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Thread: Platinum Prints

  1. #1

    Platinum Prints

    Recently I posted the following and got slammed for it.

    "Beautiful prints can also be made on Pt/Pd paper. But few prints on Pt/Pd paper are truly beautiful. Usually, they are muddy (some would say "dreamy") and do not often have rich blacks."

    Why this comment elicited hostility is a mystery to me. The above is my opinion of platinum prints I have seen. Note that I did say that beautiful prints can be made on platinum. Later I added that I had seen some exceptional platinum prints--I was particularly of thinking of Irving Penn's platinum prints.

    In a wonderful article comparing platinum prints to Azo prints, Bob Herbst, had 1.43 as the maximum density for platinum prints, and it is my understanding that densities in that area are generally accepted as standard.

    At the printing plant in Belgium where Paula and I are printing our new Tuscany books they have a Platinum printing atelier. (Next year they will add a Carbon printing atelier and a Dye-Transfer atelier.) I found that they not only make the finest book reproductions (no one else can print 600-line screen quadtone, and 10-micron stochastic printing does not quite come up to it--they do that, too), they also make what are, in my opinion, the finest platinum prints I have ever seen. They get densities in the blacks, on platinum prints, of up to 2.1. Their platinum prints are so rich, that Paula and I will have some of our negatives printed in platinum by them.

    I hope this lets everyone know that I am not against platinum prints. I am just not impressed with a platinum print, unless it is also a good print. Just as I am not impressed with an Azo print unless it is also a good print. It is never the process that ultimately interests me, it is the quality of the finished result.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Feb 1999

    Platinum Prints


    Please keep us posted about how this experiment works out. I am especially interested in how you view the final platinum prints compared to your Azo. This may turn out to be as interesting as Weston's color images. But please explain more about what your goals are for the platinum prints. Do you imagine they will be more beautiful, or perhaps bring out other subtleties in the negative? Or will you be trying to duplicate in platinum what you have already expressed in silver? Did you select negatives that are difficult to print in silver? Do you imagine side by side comparisons in your gallery? If so please share the marketing and opinion results with us. As an extremely dedicated and proven fine art printer, someone to whom the print matters, are you apprehensive about giving up control of the image? Are you confident the makers will be able to achieve the results you specify or will you be leaving some final judgements up to them? The images in your book can only be viewed as reproductions of works of art, on the other hand the platinum prints will be the works of art themselves. For that reason I would think you will approach these two processes very differently. Will you be signing the platinums? I am sorry but I probably have a million more questions. To me this is an exciting opportunity for our community to explore these issues with you, I sincerely hope you feel like sharing.

  3. #3
    Louie Powell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    Platinum Prints

    When I was in college a (very) long time ago, I often got heavily involved in discussions with friends about various aspects of religion. One of the things that made this most interesting to me, as someone who grew up in a fairly strict, conservative religious environment, was the freedom to debate our beliefs on a purely intellectual basis without resorting to emotion or sheer assertion that certain things just had to be.

    So what does that have to do with photography? Well, photography has a lot in common with almost any other aspect of human life and existence in the sense that there are those among us who hold so strongly to their beliefs that they are unable to carry on an intellectual discussion that even remotely challenges some of those principles. Whether it's the Zone System, some "non-Zone" system, Pt/Pd printing, color versus monochrome - the subject doesn't matter because there are going to be people who believe with almost religious ferocity that their opinion is absolute truth and any other point of view is dead wrong.

    Some platinum prints are beautiful. But some are pretty awful. The same can be said of silver prints - or dye-destruction prints - or oil paints - - - pick your medium, the basic fact is always true. Whether the final product truly "sings" depends on three factors - how well the medium matches the subject, the skill of the maker, and the preferences of the viewer.


  4. #4

    Platinum Prints

    Michael, no offense but I doubt they are printing in watercolor paper. But even if that was the case, why would anybody want to make a pt/pd print that looks like an azo print? Might as well tone your prints and be done with it.

    The important thing is not to have a Dmax of 2.1, but to obtain proper separation in the shadows and "convincing" blacks, and that is possible even with a Dmax of 1.4.

    You were not slammed because of your opinion, if you think all pt/pd prints are dull, that is your prerrogative. You were slammed for statements like this:

    I am just not impressed with a platinum print, unless it is also a good print.

    Your definition of "good" can be very different from mine or anybody elses in this forum. This is something you fail to concede to us, apparently because you think your 40 years of experience allow you to tell us what is good and what is not. This is why you were slammed, not because you expressed an opinion.

    Perhaps I am being a bit cynical here, but could these "new" platinum prints be just another way for you to sell your prints at higher prices? or are you having them printed just to display in your house?

    If this are prints to be sold then perhaps the economic incentive is what you like, rather than the "look" of the print.

  5. #5

    Platinum Prints

    If you are at it you can explain your disdain of all sorts of digital printing as well. Yes I know you backtracked somewhat in the past, but I wonder if you still think if a digital print still worth a little over $29.00?

    Again, there are awful prints in all mediums, but one cannot categorically put down alternative processes just because they are not according to your mantra. Even though Pt/Pd prints are often flat, you just cannot knock them, (for your own good) because for some people it is “long scale” . This also doesn’t mean that any other methods are superior or shoddier than your own, but a good print is a good print regardless.

    As for Pt/Pd prints, I’ve seen beautiful and awful ones. Both are possible!

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    New Jersey, USA

    Platinum Prints

    In August at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, I saw the Weston exhibit. There were a LOT of his platinum prints there (and, presumably, palladium also). Anyone who doubts platinum as a medium needs only to see that exhibit or one like it. I hate to admit it, but after that, even St. Ansel's cotact prints looked a bit...dull.

  7. #7

    Platinum Prints

    Although I read this list often with great frustration, I am forced by these latest posts, to respond.

    So long as the technical..."Nanner, nanner, nanner"..."my process is better than yours"...attitude persists, there is little hope for the greater goal...making great photographs.

    How naive of me! Geeze, I always thought that the ultimate goal was attempting to make great photographs. Little did I realize that the name of the game was playing with "tools",... rather than using those tools to build something profound and photographs.

    Perhaps this attitude is the reason why most LF photography, in my opinion, is so incredibly dull and without any emotional or intellectual content.

    If you really want to put things into perspective, just pick up a book of W. Eugene Smith, Irving Penn, Werner Bischof, or others. For those whos goal is great pictures....I think you'll get the message.

  8. #8
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Platinum Prints

    It is never the process that ultimately interests me, it is the quality of the finished result.

    You are kidding, right? Everything I've read from you and about you over the years says this just isn't true. You are interested in the process. You are clearly against any kind of digital output. I don't know whether you think that it's just impossible to improve on old technology or you are just scared of things digital. But you sure seem adamant that, if its digitial, it's vastly inferior. For that matter, you seem to be against any printing technology other than an Azo contact print.

    I'm not saying that your opinion is bad. It's your opinion and you are entitled to it. I just have difficulty believing that you are mystified by some of the hostile responses you elicit.

    Now, did you really want to discuss this, or did you really start this thread so that you could make yet another reference to your books on Italy?

    Bruce Watson

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Nov 1999
    San Clemente, California

    Platinum Prints

    Up till now I've adopted a policy of not posting to these 'attack' threads. I have no dog in this fight. As a non-professional with barely enough time to do any photography at all before retirement, both platinum and the handling of single-weight Azo are potential activities which will wait until at least five years from now. But for some reason, this camel's back was just broken.

    Please, please, please, read Michael's postings, think about what he wrote, stifle any urge to do other than respond to what he actually said (not what you surmise his motivation might be), and even then, let your response sit for a while before posting it. You may cool down and decide not to operate in 'reactive mode' after all. In other words, please "play nice." There was too much struggle on the part of Tuan, Bjorn and Tom re-establishing this forum for it to degenerate into an emotion-driven free for all.

    Would love to say it's good getting that off my chest, but it isn't. Instead it is saddening that normally confrontation-averse me felt compelled to write it.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Seattle, Washington

    Platinum Prints

    Does that mean it's okay for us to like Platinum prints, now that you've given the process your blessing, or should we limit our admiration to the ones you deem worthy? Maybe we should take our densitometers along when we visit galleries to be certain they've met the density requirement of a M. Smith sanctioned Platinum print. Certainly our sense of beauty is not developed to the degree necessary for us to form a meaningful opinion without some quantitative measurement by which to judge. I'm relieved to be free of the burden of taste and discrimination. Thank you Michael.

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