by Tillman Crane
Platinum prints are known for their beauty, archival stability and unique, one-of-a-kind print statement. Made from the salts of platinum and palladium, these prints are also called “platinotypes” or “platinum/palladium” prints. Platinum and palladium are noble metals, and resistant to oxidation. The platinum salt emulsion is imbedded into the fiber of the paper during the printing process. As long as the paper remains intact, the print will retain its appearance for hundreds of years.
In the late 1800s, making a platinum print was a commercial process. Photographers bought pre-coated paper from any number of manufacturers including Kodak and Ilford. Creating platinum prints today involves considerable time, effort and materials. My photographs in The Homer Studio Project were made from hand-mixed and hand-coated emulsions. Making prints this way is labor intensive, but it also means that no two photographs are exactly alike. I like to think of them as “monotype” prints from the same negative.
As with many historical photographic processes, the size of the print is equal to the size of the negative. For The Homer Studio Project, I worked primarily with an 8x10 view camera, and created larger digital negatives from which 16x20 prints could be made. When the negative is ready for printing, the emulsions are mixed, coated on the paper with a brush, and dried. Once dry, the negative is placed in direct contact with the paper, and exposed to ultraviolet light for anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour.
All platinum prints have a matte surface, because the emulsion is absorbed into the paper rather than sitting on the surface. There is also a more gradual change from black to white along its tonal range, giving it a softer feel. The image tone of a platinum print can vary widely in color. The proportions of platinum to palladium in the emulsion, choice of developers and the temperature of the developer control the final colors of the print, which can vary from cool, purple blacks to warm, rich browns. Occasionally emulsion brush strokes can be seen in some of the prints. They should be seen as marks of the artist.