Platinum Prints on Silk

I have made a set of three prints in platinum on silk, and one in platinum with a small amount of palladium added to preserve delicate mid tones. The images are from my Tetxas Revolution series: The Alamo, San Fernando Cathedral, the Tumulus of the Heroes at Goliad, and the Urrea Oaks just south of Refugio Texas. These prints are unique: after several years of testing, reformulating, ruining hundreds of sheets of pure silk and wasting countless grams of platinum and palladium, I have perfected printing platinum on silk. I do not mean the moronic assertion common on the interwebs: "I do platinum prints using palladium." Rather, I mean images formed from potassium platinum chloride dissolved in distilled water and mixed with a light-sensitive iron-based chemical applied to specially prepared silk. The silk in these videos is habotai, originally a Japanese product though now largely made in China. Habotai silk is simply a different weave from charmeuse and is glossy on one side and matte on the other. Habotai is particularly appropriate for printing with platinum (or other metals) as it preserves details that are obscured by charmeuse.


The Book: Platinum and Palladium on Silk

The Book is an edition of eight platinum and palladium prints, six of which are on silk and two on cotton. All are mounted (sewn at extreme corners) on black primed cotton canvas. On the reverse of each canvas page is mounted a poem introducing the photograph en face and printed on either light cotton canvas or silk. The binding is anodized aluminum with a screwpost configuration to permit laying the prints flat and also to facilitate removing a print at will.

In 2017, the American Institute for Conservation published Platinum and Palladium Photographs: Technical History, Connoisseurship, and Preservation. That book contains a fascinating chapter on platinum printing on textiles, by Ronel Namde, at the National Gallery of Art. Namde observes that platinum prints on textiles have long been written about but that few such prints actually exist.That chapter can be downloaded from the ACI site: Platinum Printing on Textiles PDF. Platinum on cotton prints were all the rage in New York City, among well-heeled photographers who could actually afford such prints during the mid 1980s. Mapplethorpe, Leibovitz, and Horst all notably commissioned platinum-cotton prints of some of their better known images. Some of the cotton prints even figured in the 2018 film, Mapplethorpe. The tragedy of those prints (considering Christie's and various NYC art galleries' enthusiasm for fantasy prints) appears to be that they were not on silk. According to one online source, a Christie's copy writer actually mistook Horst's famous image "Lisa on Silk" (which depicts a nude Lisa Fonssagrives semi-reclining on a sheet of silk) as meaning "Lisa" printed on silk. The same wordpress page owner quotes apparently the same misguided Christie's copy writer in claiming Horst printed entire sets of his negatives in platinum on silk. In another catalog, cited by this same wordpress master of misinformation, a print is described as "Platinum, on linen (cotton), silk." In fact, one gallery has recently announced Mapplethorpe images in platinum on silk -- at a hefty price. However, careful reading reveals that the images are not photographs; they are photogravures. The reason for prints in this medium is simple and obvious: nobody has been able, since around World War I, to print platinum (or palladium) on silk. Well, I figured out how to do it.

In 1897 William Willis' Platinontype Company released for the first time, with great fanfare, silk presensitized with platinum. Other textiles coated with platinum ready to print had been available since at least the early 1880s. But it was not announced until early in 1897 that someone had figured out how to prep silk so that, on exposure to uv or actinic light, the platinum could be reduced to its imaging-forming elemental state. Why the material was never popular and why practically no platinum on silk prints from that time exist today is unclear. By 1910 or so the price of platinum -- far more important to the Europeans for manufacturing high explosives than for producing high art -- had exploded. Willis introduced Palladium on paper and the Satista paper (palladium-silver). When the Platinotype Company shut down in 1932 the formula for preparing silk for printing platinum -- locked in a safe as a company secret -- was apparently discarded. When the price of platinum eventually fell back to an afforable level, after World War II, Irving Penn and other photographers resumed printing with that and with palladium using the old hand coated paper techniques.

In 2022, I began experimenting with printing nickel on fabric. I had hoped to use the same technique for nickel as the one I invented for printing photographs in rhodium: use palladium to trigger image-forming reduction of the recalcitrant metal followed by an acid bath to dissolve the palladium. To my shock, I found that nickel actually protects palladium from attack by hydrochloric acid. In other words, my idea did not work. However, I found nickel mixed with noble metals enhances the luminosity of images -- sometimes. It is particularly effective with palladium and gold, less so with platinum. With dry print out processes I routinely mix in iridium, ruthenium and rhodium for various special effects and a small amount of nickel balances those metals: nickel eases iridium's contrast, cleans up rhodium's sootiness, and restores the acutance that ruthenium erases while keeping the unearthly glow. After I mastered printing on cotton and cotton-linen blends, I moved on to The Prize: platinum and palladium on silk.

The Book is the presentation of the first photographic prints with platinum and palladium on silk in over a century. I do not know where early photographs printed on silk went -- one can easily purchase on Ebay century old silver prints (usually commercial portraits) on silk. The fabric does not need special prepping for silver to print out. Only for platinum and palladium.

Inspired by the French Symbolist Mallarme, The Book presents flowers as symbols of transformation. The Book is bound in anodized aluminum. The pages are easily removed and the images framed or otherwise mounted for display.


COVER: Cotton on Aluminum


INTERIOR FRONT COVER: Title and First Image

interior cover, photograph of tulips in vase facing

The 5x7 negative of tulips in vase is printed in platinum enhanced with palladium and gold. The fabric is medium weight charmeuse silk.

SECOND PAGE: Poem Facing Second Image

photograph of tulips in vase

The 5x7 negative of tulips in vase is printed in platinum and palladium. The fabric is light weight habotai silk.

THIRD PAGE: Poem Facing Third Image

photograph of tulips aroused

The 5x7 negative of aroused tulips is printed in palladium with nickel. The fabric is medium weight cotton.

FOURTH PAGE: Poem Facing Fourth Image

photograph of tulips out of control

The 5x7 negative of out of control tulips is printed in palladium with nickel. The fabric is light weight charmeuse silk.

FIFTH PAGE: Poem Facing Fifth Image

photograph of sunflowers in vase

The 4x5 negative of sunflowers in vase is printed in palladium with nickel. The fabric is medium weight cotton.

SIXTH PAGE: Poem Facing Sixth Image

photograph of lightstruck tulips in vase

The 5x7 negative of lightstruck tulips is printed in platinum, palladium, and gold with rhodium and nickel. The fabric is light weight charmeuse silk.

SEVENTH PAGE: Poem Facing Seventh Image

photograph of awakening

The 6x8 negative of the transformation is printed in palladium with gold and nickel. The fabric is medium weight habotai silk.

EIGHTH PAGE: Poem Facing Eighth Image

photograph of awakening

The 4x5 negative of the Awakening is printed in palladium and platinum with nickel. The fabric is light weight charmeuse silk.

BACK COVER: Brushed Aluminum