Since that time, platinum's use in photography
has had an almost unbroken continuity to the present day—being
interrupted only by the World Wars. At the outbreak of World
War I, platinum abruptly could no longer be obtained. Russia
had almost 90 percent of the world's supply; and what little
platinum was available went into strategic needs of the war.
When peace was won, and as the world returned
to normal, platinum was prominently resurrected by Alfred
Stieglitz, who printed mostly on platinum and palladium papers.
Platinum was also preferred by his young protégés Paul
Strand and Clarence White. Edward Weston used
platinum and palladium papers throughout his early, greatest
period; Edward S. Curtis, Irving Penn, Manuel
Alvarez Bravo and most of the greats in the history of photography
have all produced perfect, beautiful images in platinum.
However, after World War II, few photographers
immediately resumed the use of platinum, largely because commercially
made, platinum-coated paper was not available. This meant that
the photographer had to hand-coat the paper and, frankly,
not many were willing to do so! In this part of the world, however, Laura
Gilpin was among the few post-World War II photographers
who did maintain the use of platinum, hand-coating her papers
and creating images of the Southwest that would become legendary.
Although platinum was again obtainable after
World War I, its price remained extremely high. The war thus
also stimulated experimentation with palladium photography. By
the early 1900s it was understood that platinum was one of a
family of "platinum metals": the closely-related elements platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium and rhodium share
many similar physical and chemical properties. Palladium, less
expensive than platinum and in better supply, was employed by
intransigent platinum printers for their work, with superb results.
Certain compounds of palladium were found to be nearly indistinguishable
substitutes for platinum. Palladium, however, can produce a slightly
more "warm" image, with a bit more contrast; and, in fact, photographers
learned to mix platinum and palladium together in varying proportions,
to achieve even finer results than with either substance used
Two aspects that make the platinum print so
special, so loved by photographers and so treasured by collectors
and investors are beauty and permanence. The
unique beauty of a fine platinum print involves a broad scale
of tones from black to white. The delicate, rich platinum tones
range from warm black, to reddish brown, to expanded mid-tone
grays that are unobtainable in silver prints. In the deepest
shadows the platinum print still presents information; the platinum
whites are delicate and the depth of the image is alive and three-dimensional.
Platinum prints are not only exceptionally
beautiful, they are among the most permanent objects invented
by human beings! The platinum metals (platinum and palladium)
are more stable than gold. Incredibly, a platinum image, properly
made, can last thousands of years. It is as enduring as steel
or stone and will even outlive the fine paper it is printed upon.
Throughout its history, photography has used
many methods of expression, such as daguerreotype, albumen, carbon,
gravure, and most commonly, silver emulsions. But for master
photographers, platinum has always held a special place. In spite
of its enormous extra labor and cost, platinum is often preferred
for the photographer's most personal, special and rare images.
Alfred Stieglitz referred to platinum as "the prince of media." Frederick
Evans, one of the best platinum printers in history (whose prints
of medieval cathedrals in Britain and the Continent are still
regarded as quintessential), refused to use anything else and
gave up photography when his beloved platinum became unavailable
due to the war. His friend, George Bernard Shaw, wrote that platinum
is "on the extreme margin of photographic subtlety." Contemporary
Santa Fe photographer Joan Meyers(Salton Sea series, Santiago, Saint
of Two Worlds series) agrees, and works almost exclusively
in platinum/palladium. She chooses platinum both for the joy
of it—because it is a "hands-on" process, and for the inherent
qualities of platinum—notably its ability to hold the detail
that is all-important in her documentary photographs.
In recent decades—with the appreciation
of photography as an art, and its accelerating value as an investment
to collectors—platinum is again in a renaissance among