Printing with Platinum Palladium Metals
Printing on Platinum/Palladium has a long tradition from the onset of the history of photography, in spite of the first processing patent only being registered in England in 1873 by William Willis.
It became widespread until the First World War although at that time, due to the problems of costs and the difficulty in obtaining Platinum and Palladium, diverted in the meantime for wartime uses, the process was almost forgotten until the beginning of the 1970s. At the time an article, by the ‘master printer’ George Tice, published in a volume of Time-Life Books (1972) brought to life interest in this type of printing as a photographic speciality in the ‘fine arts’ field.
Photographers like Frederick Evans, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz or Edward Weston, among others, were some of the most important users of this technique since the 19th Century. However it was the great North American photographer Irving Penn, one of the most outstanding contemporary artists, who skilfully printed on Platinum/Palladium a considerable part of his best images.
The printing procedure starts with a careful choice of high quality paper, 100 % cotton. Next it is coated with a special solution of platinum/palladium salts, this being a critical process as the paper absorption of the solution has to be carefully controlled. The second step consists of exposing the paper to ultra violet light in contact with a negative of the same size as the print, which is then processed and washed. The result of this process is an image with a unique atmosphere formed only by the metallic micro-particles of pure Platinum/Palladium embedded in the paper fibres.
This photographic printing technique is different to others due to the inexistence of any additional substrata (making the image part of the paper) and for the chemical stability of the platinum and palladium. The images are as permanent as the high quality paper that acts as their base. In perfect conditions their duration can be measured in hundreds of years, making the ‘Platinum/Palladiums’ much desired by both museums and photography collectors.
Also of note is the complete lack of gloss, the extensive delicate range of tones, the sense of depth and other less tangible attributes that give these prints a unique quality and luminosity
Even though the print technique that we use today respects the classic procedures delineated in the 19th Century, digital methods today permit the production of negatives that are the same size as the final image in special gelatine/ceramic film. In this way, the best results can be obtained by using traditional negatives as well as digital files.