Arizona ArtBeat: Platinum Photography

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Photographic prints using platinum have been produced since 1873 and are still produced today. They are valued for their matte surface texture, subtle range of tones and rich colors. We will take you to an exhibit of the beautiful yet expensive prints in “All that Glitters is Not Gold: Platinum Photography from the Center for Creative Photography,” on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona artbeat" looks at a very special form of photography. Gold is among the most popular precious metals, but in the world of photography, another metal is often more treasured. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Kyle Mounce take us to the Phoenix art museum.

The exhibition is called All that glitters is not gold, platinum photography from the center of creative photography--

Christina Estes: It's a chronological collection that begins in the 19th century when platinum printing was invented.

Rebecca Senf: At the time, the kind of black and white photographs that was available, tended to fade and to yellow.

Christina Estes: Curator Senf said the early prints, soft, like charcoal or pencil drawing, which makes them popular for portraits.

Rebecca Senf: One thing we do is try to distinguish between a typical black and white photograph and platinum prints. A regular black and white photograph, gelatin silver photograph, gelatin, like the gelatin that comes out of the kitchen, and silver, like the metal, is what makes the image area in the black and white photograph. In platinum photographs, the image area is made up of platinum. Just like a platinum wedding band is a more luscious, precious thing than a silver wedding band, platinum photographs, have a kind of lusciousness and preciousness that distinguishes them from the gelatin silver photographs --

Christina Estes: As photography evolved in the mid-20th century A group known as the pictorialists emerged.

Rebecca Senf: They were reacting to an influx of amateur photographers, and, so, in order to help prove that photography could be an art form, they often imitated existing types of art. So painting, print making. They were trying to prove that the camera didn't have to be used like a machine. And that photographs weren't just a product of this mechanistic device.

Christina Estes: Platinum's process is unique. Commercially prepared paper is unavailable. The photographer must apply a special coating before laying down the negative.

Rebecca Senf: That process is called contact printing. And with contact printing, you need a big negative to get a big print. And, so, it requires a special sized camera, and so the whole process requires a kind of involvement and technical knowledge that many photographers don't have.

Christina Estes: As photographers moved towards modernism, Senf said they focused on simple compositions.

Rebecca Senf: Oftentimes they were very abstract. We have a Paul Strand picture that is of sheeps hanging on a clothes line, but he wasn't really -- it is not a picture about sheeps on a clothes line, it is a picture that gives him a chance to show shades and shapes within the photograph.

Christina Estes: Platinum photography lost its appeal during the 1950s and early '60s, but that changed when a fashion photographer began to experiment with the process.

Rebecca Senf: Irving Penn made this beautiful still life that exemplifies the values and benefits of platinum printing. It includes a number of dark tones, metal objects, and light tones, some bones, and platinum is really good at differentiating close tones so you can see the subtle range of tones within the darks and within the lights.

Christina Estes: The final prints in this 85 piece collection are contemporary and diverse. They include highways, landscapes, architecture, and portraits.

Rebecca Senf: One of the advantages of this little group of prints, you can actually see the edges of the paper. And it will allows you to see where the artist, Ray Mortenson, applied the platinum material right to the paper. You can actually see the brush strokes on the paper where this emulsion layer was applied. There is a desire to go back to a process like platinum printing and do these laborious steps because it involves you in the final photograph in a different way. It slows you down. It requires a kind of attention and detail and patience that some people want, especially in this age where everyone has a camera on their phone and where a lot of people are making digital prints. There is a real appeal of this slower, more deliberate, more crafted photograph.

Ted Simons: Just before the exhibit closes later this month, museum will offer a workshop where people can create their own platinum prints. For more information go to the Phoenix Art Museum web site.

Ted Simons: Wednesday, our weekly legislative update with the "Arizona Capitol Times." Hear to those opposed to Phoenix's 35 year transit plan. 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station, thank you.

Rebecca Senf: Norton Family Curator, Phoenix Art Museum

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