Mendocino Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Botanical Gardens, CA. 1986
platinum-palladium print from 8×10 inch negative, printed in 1990 on Fabriano 5 paper

From an ongoing conversation about the platinum-palladium printing process with David Chow:

David: What is it about the platinum aesthetic that most appeals to you as a photographer compared to other photographic printing techniques?

The ‘aesthetic’ was summed up best I think by William Crawford, in ‘Keepers of Light’, quoting Beaumont Newhall, who said something like, ‘a good platinum print should just make you sit down, and say ooooh’. To be more specific, I often like to think of the aesthetic relationship between a platinum(-palladium) print and silver gelatin print to be akin to that between a harpsichord and a grand piano. With a print that capitalizes on the full capacities of the pt-pd process, the tones whisper out to the viewer without competing with each other or the paper fiber. A good pt-pd print, for me, makes invisible the process itself – and this includes grain, along with paper fibre and paper surface – and generates an experience of luminosity that is very close to the way we actually see tonal range. Peter Henry Emerson* cited these same qualities in designating the process as most suitable for what he called ‘Naturalistic Photography‘. Many people go into making pt prints with a reference value system that is anchored to silver gelatin printing, and they emerge with wonderful results. I would urge photographers to consider this: how would you print in monochrome if you referenced the way we actually see, and never considered silver gelatin? Then, how would you print silver gelatin based on an experience of printing with platinum? It may quickly become apparent that the silver gelatin print may approximate the nuances of platinum, but is better designed to render its own tonal ‘voice’. Vice versa with the platinum print, and more so with platinum-palladium, and again even more so with palladium. This brings me to the matter of platinum, platinum-palladiu, palladium-platinum and palladium being used interchangeably. Each of these are not synonymous. Each of these renders, respectively, a less and less contrasty tonal range as well as a significantly different color palette. Platinum is the most contrasty and neutral, palladium is the least contrasty and can be made to render a variety of colors, even split tones. Finally contrast also depends on other parameters like paper and processing.

 *The book I most recommend for P H Emerson is Nancy Newhall’s P. H. Emerson: The Fight for Naturalistic Photography – it is a gripping read!