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The Platinum Print - Photographic Processes Series - Chapter 7 of 12

The platinum print, invented in 1873, is a matte finish, black-looking print that was created to elevate photography as a fine art. It involves brushing chemistry onto paper, creating a unique effect. The process is expensive and uses noble metals like platinum. The resulting prints are very permanent and don't fade.

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Video transcript

The platinum print comes at the same time that the albumen print is the most commercially successful process. But they’re very different. The platinum print is a matte finish print It’s a neutral color meaning it’s more black looking. The platinum print comes as an attempt to elevate photography as a fine art. The platinum print was invented in 1873 by William Willis and Alfred Clements. It involves using platinum metal. Although there are manufactured papers often times you see very beautiful brush strokes on the paper surrounding the image. That’s an effect of literally brushing the chemistry onto the paper. Museums often mat those out but when I get to look at a print in the archive I open up the mat and I see those brush strokes and I go, ah that’s a platinum print, has to be a platinum print. To me, it’s something really beautiful. So these are examples of platinum prints This is an example of a contemporary photograph made by Craig Barber. And you can see the brush strokes which show where he’s coated the paper with the chemicals. It’s a contact printing process. So you produce the negative to whatever size you want the final print to be. You would place it in contact with the sensitized paper and expose with sunlight and after exposure a faint image would appear. Once you place the photograph in the developer the image is fully realized. This is a platinum print by Frederick Evans who was a master of the process. I think one of the most beautiful examples of a platinum print. You can see the characteristics of the process. It has a matte finish and a very long tonal range. Frederick Evans was an aesthete. They called themselves Pictorialists and made beautiful photographs. The Pictorialists were looking for something that was not garish something that was more painterly. The image sits in the paper rather than on the paper. Platinum gives you a broader tonal range than any other process even digital today I would argue. The platinum print is often called ‘The King’ of photographic prints. It is regal because of the metals. They’re called noble metals, gold, platinum. Not everybody can do this process because it’s very expensive and it actually dies out around World War I because they need platinum for the war effort. But one of the things about the platinum print that’s very special is that it’s a very permanent print. Platinum prints don’t fade. They may yellow in the highlights because of bad processing but the image never fades.