February 2016 Newsletter

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In this newsletter I’m going to write about one of my favourite prints: Venus Rising.

The pictures below are a close-up of the image, and the same print matted and ready to frame. The image is 34cm x 25cm (approximately 13″ x 10″) on 50cm x 37cm paper.

Venus Rising (Matted Platinotype)
Venus Rising (Matted Platinotype)
Venus Rising (Close-up of a Platinotype)
Venus Rising (Close-up of a Platinotype)

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The studio work was done back in 2008 with a wonderful model called Steff. We made several different versions of this composition on 4″x5″, 8″x10″ and 11″x14″ film. Venus Rising is from one of the 11″x14″ negatives.

To make a platinum/palladium print you first paint a ‘sensitiser’ mixture of platinum, palladium and iron salts onto a sheet of paper. When this has dried properly you press the negative against the sensitised paper using a special printing frame and expose it to ultraviolet light. This triggers a reaction that leaves behind the fine particles of pure platinum and palladium that form the image. Finally you process the print using various chemicals to remove any unwanted by-products (especially iron), and wash the print until it is chemically clean.

In many ways the platinum and palladium in the sensitiser are interchangeable, although there are technical, financial and aesthetic reasons why you may not want to do this. For example, platinum is three time more expensive than palladium, and much harder to work with. Platinum tends to produce a subtle grey-black image, while palladium tends to produce a more intense black or more often a heavy brown. Most ‘platinum prints’ sold today are actually made from palladium (or mostly palladium).

Nowadays, all my limited edition nudes are made with an almost pure platinum sensitiser. This is primarily because platinum better suites the subject matter and how I feel about it, but also because I enjoy the challenge of working with platinum. I call them platinotypes, which is the traditional name for a platinum print.

This particular print has 85% platinum in the sensitiser. It is on handmade Herschel paper that is made in Margaux, France. This paper has a beautiful texture which works really well with the subject. You can just about see the texture in the close-up image above (at least with the online version of this newsletter).

End-to-end, making this print takes about three hours of darkroom time: thirty minutes to prepare and coat the paper with sensitiser, one hour to dry it, a few minutes of ultraviolet exposure, thirty minutes to chemically clean the print, and a further hour for washing. Once washed I leave the print to dry overnight. The next day I complete the print by cleaning up any loose paper fibres and repairing any minor flaws. Only when I am completely satisfied with the finished print do I sign it.

Any mistake in the process means I have to throw away what I’ve done and start again. There is no ‘undo’ button in a darkroom!

Although I love this photograph, it is one of my least favourite to print. This is because the soft, misty effect at the bottom and bottom left of the print is done with a lot of ‘dodging’. Dodging involves shielding the print from ultraviolet during exposure using a piece of board which you have to keep continually moving in order to avoid ugly lines on the finished print. (Incidentally, adding extra exposure to part of a print is called ‘burning’.)

Dodging and burning is fairly difficult to do when making platinum/palladium prints – especially considering that you’re wearing heavy, opaque eye protection in order to stop the bright ultraviolet light from damaging your eyes, which means you can barely see what you’re doing. But the finished effect is worth the hard working to achieve it.

This photograph was featured in View Camera magazine in 2012. It is available as part of a limited edition of 24 prints.