By Carl Weese
It might be surprising, but I consider the most important variable in platinum printing, both technically and aesthetically, to be the paper, not the chemicals. The chemicals—double salts of platinum and palladium combined with ferric oxalate to make a coating solution—are pretty much the same as when the process was invented in the 1870s. You can modify the appearance of the print by changing the proportions of platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd), or by using additives to increase the contrast or shift the color, but the biggest changes, and so the most important creative decisions, come from choice of paper.
In the heyday of platinum printing, manufactured, store-bought papers were the norm. Kodak alone made thirty different platinum papers around 1900. Warm and cool, thick and tissue-thin, smooth and rough—a vast array of choices, all of which disappeared around WWI when the noble metals because precious wartime commodities. The revival of Pt/Pd printing in the 1970s didn’t attract any manufacturers and to this day Pt/Pd prints are all prepared by hand, mixing the coating solution for each print and applying it to the paper with a brush or glass tube.
The weight (thickness), texture, and color of the paper all affect the appearance of the final print. However, it’s more complicated than that. The coating and eventually the image area of the print aren’t just applied to the paper like a crayon or charcoal; the coating solution interacts chemically with the sizing of the paper, and those reactions affect many aspects of the print, including color and contrast. Or, they make the paper useless for the process. Most papers are in that category, because manufacturers seeking the “archival” label for their products load them up with alkaline buffering agents. The coating needs a neutral or slightly acidic environment, so coating on a buffered paper results in dismal failure. Some papers with too much buffering can be rescued by treating them in a bath of highly dilute oxalic acid. Three-minute soak, hang up to dry, and the sheets are ready to print on in the morning. Fabriano Artistico is a paper that responds well to this treatment and the natural white version is one of my favorites.
2016 has been a banner year for platinum printers. Arches Platine, which has been around for years as the only paper manufactured and expressly intended for platinum printing, was revised with a new and improved version. Magnani Platinum, an excellent paper for platinum printing that was introduced a few years ago, then disappeared, is now available again, though I haven’t had a chance to test it yet. Most important, this spring, the venerable Hahnemühle company developed and introduced a new paper built from the ground up especially for Pt/Pd printing, though it is also proving to be excellent for many other alternate photographic processes. There are also several Japanese exotic-fiber papers specially prepared for Pt/Pd; they’re lovely, as well as stunningly expensive. I chose to use Hahnemühle Platinum Rag for this print offer because the characteristics of the paper are perfect for the two selected pictures.
Tomorrow I’ll describe the testing/experimenting process I went through to learn how to work with a newly introduced paper.
©2016 by Carl Weese, all rights reserved
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