Platinotype by Pradip Malde and Mike Ware

Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process is the complete book on Platinotypes with the work of 40 artists using the platinotype. Read the interview with the authors Pradip Malde and Mike Ware.

Photography / Pradip Malde, Mike Ware and Rachel Malde.

This volume is the ninth in the Routledge Alternative Process series, edited by Christina Z. Anderson and published by Routledge.

Platinotype book by Pradip Malde and Mike Ware
Quoting Pradip Maldes Facebook post:
“One of my favorite images (and prints) graces the cover, by Imogen Cunningham. “Birdcage and Shadows, 1921″ is, I believe, a photograph of a shadow cast by a young Brett Weston.”
Platinotype portrait of Pradip Malde
Rachel Malde: Pradip Malde, 2016. Courtesy Rachel Malde.

Pradip Malde interviewed by Malin Fabbri

What is your favourite process and why?

Pradip Malde: It is both complicated and easy to specify which is my favorite photographic printing process. There is always a profound, and inseparable relationship between the image and the material it is expressed in. And this relationship flows in both directions. The printing process can determine the kind of photograph one takes at the earliest stages of expression, and vice versa. I feel I have so much to say, visually, that having a diverse ‘palette’ of techniques would just slow my work down. Thus, I don’t see myself as an ‘alt process photographer’; I am a one-trick pony as such! So, the easy answer to what is my favorite process and why is: printing-out platinum/palladium, because of its tonal elegance and simplicity of method. This combination lets me just get on with the work.

Platinotype by Pradip Malde
Pradip Malde, Julia Ivan, a retired ngariba, young Sarah Christoms reaching out to her mother, Rose Petro, and Raheli Msagala, a retired ngariba and AFNET activist, all of whom reject the practice of female genital cutting. Near Kongwa, Tanzania, 2017. Platinum-palladium print on Reich CT 24#, from digitized 8 x 10 inch original, 24.5 x 19.5 cm. Fe2:Pt:Pd = 2:1:1, 20 min hydration in 100% RH / 20°C.

Why did you become interested in platinotype?

Pradip Malde: I first looked at platinum prints in an exhibition around 1978, and was so moved by them that I walked out of the London gallery and headed straight for a well-known photo supply store. Naively, I asked the shop assistant for a box of platinum paper. He patiently explained that there was no such thing to be had! It took some five years or so before I held a print in my hand that came partway to satisfying me; and this, only because of having connected with Mike Ware in 1982.

Platinum palladium print by Pradip Malde
Pradip Malde, Kanchan Malde, Leaning Forward, Maloo House, Rajasthan, India, November, 1995. Platinum-palladium print (1:1) on Wyndstone vellum, from original 8 x 10 inch negative. 9.75 x 7.75 inches. Courtesy Pradip Malde

Why did you select the platinotype process for your new book?

Pradip Malde: Few texts in the 1970s, when I saw platinum/palladium prints for the first time, provided detailed practical instructions. Just as scarce were suppliers of chemicals and equipment, and that most crucial of ingredients: papers that were suitable for coating with sensitizer. Despite this, a few collectors, curators, historians, and practitioners during the 1960s and 1970s recognized the particular aesthetic pull of platinum and palladium prints, and began to bring their fascination for this medium into the public realm.

Then, as even now, the vast majority of writing concentrated on development methods of making platinum/palladium prints, using sensitizer and developer recipes that are largely derivatives of those formulated by William Willis. More specifically, most recipes utilize potassium salts of platinum and palladium, and ferric oxalate as the light-sensitive compound. While some contemporary texts refer to the printing-out method as a curiosity and a variant worth investigating, this book is the first practical manual devoted entirely to providing a detailed account of the printing-out method using ammonium salts. It results from a thorough re-examination of the platinotype and palladiotype chemistry. We began to collaborate in 1982. Our research led us to re-formulate a modernized printing-out process resembling Pizzighelli’s “direct printing platinotype” of 1887. Our printing-out method, initially referred to as the “Ammonium System” and later referred to as the Malde-Ware method, was published in 1986 and taught in workshops at Paul and Angela Hill’s Photographer’s Place in Derbyshire, Peter and Sue Goldfield’s Workshops at Duckspool in Somerset, and elsewhere. We wanted to make available a summation of our decades of testing and experience, with clear and detailed instructions for making printing-out platinum/palladium prints.

Where do you see the platinotype process going in the future?

Pradip Malde: The medium lends itself to a nuanced tonal range, and therefore to renderings of human skin and fluid landscape. Platinum/palladium prints, especially printing-out versions, have a velvety quality that can mesmerize a viewer; and being formed from precious metals, they create a com- pelling cachet for collectors. In sum, these properties can change the way the medium is used in contemporary photographic practice and vice versa, and I hope these shifts are apparent in the eighty-plus examples of prints in the book. Documentary work, printed in platinum/palladium, brings us to consider both the “vent” and the conveyance (the print), to consciously traverse the difficult territory between privilege and access as in works by Virgil DiBiase and Lucy Wimmer. Highly conceptual and political approaches, as taken by Angela Berry, Shaun O’Dell, and Paula Luttringer, become subjective and visceral through the materiality of the process. The painterly and magical realms also find their voice here, unveiled in prints such as those by Cathy Cone, Pamela Heemskerk, and Gilles Lorin. These approaches, though they seem to be on the periphery of platinotype orthodoxy, don’t ever lose their relevance to more familiar expressive uses of the medium, as we see in Imogen Cunningham’s or Ellie Young’s work. Our point is that the physical characteristics of a well-seen and printed image, and the ensuing experience of looking at a platinum/palladium print are captivating. This experience has the capacity—like any effective artistic experience—to transform us, and it is for this reason that we, as photographer/printers, have a moral imperative. The book provides examples of not just technical prowess, but of process being harmoniously absorbed into the creative act of seeking and discovering. The experience of the beautiful is unifying, and is the keel that keeps us balanced, that stabilizes us through darkness and dilemma.

Platinum pallladium print of Buddah
Buddha, Back. 1999. Platinum-palladium print on Wyndstone vellum from 11×14 original negative
Platinum palladium portrait of Mike Ware
Pradip Malde, Mike Ware, Madison County, VA. 2014. Platinum-palladium print on Reich CT 24#, from enlarged PiezoDN digital negative of full-frame digital original (Leica M9 / Summilux 35mm), 25 x 35 cm. Courtesy Pradip Malde. Fe1:Pt:Pd = 2:1:1, 20 min hydration in 100% RH / 20°C.

Mike Ware interviewed by Malin Fabbri

What is your favourite process and why?

Mike Ware: It has to be chrysotype because – unlike all the other siderotype processes I’ve worked on over 40 years– I can regard it as my creation. Back in 1984 Kodak kindly awarded me one of their Photographic Bursaries to support my research into a printing process in pure gold, which did not then feature in the photographic repertoire, except as a toner for silver. The Bursary was for one year, but it set the wheels in motion for the next five, during which I became captivated by the astonishing range of colours that I could conjure chemically out of nanoparticle gold images, including pink, magenta, brown, purple, violet, dull blue, and grey green. These surreal colours contrasted with the disciplined tones of platinum-palladium, as expressed by Pradip, but they are still monochrome in essence, using conventional black and white silver-gelatin or digital negatives. One of my motives in exploring this process was to widen the choice of colour for artists to reinforce the expressive intent of their images, in the same way that a composer chooses a key for a piece of music.

Why did you become interested in chrysotype?

Mike Ware: That’s easy for a chemist to answer: in the Periodic Table of the Elements, gold immediately follows platinum –its atom has just one more electron– so the ion gold(3+), has exactly the same number and type of electrons as platinum(2+), and they therefore closely resemble each other in their chemistry. In 1983, experimenting successfully with platinotype, I couldn’t resist trying to make analogous chrysotypes –but I was then quite ignorant of photohistory, that Sir John Herschel had already done so 141 years earlier in 1842! His raw photochemistry lacked subtlety in gradation, however, and demanded some modern chemistry for refinement, so it wasn’t until 1987 that I reached the chemical breakthrough that enabled a process with tones as fine as platinotype. The new chrysotype process was published in 1992, and the first workshop, with Pradip Malde and Roger Vail, was conducted in Monterey County, California in 2000. My books on Gold in Photography and The Chrysotype Manual were published in 2006 by Paul Daskarolis. In 2010 and 2011, Ellie Young hosted my workshops in the process at her – appropriately named – Gold Street Studios in Victoria, which were attended among others by Leanne McPhee, whose beautiful volume on Chrysotype has just preceded ours in this Routledge series.

Platinotype by Mike Ware
Mike Ware, Shrouded Blockship, Orkney, 1983. Platinum-palladium print from enlarged copy negative (Kodak SO 015) of original 6 x 9 cm rollfilm negative, 28 x 41 cm. Courtesy Mike Ware.

Why did you select the platinotype process for your new book?

Mike Ware: It wasn’t a case of selecting the process: it had already selected us! Pradip and I have been collaborating since 1982 on making platinotype more accesssible, reliable, and economic. Now seems a good time to mark the culmination of that 38-year friendship by publishing a full account of the printing-out process that we have evolved together. Pradip explains this very well in his answer to this question, so I’ll just add three reasons for “selecting” platinotype, which were originally advertised in 1898 as “permanent, artistic, and simple”:

  • Permanent, because platinum pictures could last a millennium as flat objects, properly stored, and they will always be humanly readable without benefit of computer. Images that have been physically dematerialised as strings of binary digital code, and stored electronically on semiconductor chips in fallible high-tech hardware, will always prove ephemeral.
  • Artistic, because platinotypes have a totally matte surface, of lively texture, which is immune to reflective glare and provides us with objects resembling those other works of art on paper: graphite pencil drawings, etchings, engravings, and mezzotints.
  • Simple, because an aqueous chemical solution, without colloidal binders, is easily absorbed into the surface fibres of fine cellulose paper, then photolysed by UV to produce embedded images in nanoparticles of noble metal. The hand-making of such a photographic print yields a thoroughbred object of simple integrity, consonant with the artistic ideal of being true to one’s materials.
Platinum palladium print by Mike Ware
Mike Ware, Bridge at Buchanty, Glenalmond, Perthshire, 1985. Platinum-palladium print on Revere Platinum from enlarged digital PiezoDN negative of 6 x 7 cm. Original. 20.2 x 28.8 cm. Fe3:Pt:Pd = 2:1:1, hydration for 90 min at 76% RH / 20°C. Courtesy Mike Ware

Where do you see the platinotype process going in the future?

Mike Ware: When Green logic finally succeeds in banning the internal combustion engine, there may well be a glut of platinum and palladium flooding back onto the precious metals market, as catalytic convertors are thrown onto the scrapheap. With a substantial drop in cost, the process may become less rare and more widely practiced in the future, as it once was in 1900.

I can’t foresee any significant advances in the chemistry of platinotype, which has been well explored and worked out: as Pradip says, we are still –in essence– using Pizzighelli’s formulation of 1887. However, one component of the process lies beyond our control, but does need improvement: the paper. We must persuade the makers of paper for siderotype to omit their customary additives to the pulp at the wet end of the mill, like the polyelectrolyte retention aids and alkaline buffers which are all very hostile to the photochemistry of iron-based sensitizers.

Given the relentlesss march of digital technology, as it replaces analogue photochemistry with electronic physics, I’d anticipate that platinotype printing may be transformed into a “digital chemitype” or “chemical piezotype” process, with no optical photographic component other than the acquisition of the original digital image file: i.e. no negatives, no iron(III) photosensitizer, no coating gear, no dimroom, no UV lamps, no printing frames. What might be called colloquially “metal-jet printing” could use a dedicated ink-jet printer with its ink replaced by a solution of the platinum salt alone, to deliver a ‘potential’ positive image onto the paper. This potential image could be developed by purely chemical treatment in a bath of a powerful reducing agent, which would precipitate the platinum image, as laid down by the printer, directly within the paper fibres. A simple wash in water would then remove all the excess soluble chemicals. A “chemical piezo-platinotype” could be made indistinguishable in its structure and composition from a “genuine” platinotype, but it would also save over 90% of the platinum.

“The authors explain what makes the image, how all necessary components are prepared and used, and the kind of paper and negative needed to make prints. More than just a technical manual, the book underscores the authors’ belief that printing is a creative, scientific, and philosophic way of working.”

From the Routledge pressrelease
Platinotype by Mike Ware
Mike Ware, Boulders in the Flow, Scapa, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on Revere Platinum paper from digital enlarged negative of the original 6 x 9 cm rollfilm negative. 20.2 x 28.8 cm. Fe3:Pt:Pd = 2:1:1, hydration for 90 min at 76% RH / 20°C. Courtesy Mike Ware.

Pradip Malde graduated from the Glasgow School of Art (MA, 1980). He is a professor of Art at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, teaching photography and documentary studies.
Dr. Mike Ware graduated in chemistry at the University of Oxford (1962). He is an Honorary Fellow in Chemistry, University of Manchester, UK, and a recipient of the Hood Medal of the Royal Photographic Society.

Read Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process
Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process

Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process

by Pradip Malde and Mike Ware

Describes the mechanisms and chemistry of platinum/palladium printing in safe and practical ways.


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