Black and white photography and Platinum Printing Learn about platinum printing with Mohan Bhasker

I have always had a fascination and ultimate admiration for black & white photography.  Platinum printing enhances the beauty of B & W photography because it produces photographs with unrivaled luminosity, wide tonal range; and ultimate achievable quality.

Platinum printing was invented in 1873.  By 1907, platinum had become 52 times more expensive than silver.  Russia controlled 90% of the world platinum supply in World War 1 and all available platinum was used in the war effort.  Eventually around 1930, due to the rise of the cost of this metal, the process was abandoned in favor of more economical alternatives such as silver gelatin.. However, in recent years, very few photographers have take up the art of mixing platinum and palladium despite the cost.

In the past, they used the original negative from the large format cameras. Platinum printing is a contact printing, which means the negative has to be the same size as the print you want to produce.  Digital technology has provided us with the ability to print negatives on a transparency paper, which can then be used to make contact printing with platinum process.

Because platinum and palladium are noble metals, when they are embedded in the fibers of the paper, it makes the print unalterable and indestructible.  If properly processed, the print can last over a thousand years.  I use Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag and Arches Platine, a 100% cotton water paper.  This process gives tones that range from cool/warm blacks, neutral grays, to rich sepia browns that are unobtainable in silver gelatin prints. A number of factors such as the ratio of platinum and palladium, the kind of developer, the relative humidity and restraints that are used, can vary the appearance of your print.

Platinum printing process is entirely made by hand.  It begins with the preparation of a photosensitive solution containing platinum and palladium salts in different ratios are mixed with ferric oxalate.  The solution is then coated carefully into the paper.  Once the paper is dried and humidified, the negative and the paper are placed in a contact printing frame and exposed in intense ultra violet light.  After the exposure, a “developer” is then poured on the paper to complete the reduction of metal salts to pure metals as the image appears..  The print then goes through 2 successive clearing baths, each lasting 5 minutes to remove any remaining photosensitive compounds.  Finally, the print is washed extensively with water to leave behind only the pure metals; platinum and palladium.  It is then air-dried.

Because of multiple factors affecting the print process; no two prints appear the same.  Each print is completely unique and one of a kind, making the process extremely special.  The work is labor intensive, but the finished results have the signature and soul of the artist.  A personal touch plays a big role in the platinum print making process.  Platinum printing is for individuals that enjoy the value, effort and satisfaction of handcrafting.  It is the other end of the spectrum of commercialized ink jet printing. In these all-digital times, this classic technology wins the hearts of photographers, collectors, galleries and museums.

To exploit the full potential of platinum process, an image with a wide tonal range is very important and essential.  I have always used analog black and white film for my platinum printing.  Leica Monochrom provides high quality files with rich tonal range, which adapts very well to platinum printing.  My collection of images in my blog from Iceland, Romania, Morocco and Kenya were shot with Leica Monochrom.  I selected these countries because of the interesting cultures and open landscapes that yielded well to B & W photography.

A black and white image converted from an RGB file shot with a digital camera works very well for platinum printing and can be used to make a digital negative.  However, in my opinion, the tonal range and the smooth transitions of the tones are superior in the monochrome files. With monochrome, I have a full control of my exposure in the field as opposed to the film.  I also found the monochrome files were very flexible and cooperative in the postproduction process.

About Mohan Bhasker:

I am a print maker and a professional photographer. I have been teaching photography and print making to both amateurs and professional photographers. I offer workshops for small groups and individuals for platinum printing and silver gelatin darkroom process.  I also conduct photography tours around the world. I have a professional printing lab and provide services for Platinum-Palladium Printing, Silver Gelatin, and Piezography Carbon Printing. My contact information is: (310) 944-2625, tennismohan@aol.com, website. I also provide services to print digital negatives from digital files for both platinum-pallidium and silver gelatin contact printing. 

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