Friday, 27 August 2010

Learning from Master Platinum Printer Irving Penn

 Irving Penn was one the finest platinum printers of recent times and created some of the most exquisite, valuable and sort after platinum prints. He was self taught and obsessive about this particular alternative photographic printing process, trying all manner of papers, combinations and mixes of platinum/palladium and even Iridium metals. He is well respected within photographic community first and foremost for being a great photographer,  however he is also championed as leading the revival of the platinum printing  process in the late 1960’s/70’s since becoming dormant for over 50 years.

From reading around the subject, the reason for Penn taking up the platinum printing process was in part due to the fact after taking so much time, care and attention in creating images in the studio and darkroom, once printed in the pages of Vogue and other magazines they would lose a lot of the beauty and subtlety of the original negatives/prints. He wanted to somehow take back his images and ‘transform them from being a thing suitable for reproduction into something entirely different, something beautiful in itself’ (Conversation with Penn and Greenough, 14 January 2003).  Always testing and pushing his technique further and allowing chance and fortuitous discoveries to occur, in the late 1980’s he used a modified banquet camera (12x20 inch) to photographic his own drawings which he would  later paint over and sometimes mix in sand to add greater texture. The book ‘Platinum Prints’ published by Yale University Press in 2005 has an interesting and well written essay by Sarah Greenough that goes into great detail regarding Penn’s printing process. Although it is largely second hand information I can well believe it to be accurate. I came across text actually written by Penn for an exhibition catalogue in 1980 the other day, shown below, although it tells us nothing new it was interesting to read him describe his technique is his own words.

  I think there is probably a lot we still don’t know about his printing method, some printers I have come across refrain from divulging their techniques, which I am fine with as some advances are hard won, indeed Penn once stated that he was ‘jealous’ of sharing his pleasure with anyone.(quoted from ‘The stranger behind the camera: Photographs and Art work by Irving Penn,’Vogue November 2004) However there are other printers that I have come across that are very open with their advances, people that immediately spring to mind who have generously helped my development as a  printer include Mike Ware and Ian Leake.

Renowned platinum printer Stan Klimek, who has printed some of the finest contemporary platinum prints I have ever seen, states in Dick Arentz book on platinum printing that creating a perfect platinum print is like ‘aiming at a moving target’ which is definitely the case these days. With materials such as paper being discontinued all the time or modified to suit other printmaking techniques (buffering of paper with calcium carbonate comes to mind) new papers/transparency films have to be found and tested and new methods of paper/negative preparation and processing techniques have to be devised and adapted. This is why ultimately I believe as more  products people once relied on to create platinum prints are discontinued or changed hybrid techniques will continue to expand and why websites such as (part of APUG) are this are essential to any future development.

Anyway I digress! Coming back to Penn, If  one  looks at the existing information on Penn’s technique what can modern day platinum printers learn from it ?Well for a start we know he muliti layered platinum/palladium onto paper such as BFK Rives, Bienfang, Arches and Strathmore.  Penn obviously did this for a reason and could see significant benefits from this practice, further to this he sometimes made the first coating with platinum and the second with palladium or Iridium, the later I have never come across, has anyone else? What hands on experience have others had with muliti layering contemporary papers such as Platine, Lana Aquarelle, Bergger COT-320,BFK Rives and alternating with coats of platinum and palladium.

 Penn states that he used ‘2 or more negatives of varying contrast to make a single print.’ He was able to register them perfectly by mounting his printing paper onto aluminium using a bond called Surlyn created by Dupont. The reason being to endure the ‘repeating wettings and dryings with little change to the dimension’ of the paper which was required for printing and exposing multiple negatives (A modified version of this was devised by Richard Sullivan using a different bond made by Seal, the advantage being that at the final stage the bond can be heated and the print removed from the aluminium without damaging the print.)Using a digital negative system approach in theory we should be able to replicate this without the use of multiple negatives and successive exposures. As is well known for any given image, modern day photographers can take a series of two digital exposures and combine to create one image, one exposed for the shadows and one for the highlights, then combine them via Photoshop to create an image of ‘High Dynamic Range’ (HDR), this HDR image could then be output via inkjet printer/imagesetter. (A similar approach could be used when scanning film of either two negatives or even one). I am not a fan of HDR images per say, as I find them overly surreal, however if used in moderation it should work the same as using multiple negatives, shouldn’t it?. This is my theory, of course the very act of making successive exposures to multiple negatives of varying contrast could play a significant part, much like the layering of a pigment or gum print, has anyone researched this or established the difference ? I aim to test this theory over the next few weeks by using multiple negatives/exposures versus just a single HDR digital negative with a single exposure to see if there is much of a difference. At the moment for some images I initially create 4 separate negatives each with a slightly different correction curve that I have developed and modified over the years, which i then print all together on one sheet, I then examine the final dried down print and on occasion I combine certain image characteristics that I like of each of the 4 negatives to create one final negative. Probably overly elaborate but it’s the way I like to work.

Another issue is the exposure system used, Penn states that they ranged 'from 2 mins to 2 hours with a single strong Xenon light' I know Sandy King has done significant research into the area of uv exposure systems and it is one that I have overlooked but need to follow up (further information can be found here,  )

A final question….If Penn were alive today and creating platinum prints with the proficiency of his early youth, would he still be creating multiple negatives with successive exposures in the darkroom or would he embracing hybrid techniques such as digital negative creation to achieve the same results?
To conclude, this post has been rather longer than I intended it to be, however I hope others find it thought provoking.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Platinum prints and Liquitex Acrylic Gel

Whilst researching for an upcoming article i am writing I stumbled upon an a pdf written by Richard Sullivan (of Bostick and Sullivan) on platinum printing. It all sounded very familiar until I read what is written below in bold :

'Speaking of personal choices, my printing procedure is as follows. I coat Arches Platine paper with a Pd/Pt sensitizer (3:2). I use more FeOx than metal: a 4x5 print, for example, is coated with 6 drops FeOx Sol.1, 3 drops of Pd, and 2 drops of Pt. I control contrast not with the sensitizer, but the developer, specifically Potassium Oxalate developer with Sodium Dichromate as the sole contrast agent. I use Kodak Hypo Clear for three clearing baths of 5 minutes apiece. Processing is done in a Jobo drum at 25rpm. After 25 minutes in an archival washer I dry the prints face up on fiberglass screens and then soak each for one minute in an 6% solution of Liquitex Acrylic Gel Medium which increases the Dmax and tonal separation, cools the print color slightly, and also gives the print a slight amount of glossiness.'

I have never heard of this being used in the platinum printing process let alone used to modify dmax, tonal separation, print color or the glossiness of the final print. I think the article was written some time ago. I should recieve some in the next day or so and will be testing it out.


Further info on Liquitex Acrylic Gel Medium

Liquitex Gel Mediums add body to thinner paint for impasto techniques as well as extending colour volume and adding transparency. Gels also add “open time” as they dry slower than thinner films. These mediums also modify acrylics in a variety of ways and tend to improve adhesion and durability.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Challenge of Creating Large Alternative Prints

After many late and sleepless nights today I finally successfully printed a cyanotype measuring 34x27 inches (approx 90x70cm) that I am happy with (see final image, 10x8” print on the right to show scale). I suppose on refection it has taken some 8 years to get to this stage as I always wanted to print this large but early on I was limited by my resources. The jump from 10x8 inches to 20”x16” was a challenge in itself, it took almost three months to learn how to successfully coat the paper this size without any surface imperfections. The jump to 34”x27” was similarly challenging, again in terms of coating, this larger size is 9 times the surface area of a 10x8” print, other hurdles included finding a suitable paper that would take enough sensitiser without creating paper flaws, sourcing developing trays, printing negatives that size without loss of detail in the final print. I am now limited by the paper size which I print with as I can only obtain it in 39”x27” (100x70), although I really don’t intend on going that much larger.

The next process I intend to print this size is a kallitype toned with platinum and then finally a platinum/palladium print, I am sure there will be as many hurdles that will need to be overcome however I am looking forward to trying. Will post my progress on the blog.

After Coating

Before Exposure

During Exposure

Developing print in Water

Final Print (34x27 on left -10x8inch on right hand side)

Monday, 23 August 2010

A dialogue with Hewlett Packard Colour Scientist Angel Albarran

 Following the news that HP have brought out a module to help in the creation of digital negatives, I received an email out of the blue from Angel Albarran, the colour scientist at HP who devised the digital negative module for the HP Z3200, he wanted to know some further information about my own darkroom set up. I went onto to ask him if he would elaborate on how the Z3200 creates negatives and he replied by sending me links to the full documentation for the printer. I also asked him whether he would join in an open dialogue on the subject on the Hybrid photography forum and he has now done so. To follow the thread please visit :

The documentation for the Z3200 concerning digital negative creation can be found here :

One of the most interesting replies was from Ron Reeder who is an expert in digital negative creation, he stated on the thread :

‘I just read through Angel Albarran's PDF describing the new HP approach to digital negatives. Here is how I see it: In the HP method negative contrast is set by adding more or less black to a specific green color. This is a fine method, kind of a combination of choosing a specific color with the correct contrast (PDN and RNP array) or setting maximum ink limits (in either the Epson driver or QTR). The HP digital negative module alters the ink settings so that a gradient of ink tones, from 0 to 100% ink, will linearly transmit UV light over the entire gradient. This would appear to be a useful innovation. The claim in the PDF (which appears reasonable to me) is that linearizing UV transmission will reduce the severity of any subsequent correction that might be applied. HOWEVER, few photo emulsions I know of respond linearly to UV light. So, a correction curve will almost always be needed (as acknowledged in the PDF). The necessary correction curve is still applied to the image file. But, since it will hopefully be more mild it should also be less destructive.

One of the good parts is that the HP method takes advantage of the built-in spectrophotometer to measure a test print and construct the correction curve.

The really good news, to my mind, is at the end of the PDF. A method is detailed to use the built-in spectrophotometer to profile the entire tri-color gum printing process and make the needed ICC profiles. In principle you would then be able to color correct tri-color gum printing and get the exact color you originally aimed for. This could be a great boon for gum printers striving for predictable color output. BUT, as nice as the HP method seems to be, I will still stick to QTR.

HP has decided that green with some black is the best color for even smooth tonality. Maybe so, maybe no. It is not my choice and in the HP method you have no control over the color. And, I still prefer to put all the corrections on the ink settings and not on the image file.

Bottom line, it is really great that a big company like HP would pay attention to the needs of our rather niche market (unlike some big companies we could name). The the HP solution is really pretty good. Like they say, it is a contender.

Ron Reeder’
 Full credit to Angel for being able to convince a major printer manufacturer to develop a printer workflow for digital negative creation. I will be posting more information about this new printer when it becomes available it.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Video regarding HP Design-jet & Digital Negatives

HP recently released a video regarding their latest ink jet printer that has driver setting specifically designed for digital negatives. They are printing 24inch negatives for Elliott Erwitt using green and black inks. I have been using digital negatives for almost 7 years now, however it is an interesting collaboration and shows at least one manufacturer is taking digital negatives quite seriously. I would like to see the actual print before passing judgement however Erwitt seemed happy!

Video link -