Drawn from the museum’s collection, the exhibition explores the wide variety of visual characteristics that have come to define the allure and beauty of this medium, which include a velvety matte surface, wide tonal range, and neutral palette. Introduced in 1873 by scientist William Willis Jr. (British, 1841-1923), the use of platinum was quickly embraced by both professional and amateur photographers alike and helped to establish photography as a fine art.
The visual qualities of each print could be individualized by changing the temperature of the developer or adding chemicals such as mercury or uranium. Photographers further enhanced their works by using an array of commercially available papers with rich textures and by employing inventive techniques such as the application of pigments and layered coatings to mimic effects associated with painting and drawing.
Platinum printing became widely associated with Pictorialism, an international movement and aesthetic style popular at the end of the 19th century. Advocates of Pictorialism favored visible marks of the artist’s hand that might be achieved by manipulating either the negative or the print, or both. These hand-crafted prints differentiated themselves from the crisp images produced by commercial photographers and snapshots made with hand-held cameras recently introduced by Kodak.