Fayum: Sebastian Mera

Fayum: Sebastian Mera

Sebastian Mera, Duckspool. 1989
8×10 inches, platinum-palladium print on Fabriano 5

Here’s something else about the Fayum portraits – they were intended as a part of a process, a becoming. The person, (in almost all cases, as far as I understand) alive, presenting him or herself to the painter, knew full well where the painting would end up. With that knowledge, there must have been some faith; that the painting would stand for that person in the netherworld. And perhaps do more than just stand for the person. The portrait becomes the person, the person as she existed in the living realm becomes the portrait in the world beyond. The portrait is the contact, the connector, the interface, the relay, the thing itself.


Most of my strongest portraits have been printed directly from the original negatives, which are either 8×10 or 11×14 inches in size. They are big sheets of film, made with big cameras. And they are made in the faith that by rendering a person, I take and become a bit of him or her. Recently, I was asked to describe my ‘process’ for an upcoming publication:


“I like to keep my process as simple, repeatable and disciplined as possible, so that I can fully concentrate on the expressive aspects of printing. There is a conundrum here, because, after all, these three components can kill ‘expression’. I’ll put it another way – I strive to not let process get in the way of eloquence, while being fully aware that each informs and conditions the other. I use HP5 film, process in Pyro PMK, and print using exactly those methods described in Mike Ware’s and my approach to the ammonium-based platinum-palladium printing process. The chief variable is paper, and I prefer to work with highly calendered surfaces such as found on Wyndstone Vellum. I also use Crane’s Business Card Stock Natural or Pearl White Wove (once sold as Crane’s Platinotype by Bostick and Sullivan), Fabriano 5 and Van Gelder Simili Japon.


From the outset, when I began to work with platinum-palladium printing around 1980, I was interested in the expressive capacities of this process rather than the ‘alternativeness’ of photographic practice. Much of my work is concerned with how (big) metaphysical questions are resolved in nuanced ways by the day-to-day experience. Nuance seems to define the platinum-palladium print, and so I prefer to work with the ammonium process more than any other. Mike Ware’s understanding of the need for clarity, and his constant call to apply Occam’s razor whenever possible, have had a profound influence on my work.”


The image here, a photograph of Spanish photographer Sebastian Mera, is a scan of an actual platinum-palladium print.