Clay Harmon

Clay Harmon Statement

Virtually everything currently shown on this site is printed either using platinum-palladium or gum-platinum. In general, when I refer to platinum prints, I am using a generic moniker to describe everything from prints made with a combination of 50/50 platinum/palladium to 100% pure palladium. This verbal laziness is common in the alt-process world, and we excuse our terminological imprecision because we feel ever so virtuous about everything else we do.

The gum-platinum process takes all the care and skill needed for the regular platinum printing process and ratchets things up a notch. Essentially, it involves making a platinum print, then re-exposing the print two or three more times after coating it with a layer of pigmented, light senstive gum arabic solution. By altering the amounts of various pigments and the exposure time, I can add a rich, multi-toned coloration to the print that makes typical silver gelatin toning technique look like something from the Stone Age. The depth and richness of these prints needs to be seen first hand to be fully appreciated. (In other words, click the Gallery link and buy a print)

Here is a little blurb I hand out at shows:

Platinum-palladium printing is an antique photographic process that represented the sine qua non of photographic printing practice at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was considered to be one of the most elegant of the sharper photo-realistic processes available at the time, the others being albumen, carbon and photogravure. Platinum paper was commercially manufactured until World War I, when platinum became a strategic metal used as a component in the trigger mechanisms of artillery shells and other munitions, and demand caused its cost to soar. Another factor in its relatively sudden disappearance as a printing process was the fact that the only sources of platinum bearing ore at that time were found in mines in Russia.

The chaos surrounding the communist revolution in November 1917 made the cost of platinum metal skyrocket. The subsequent loss of readily available platinum papers gave an added push to the just-then-emerging silver gelatin ‘gaslight’ papers that could be exposed with the artificial lights that were beginning to change the character of the night in the major cities of the world. The modern platinum revival in the United States began in the early 1970s when George Tice, Irving Penn and a few others researched the old writings on the platinum process and began to print their work again in platinum (and palladium). Since that revival, the skill and quality of the platinum work has advanced to a point that equals and (in my opinion) occasionally surpasses the work from a hundred years ago.

Today there are two primary types of platinum printing techniques: Develop-out process (DOP), and Printing-out process (POP). DOP printing means that the paper is coated, dried and then contact printed with the negative. A faint latent image results, which is then converted to a final image by immersing the print in a developer that initiates the conversion of the pt/pd metal to its inert state in the paper fibers. The POP process involves coating the paper with the sensitizer/metal salt solution and then drying the paper until it is just dry enough not to ruin the negative while printing. The print is then exposed and the image gradually appears as a full toned printing out image that emerges without the need for a developer. This method has the advantage of not requiring a controlled UV light source, (the sun will do) but has the disadvantage of having the contrast and tone of the image change with differing humidity levels in the coating. The finished platinum/palladium print is one of the most archival of all the photo processes because the final image is composed of finely dispersed particles of a chemically stable metal imbedded in the fibers of the cotton rag paper. The image will last as long as the paper is intact. The only changes that may occur over time are the normal changes one might expect from any paper exposed to the pollutants in the atmosphere.