Tom Normand, in his book, Scottish Photography: A History, ‘examines the photograph as an object, a form of documentary, and as a memorial; and the ways in which the Scottish connection has altered or defined these forms.’ [from the cover notes]

The following passage is quoted, with permission from the author, from the chapter, ‘Photography and Art’. Any hypertext has been added by the site manager.

‘Given that so much contemporary art has been styled as a radical negation of the formal conventions of artwork, it is surprising that the fine art photographic print still maintains a credibility and force. The element of craft and technical expertise can seem retrogressive in an atmosphere of fevered conceptualism and self-conscious avant-garde dissonance. Certainly the photograph has been subject to this radicalisation with the ‘snapshot’, the vernacular photograph, the serial study, the neutral or ‘deadpan’ form, the confesional abject image, the conceptual photograph all finding favor within the contemporary art world. Indeed, all of these forms have been captured by the institutions, the galleries and the academies, so that in some sense they construct the new establishment. Within this frame the photographers who remain fascinated by the metier appear both conventional and contradictory. Conventional, in that they recognise a history which remains unresolved and open to development, and contradictory, in that they oppose the measured intellectual strategies of the conceptual in favor of a subtly subversive concern with form and content.

Within the Scottish context it has been the latter category of photographer, intrigued by the finite study, the crafted image, the pristine print, that has occupied the foreground of photographic studies. This is not to say that this prevailing approach has been purely formal. In every case there has existed the blend of the formal with a set of intellectual concerns that presents a complete aesthetic. This aesthetic tends to reject the relativisim and reflexivity of the postmodern in favor of a kind of contemporary modernism. With this circumstance the initiatives of a number of contemporary practitioners approaching the photograph as object becomes of the higest significance.

The issue of the fine art print has always been a feature of the work of Pradip Malde (b. 1957) for a number of years. Malde, born in Tanzania, trained at the Glasgow School of Art, and currently working in the United States, has explored historic printing processes, most especially in collaboration with Mike Ware. Ware is a noted chemist who has long been fascinated with the modification and modernisation of 19th-century photographic printing methods. His classic work was on the Cyanotype, a technology first developed by Sir John Herschel in the 1840s and refined by Ware in the 1990s. With Malde he explored the potential for a new method of creating photographic prints using platinum. This method was originally developed by William Willis in 1873, and, whereas the Cyanotype produced a print suffused with rich blue tone, the Platino-Palladiotype Process created prints with a spectrum of tone through silver, grey, and umber[43]. The newly developed platinum process, safer and more stable, has been employed by Malde in a number of situations. He has been commisioned by the Imogen Cunningham Trust to make contemporary platinum prints from the esteemed photographer’s original negatives,[44] and has employed the technology in his own practice.

Pradip Malde’s meticulous photographs have set a marker for the efficacy of the fine print. Poignant and myserious, they conjure with the everyday in a manner that releases the extraordinary potency of the commonplace object. An early work like ‘Love: Bathroom Window, Duckspool’, 1989 [FIG.131] offers a dark, interior space and a blown curtain against a window frame. The open window presents a passage into the softly focused light of the outside world, while the interior space tenders an outline of walls and ceiling in silver and grey. The blown curtain, a frozen moment from a chance billowing of gossamer fabric, conotes notions of transience and passing; a discrete metaphor for mortality and a life bounded, as the title tells, by love. There is a link here to the sentiments and practices engaged by eminent Pictorialists at the end of the 19th century. Like these individuals there is a concern for the virtue of the object and a poetic symbolism at the heart of the design. Even in his more contemporary work, for example ‘Expiration II’ [FIG.132], completed in 2003, Malde has involved these associations. This image, the crown of a doll’s head and a foreshortened face all in the lower quartile of a portrait format photograph, is completed with an exhaled breath that drifts into the central and uppermost spaces of the picture. This unnerving ‘still life’ construction, with ‘breath’ composed from fibre, reprises those themes of transience and the fine thread that binds individuals to life itself, which has become a leitmotif in Malde’s haunting photographs.

 

Love: Bathroom Window, Duckspool. 1989. (from series ‘Memory. Balance. Love.’)
Platinum-palladium print from 8×10 inch original negative

Expiration II 2003 (from series ‘Campsite for the Non-Citizen‘)
Platinum-palladium print from 11×14 inch original negative

[43] This experimentation contributed to the fascination with printing methods and chemical options to the extent that a whole school of radical printing emerged in the final decades of the 20th century. See Lyle Rexer, ‘Photography’s Antiquariun Avan-Garde; the New Wave in Old Processes’, Newy Yord, n.d.

[44] This commission led to the publication Pradip Malde and P. Celina Lunsford, ‘Imogen Cunningham: the Poetry of Form’, Berkeley, 1994