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Three photographers demonstrate the persuasive powers of platinum printing at Corporate and Museum Frame.

Going for Platinum

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A potential problem of a photography show such as "Platinum," currently on display at Corporate and Museum Frame Gallery, is that the artists can become so engrossed in the technological process of their art that the final product suffers. "Platinum" is a collection of works by three photographers — Adrian Engle, John Richardson, and Carl Weese — who use a specific process that is fairly unique. Each employs a large-format camera and hand coats cotton paper with a platinum/palladium medium before a contact print is made. This is an archaic, labor-intensive and expensive process in which the artist clearly must desire a specific outcome that cannot be achieved through silver-toned prints.

Why platinum? For longevity. While silver prints last a mere 500 years, platinum ones can survive for more than 10,000 years. The process also allows for a warm tonal effect with low contrast, but sharp, even detail.

But technical aspects notwithstanding, although the artists enjoy talking and writing about their process, the final results happily speak volumes more. All three artists focus mainly on landscapes for this show. Weese's 12-inch by 20-inch or 7-inch by 17-inch prints on the horizontal reiterate the traditional format of a landscape painting. "Dawn, Shepaug at Hidden Valley" is a particularly evocative work of a sleepy, misty river, reminiscent of Sally Mann's recent Southern landscapes. But while Mann's views were intentionally scratched, blurred and manipulated to convey a vintage past, Weese's photographs are crisp and sharp. The light source slants across the creek like an opening door, revealing the uncanny reflection of mirrored trees and sky. While rich in detail, the artist's views are also poetic, nonspecific and otherworldly.

While Weese's wide-angle renderings take in the grander topography of the land, Engel seems more interested in the details. He employs an 11-inch by 14-inch print that he describes as "the smallest format that the human head will fit into life-size." The almost-square shape also tends to personify the inanimate objects that move across its path. "Bridge on Angeles Forest Road" is a beautiful study in contrasts and texture. A concrete bridge stretches across a ravine, providing a visceral play of the organic, detail-laden shrubbery on the mountain, juxtaposed with the minimalist lines and form of the man-made bridge. Engel is adept in tuning out grandiose, monumental views of the land, while honing in on the formal aspects of shape, texture and contrast at close range.

Richardson's output seems to provide the clearest example of the sheer beauty and potency of the platinum process. It is important to note that platinum printing involves the application of the metal on cotton fiber paper. As a result, the print does not just sit on the surface of the paper; it is absorbed into it. This is particularly apparent in Richardson's landscapes. "Portal Dolmen" is a long, horizontal print of a barren, rocky terrain. The Stonehenge-esque dolmen formation evokes a primordial setting devoid of human and animal life. Here, the low contrast and absorption of the print into the muted, soft paper adds powerfully to the dry, arid atmosphere of its subject.

The subtle tonal gradations help give Richardson's photographs a decidedly vintage quality, especially the exquisite "Eileen Donan." The subject — a Scottish castle — beguiles the viewer with its appearance of tarnished patina. So much so that one Richmonder bought the print right from the promotional card before setting eyes on the original photograph.

Such is the persuasive power of these works. All three photographers have national reputations and are widely published in various photograph journals. Their adroit forays into the world of platinum contact printing attest to the beauty and meaningfulness of this antiquated process. By going for the gold, these artists show us views of the land that are achingly familiar and yet so very far away.

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