Fine Art Printmaking in Platinum As a Photographic Business

Many talented photographers and artists struggle when the moment comes to switch from a serious hobby to a professional activity capable of actually making a living. Especially in photography there are so many possibilities that one can pursue, such as portraiture, commercial, architectural, stock photography and so on. The one I chose was to pursue a career in fine art photography. This is probably not the way to become rich, but it does offer plenty of gratification. Having people looking at your work and willing to spend money to have it on their walls is an extraordinary accomplishment.The problem is that especially in this digital age, where everyone has an ink-jet printer on their desk, it is difficult to become easily recognizable. It is also important to give collectors and arts lovers a reason to purchase our work. One way to solve this problem is to employ traditional techniques rather than digital. Although this article applies to any alternative process, the best and most noble among these is without any doubt platinum. Platinum and palladium prints show exquisite beauty, the longest permanence of any printing process, and are widely collected. People know that a platinum print is expensive to make and are willing to spend more to get them.Unfortunately, unless you are an already collected artist, it is unlikely that you will be able to sell your platinum/palladium prints at a high or even fair price. Many emerging photographers try to get their work out as much as possible, with low cost sales and frequent exhibitions, in the hope to receive attention. Because of the high costs of platinum printmaking this is something to keep into proper consideration. So one of the most important issue dealing with an expensive process is keeping your costs to a minimum, to produce some profit even when you have to sell at a low price. Mastering the process is not complicated, it is a long curve more than a steep one. To succeed though, you need much practice, and consequently sales to pay for your labor and above all, materials.Frequent low price sales will allow you to practice more and thus be able to obtain a level of consistency that will allow you to make as little mistakes as possible in order to keep your costs low. The low cost will allow low price sales and so on. Do not get stuck in this magic circle though. Higher price sales will eventually follow as you master the technique and become better known.The first most important aspect is, of course, quality. Platinum prints should always be made to gallery standards and flawless. When you present a platinotype keep in mind that viewers expect excellence. You must therefore be professional and consistent in every step of the process, from taking the photograph, to printing it, to spotting, mounting and presenting and even packaging and shipping.Printing for high volumes also means that you must find a consistent way to make your prints, and nowadays this is easy to get, thanks to the digital negatives. We need to save time as well as money, therefore test prints and guesswork should be avoided. The digital negative allows us to do this. Printing for low cost sales means selling an 8×10″ print mounted to museum standards in the $50-$100 price region. Editioning your work, like I do, is one good way to sell at a price higher than that. I normally use a three-price tier system with increasing prices as the edition sells. Of course, the low price scenario applies mostly to generic photography, such as landscapes. If you do something more specific, such as nudes, or portraiture, you should be able to sell at a higher price from the very start.I mentioned the cost of the noble metals. For many printers, a generically called platinum print is often an almost pure palladium print. It is not only because of the much lower cost. Compared with platinum, palladium offers many advantages. It is easier to use, gives better coating, smoother tones, a longer tonal scale, deeper blacks and a fantastic color. Especially if you are starting with the process, I would recommend printing in pure palladium.It is also true that, since most printmakers use NA2 (Sodium Chloroplatinate) for contrast (albeit in very low percentages), technically we can not say that pd prints are pure palladium. In time, your portfolio will probably contain 100% pd prints, 50/50 pt-pd prints and different mixes within these quantities. So how would you describe your work? I have seen prints with the quantities noted in pencil on a border (sometimes including exposure time and contrast), but, since I dislike giving out too much technical information, I present all my prints, including those in pure palladium, with the generic term platinum prints. Many others I know do the same without feeling like cheating. Even if you plan to go for palladium only though, I would recommend, however, to keep a small bottle of platinum, for not always the greater warmth of pure palladium is desired.The second expensive item in the process is obviously the paper. It is possible to use many papers – sometimes even the humble watercolor paper that one can find at the local art shop. In fact, most papers for water colorists will work if you soak them for five minutes in a weak solution of oxalic acid (and then wash it of course). I would, however, definitely NOT recommend saving money on paper. The paper that I use is Crane’s natural, called Crane’s Platinotype in USA (until 2006, now, I believe, is called Crane’s Diploma Parchment) and Crane’s Crest Natural White Wove in Europe (at least in England, from This fine paper is relatively easy to find, it is smooth and easy to coat, needs less solution than some other papers (saving us money), and it is not terribly expensive. It is available in natural, my favourite – and white.Of course, the paper is indeed a personal choice. For example many suppliers recommend Crane’s Kid Finish to beginners. To me this paper looks too thin, more difficult to use, does not flat well and I would not recommend it. I, however, heartily suggest being familiar with at least a second paper, should the paper of choice be (or suddenly become) unavailable. I recommend Arches Platine, which costs slightly more than Crane’s, but it is heavier, easier to find, it is also beautiful and easy to work with (no acidification required etc.). The only difference with Crane’s (except maybe 20% more exposure) is that it does not clear in citric acid, so you need to keep a little a stock of Kodak Clearing Agent as well. What about fancy papers, such as the expensive Japanese Gampi for example. Printing on hand made papers can be rewarding both aesthetically and financially (my sales skyrocketed for a while when I presented old work on Gampi) but I would recommend leaving any possible further difficulties when you will be experienced.Once you will master the technique, and be able to keep your costs under control, you will be free to dedicate yourself completely to the actual printmaking, and will be able to offer to your customers, galleries and collectors exceptional and unique prints.

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