautiful range of rich tones to them.

Rome, ‘Vogue’, Painting + Coffee, William Klien, 1960, Platinum/Palladium Print

Rome, ‘Vogue’, Painting + Coffee (detail), William Klien, 1960, Platinum/Palladium Print

Piazza di Spagna, Rome,William Klein.Platinum Palladium Print, 1960

Well those were my highlights from the show in terms of platinum prints, it really was excellent this year and well worth going,  visit our other blog for a more general review of prints on display and which will be uploaded in a week or so.

Some time ago I started a thread looking at how contemporary platinum/palladium printers could learn from Irving Penn, one of the great masters of the process.  More specifically my interest was in relation to his use of multi-layer printing technique.

A recent poster to the thread had come across some of his hand working notes on the process in the Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago: The Irving Penn Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago | The Art Institute of Chicago

Below shows some of the Transcripts, I have yet to digest the significance of such notes but will do so in later posts. There are more pages that need transcribing which will also follow.

‘PH of paper greatest importance. Gray stain when even acid paper used without addition of HCL when coating. Bad stain when neutral or alkaline paper (Fabriano, unsized) used. Addition of 1.5 drops per cc of metallic solution required to reduce stain to acceptable level. (Some formulas use oxalic acid in fairly large amount in coating solution. I must explore this more fully.)

Kurt Steirs research (see his notes) indicates paper lasting quality almost entirely dependent on PH of paper. An acid condition is destructive. In our work this acidity is apparently cumulative. An acid paper (W.T.) + acidic result of alum size + hydrochloric acid of process leaves a PH that must be altered by additional chemical baths. (see K.S. notes).

Since we find that W.T. paper is not sufficiently neutral to face our finished prints, we have found from Andrews-Nelson-Whitehead a paper (tissue) used by the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. Our tests indicate a PH of ________. Mrs. Vera Freeman A-N-W paper Co.

There is a serious difference in the behavior of platinum and palladium as a coating medium. Literature to the contrary is nonsense.

Palladium is softer and tends to have softer edges to the grain. It continues to bleach for hours in HCL. The result is an image with something of the quality of a stain. It tends to the brownish and faded look of an old silver-print. Any unevenness is in the original sizing of the paper is multiplied many times in the bleaching process. Our tests indicate that the dry image is absolutely fast to light.) It is difficult to decide on an exposure since one might attempt to prevision the final result of hours later.

Platinum is harder and clearer than palladium. The grain is more apparent than even in the negative from which the print is made. (There is a limit apparently to the softness one can get on platinum.) However the image as it appears in the developer is exactly what will be there even hours of HCL later! This is a joy. (The image of platinum is much slower coming up than palladium. Id guess 3 mins as against 30 seconds to more or less completion of development). Using platinum as the underprinting gives one the chance to abandon the plate early in the game if it seems that the highlights are too dark or too light, since the image is unalterable by further time or manipulation.

Use of iridium with palladium. Is this basically a toning of the palladium image? Great cost is a discouraging factor in its use.

Because of the time consumed in constant experimentation it is necessary to ration oneself and keep the objective of making fine prints foremost. This leaves many technical questions unanswered.

Our whole use of the platinum process for print-making was conditioned by the existence of modern materials, (estar base films, aluminum sheets, surelyn) which enrich the possibilities of hand-coated platinum (palladium, iridium).

The separation of the enlarged negative image into the basic negative + a highlight mask + 1 or 2 overprintings for the shadows gives enormous scope to the printing possibilities. The image is in effect reassembled in an altered relationship of the components.

The Xenon light makes possible a consistent exposure of a consistent color temperature night and day. We have used it always with a paper test strip. The light is actually on a trolley which allows alteration of distance marked on a tape-measure on the floor.

The further the light source is from the printing frame, the nearer it approaches a point source but the time increases in geometric proportion. From a practice time point of view we tend to use 2 1/2 ft for the 4000 Xenon and 36 for the 8000 Xenon. A large fan blows on the printing frame glass during the entire exposure and an exhaust fan removes the heat that builds up rapidly in the exposing room.

There is a die supplied by Condit who made our strips. A punch is used to make the screw holes that eventually hold the registration strip. Indentations were ground into the printing frame glass to accommodate the raised studs of the registration strip and insure absolute flat contact of the elements enclosed in the frame during exposure.’

Bostick and Sullivan started supplying fumed Silica and Alumina last February as an aid to enhancing image quality of alternative printing processes. In respect of platinum/palladium printing it is said to provide better dmax and a deeper matte finish.

Both fumed silica and alumina are extremely fine powdered compounds and can be applied either wet or dry before applying the sensitiser. They are said to be ‘archival’, silica has a neutral ph and tends to give a more warmer tone with slower printing speed whereas alumina is slightly acidic (ph 6.5 to 4.5) giving cooler tones and is generally faster in speed.

Early reports indicate that it does improve dmax on certain papers, although I have yet to see anyone quote actual figures, more side by side comparisons. Coating is critical and needs to be practiced and refined until consistent results are achieved.

We use a number of papers for platinum printing from the thinnest Japanese papers to heavier French watercolour and printing making papers i.e Arches Platine/Cot 320, Fabriano Artistico. The dmax achieved on such papers ranges from excellent to good (1.55 to 1.4 ) Some papers require a pre acid bath to make them suitable for platinum printing which can take the sizing out of papers.

What interests me is that with alumina being slightly acidic it might make previously  unusable buffered papers suitable for platinum/palladium printing i.e Rives BFK, a paper used extensively by Irving Penn. I will be testing a range of papers with alumina over the next few weeks and will report back should the findings be positive.

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