Elliott Erwitt’s Platinum Prints
Elliott Erwitt’s prolific output over a career spanning six decades has focused on black and white images that celebrate the joy and humour of everyday existence. His ability to intimately capture the quirks of these quieter moments has made him one of the most popular photographers of the twentieth century.
As a photojournalist and street photographer Erwitt’s vast archive is predominantly made up of silver gelatin prints. In recent years, however, he has made a concise selection of his works using the platinum printing process.
The use of platinum in photographic production began towards the end of the nineteenth century and was a popular means of printing in early photography. This method of printing was favoured amongst early masters of the medium including Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen, for its unparalleled quality of reproduction.
The process went out of fashion however, and was replaced by the more common baryta-coated silver gelatin print. As such advancements in the platinum printing process languished until recently when technological innovations allowed for the technique to be used on a larger scale. Whereas previously practitioners were limited to printing in small format, encumbered by difficulties with control over tone and contrast, recent technical innovation has led to the development of large-format negatives capable of producing Erwitt’s 30 x 40 inch prints.
Photographic laboratories in New York and Japan which specialise in rare and photographic printing processes allowed Erwitt’s 35mm original negatives to come bursting into life. Some of the photographer’s best-known work, including Santa Monica, California (1955), Paris, France (1989) and Steam Train Press, Wyoming (1954), are now available using this printing process. The superior quality of the print offers a greater subtlety of tone and contrast producing as bold and striking an image as their subject matter.