'Platinum' brings tasteful photography showcase to Phoenix Art Museum
four layers of cyano over platinum print
Courtesy Kenro Izu
Exquisite. Luscious. Luxurious.
These are the words Becky Senf, curator of photography for the Norton Center for Creative Photography, would use to describe the process of platinum photo printing showcased so tastefully in Phoenix Art Museum's latest exhibit "Platinum."
In the sea of modern digital photography that has overtaken the world of visual media in recent years, the platinum process stands out as a testament to intentionality and attention to detail within the fast-paced limitations of our modern society.
The exhibit, which has been open since Jan. 10, features work from four photographers who have developed an exceptionally positive reputation in the platinum printing sphere, according to Senf. What is it that draws photographers to a process that is so time-consuming and demanding?
"Some people find that when photos are very dark or very light, (the platinum process) renders subtle differences in closely related tones very well," Senf said.
The process differs from traditional gelatin silver in that paper for platinum processing cannot be commercially made; photographers must spread the platinum material themselves, wait for it to dry and then expose the negative and paper to light. For this reason, photographers have the liberty of working with a more customized type of paper that will most powerfully enhance their shots. This abundance of possibility has allowed the four featured artists to create sensationally unique work.
Kenro Izu, for instance, layers a distinct blue cyanotype over his platinum print to create a foggy, ethereal enhancement of the curves and intricacies of the human form. Meanwhile, Scott B. Davis creates prints of alternative California landscapes that make viewers feel as though they are perceiving the views at night.
Convenience Store, 29 Palms, California
Courtesy Scott B. Davis
"My prints examine the far ends of the visible spectrum and challenge the limits of human perception, creating subtle works that invite participation from viewers," Davis explained in an informational sign displayed alongside his photos.
A sense of intentionality and careful forethought is present throughout the entire "Platinum" collection, creating an exquisite balance of depth and delicacy that reflects a body of photography committed to reveling in each step of the process.
Senf compared the process of platinum printing to the slow food movement; just as purveyors of this lifestyle select each ingredient based on freshness, quality and source, so do platinum processors select only the photographic "ingredients" that will create the ideal, expressive harmony of light and dark.
The detail behind the process allows even non-abstract photographs to achieve an impact they might lose if processed digitally. Lois Conner's collection of photographs from the American West showcases the people and lay of the land in a simple, yet personal manner, while prints from her time in China present a vaguely chaotic reflection of the relationship between suburban development and natural landscape.
Izu accomplishes something similar through his body of work showcasing sacred locations from around the world. A look into the soul of a culture is made more provoking through the matte tonality of platinum.
Courtesy Andrea Modica and Tilt Gallery
Andrea Modica, the fourth photographer showcased in the exhibition, utilizes the process to present a spatially intriguing glimpse into the details of human life and death. Photos of Modica's Italian lover present a demure glimpse into the raw intimacy and passion of relationship, while Modica's "Human Being" collection shows a crisp, untampered set of human skulls that were excavated from a mass grave in Colorado.
"Platinum" as a whole showcases a process laden with layers, shadows and lucid complexity. It is more than a view; it is an experience. Senf is excited by the fact that the exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to discover a process that is so deeply rooted in the old historical values of intentionality and patience.
"I think there will always be a small number of artists who are drawn to these processes because of what they can say," Senf said. "There's something more careful, intentional and thoughtful about it. It's an ethic about how you approach the world. There's an impulse to be connected to a longer heritage, and I think some artists will always choose that."
"Platinum" is on display at the Phoenix Art Museum until April 5.
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