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Thread: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Pasadena, CA

    Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    I've been reading yet another Irving Penn book and I noticed that there were some contact sheets of Hasselblad negs. A few of these negs were made into 20x26 and larger platinum prints.

    Since digital negatives didn't exist then, how did he do this?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Melbourne Australia

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    Generally speaking you usually project the original negative in an enlarger, onto sheet film at the size required.

    If the next process required the emulsion to be in a mirror image of what it was projected, then you would normally use duplication film which is designed for emulsion to emulsion duplicating and you end up with a large piece of film that could be contact printed by whatever process, with the emulsion in the last film being used, in contact with whatever you are printing onto.

    It would be very handy but not strictly 100% required, to have access to a vacuum frame for the film duplicating.

    In the graphic arts trade house I worked in, we had access to 48" x 36" vacuum frames, we often used that size of film, which came in rolls.

    One of the more normal processes we did was to make a mural sized photograph from a 35mm transparency. First we enlarged it onto either 4x5 or 8x10 colour neg film especially designed for this process. We then used the colour neg to enlarge the picture onto either 48" or 72" wide colour paper, up to 18' in one single piece. The enlarger(s) were horizontal units running on little railway tracks in what can best be described as a small cinema sized room. The paper is held up on the vertical steel wall by strong magnets.

    Once exposed you somehow get it into a paper processor without crinkling it.

    Remember this is all done in the dark!

    Last edited by Mick Fagan; 12-Aug-2007 at 03:59. Reason: Spelling

  3. #3
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    Doesn't he make inkjet prints of them now though - a bit easier
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  4. #4
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    There are a number of variations on the process that Mick describes. Many people still make traditionally enlarged negatives.

    The easiest method with currently available materials would probably be to make an interpositive on ortho film and contact print the interpositive to another sheet of ortho film to make the enlarged negative.

    Another option is to make a small print and dupe it to negative film with a large camera, if you have a large camera.

    I know one photographer who goes from medium format original neg to 4x5" film interpositive to 8x10" enlarged neg for pt/pd.

    It is possible to make an interneg in one step by projecting the original neg onto film with an enlarger and reversal processing the film as you would for B&W slides. dr5 was offering this service, and I suppose still does (, and there is a description of the reversal process on

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    I used to make enlarged b&w negatives in the darkroom (6x7 or 4x5 to 8x10). It was probably the least enjoyable and most tedious aspect of photography I've ever experienced. I used both dupe film that Mick mentions (sold by Freestyle, it probably was xray film, Kodak had stopped making dupe film by then) and lith film. The dupe film sold by Freestyle produced very little contrast and was difficult to work with for that reason so I switched to lith film.

    The two big problems with lith film were a loss of detail as you went from negative to positive to negative and a build-up of contrast with each step. Dust was also a huge issue with lith film. The standard means of dealing with excessive contrast was to use a highly dilute developer, I used D76 1-8 and Dektol 1-4 as I recall. But because of the high dilutions the developer lost strength with each piece of film put into it so it was difficult to judge the developing time from one to the next. One negative might be too dense but to change it you not only had to reduce the exposure time, you also had to try to guess at the increase in development time. A tray of developer was only good for a few sheets of film.

    All of this is from distant memory (and unpleasant memories at that) so I may have described things wrong but I think it conveys the basic point that this was an incredibly PITA process for a home darkroom worker like me. While it was possible to eventually obtain an acceptable negative, the time and effort involved in doing so were all out of proportion to the results (which is why I bought my first 8x10 camera). Does (or did) Penn make the enlarged negatives himself in the darkroom or were they made by someone else?
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  6. #6
    bob carnie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Toronto, Ontario,

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    For enlarged negs for platinum printing I would first make a contact dupe on Ilford ortho film as David suggests, then place the dupe in the enlarger with Ilford FP4 in the easal,* in my case I use 16x20 FP4 and process in a Jobo with HC110 as the developer.
    What I do not like about this process is the FP4 exposure is so fast there is no time for dodge/burn. I guess I could add ND filters to slow the exposure down.
    Now I am working on an idea of scanning the smaller film at high rez and working on the file then outputing onto FP4 to any size I want on my Lambda76.Right now my difficulty is large film processing of the output to very reliable/predictable results.
    I am going to start with trays and extended times, but am looking for an auto process that will work for me.

  7. #7
    Louie Powell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    As others have noted, the traditional approach is to make enlarged negatives. This used to be fairly straightforward using a ortho film. Unfortunately, the its nearly impossible to find a continuous tone ortho film - most of what's out there is litho film, and getting continuous tonalities is very difficult.

    Last summer, I took a workshop on Pt/Pd printing with Tillman Crane. The first day was supposed to be dedicated to making enlarged negatives, but we had to give up because we simply weren't able to get decent results.

    The other approach is to scan the negative, and then enlarge it digitally onto overhead transparency film. There are complete directions on the Alternative Photography web site for using either Photoshop or The Gimp to make enlarged digital negatives, and Dan Burkholder has a book on the subject. I've made a few 5x7 Pt/Pd prints from 35mm negatives this way.

  8. #8

    Re: Irving Penn & large negs for platinum printing

    Another method not mentioned is having a service bureau output a dithered printing (as in offset press) negative. The easiest way would be to scan the original, then send an image file. Dan Burkholder use to teach this method. Personally I think the results are better than from inkjet output to transparency, though it misses that convenience factor.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio

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