Monday, May 8, 2017

Process Obsession - Palladium over Pigment Printing

"Without obsession, life is nothing."

-John Waters

I like John Waters and his quirky movies. Love him or hate him, he is an original. In March of 2017 I began working with a new (to me) process to bring color into my handmade prints. After returning from my second trip to Mongolia in February, I began the long process of bringing the images I made on the expedition to life. I began with the methods that have ruled my work for the last 25+ years; platinum/palladium prints often combined with gum bichromate. While I was happy with the prints I was making, something was missing. Much of the new work from Mongolia really needed to be in color, especially the landscapes. However, I'm not a big fan of machine made inkjet prints. As beautiful as they can be, they lack something that is essential to how I work, the hand-made touch.

About twenty years ago I read about my friend Dan Burkholder combining platinum/palladium and inkjet to make color prints. I experimented a little bit at the time, but didn't like what I was getting so I put it down. Another friend of mine, Jim Collum of Santa Cruz, CA has been working this way since about 2001. When I decided to try the process with the Mongolia work, I turned to Jim with some technical questions to get me started. And once I got started, the obsession began. Over the last 2 months, I've printed almost every day I've been home (I was gone for two weeks traveling and teaching). In that time I've made about 150 prints using this process from about 80 different images. Most of the prints have been about 8x10 plus about a dozen at 12x18. I've been working with platinum/palladium since 1989 and have never had such a concentrated, productive period. Not having a day job really helps!

The Process

Begin with a color image in Photoshop:

Windows, Iceland, 2016
The image is converted to CMYK (see Note below) and the black channel is cleared. To clear the black channel, after converting your image to CMYK, go to the Channels tab, select the black channel and then go to Edit>Clear. This leaves what remains of the color image:

The CMY part of the image after clearing the black channel.
This needs to be converted back to RGB color space for printing. The color image is printed onto whatever paper you choose that is compatible with the platinum/palladium process. I often end up adjusting saturation either locally or overall, depending on the the colors in the image and the result I'm after. For all of this work I've been using the wonderful Hahnemühle Platinum Rag (HPR) paper.

Going back to the original image, convert again to CMYK, then the contents of the black channel is isolated and turned into a digital negative. To isolate the black channel, after converting to CMYK, go to the Channels tab, select the black channel, then go to Image>Mode>Grayscale. This will give you a file from which to create your digital negative of the black channel.

The black channel isolated.
This is then inverted and flipped to create a negative and printed on Pictorico OHP transparency film the same way I would for any other image I make into a platinum/palladium print. 

Inverted and flipped to make a digital negative.
The Final Print
Note: You need to make a change in your default Color Settings for this process to work. In Photoshop under the Edit>Color Settings menu select CMYK, then Custom CMYK:

Then select Black Generation and choose Maximum and click OK:

Now you are ready to go!


The hardest part of this process is registering the digital negative with the inkjet print. And it gets harder as the prints get bigger. I used registration marks on most of the prints I've done so far with mixed success. What I'm doing now I find easier and gives more consistent results. After I size the color image to the same size as the negative, I increase the canvas size by 10 to 15 pixels with a black background like so:

This gives a thin black border around the image. After coating and drying, I place the print and negative on a light box and carefully align the negative within the black border. Jeweler's glasses are a big help!

Once everything is lined up, I tape down the four corners of the negative and make the print.

And another thing (important)...

It turns out when the color image is printed onto paper (HPR in this case), the image comes out slightly longer than the image on the negative. When I say longer, I mean in the direction of paper movement through the printer (I am using an Epson 7880). This happens for two reasons. One is due to the difference in the thickness between the paper and negative material (Pictorico OHP). Also, I am printing the pigment using Photoshop and the Epson driver. The negative I am printing with a different piece of software, QuadTone RIP. Both of these issues contribute to the dimensional disagreement. Through trial and error, I determined by adjusting the height of the color image by 99.7% I could get a good match with the negative. To do this, go to Image>Size, de-select the little chain link, change units to percent and enter 99.7 in the Height box and click OK:

So far this adjustment is working for me. The results may be different on other printers.

Moving Forward

Clearly this process has struck a chord in me and has changed my work. You can see examples on my website. I will also be adding this process to some of my workshops. Leave a comment if you want to be added to my mailing list.

While, it's not for everything, it has given me a new voice to work with. Some colors just work better than others, and success is also image dependent. I feel like I now have a much better handle on what it can do and what I need to do to get what I want out of it. Initially I thought I would only use it for the Mongolia work, but as I've tried other images I'm finding it has a home in other bodies of work as well. You get good at a new process the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice! And nothing makes you want to practice more than being obsessed.

"Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment."

-Claude Monet

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Antiques Roadshow Moment

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”
― Stephen King, The Colorado Kid

Check this out. A few years back I had an Antiques Roadshow moment, finding portraits by Ed Weston, Brett Weston and Johan Hagemeyer in a local antique store in our little town. After some appropriate haggling, I got them for a song (relatively speaking). I took them to friend and expert photo conservator Gawain Weaver for a little TLC. I just got them back over the weekend and am amazed! They will be on the walls very soon. Thanks, Gawain!

Ed Weston 1931 (as found)
Ed Weston 1931 (post-restoration)

Brett Weston 1929 (as found)
Brett Weston 1929 (post-restoration)

Johan Hagemeyer 1938 (as found)
Johan Hagemeyer, 1938 (post-restoration)

The Hagemeyer print had an interesting inscription on the back:

Note that Brett was only 17 or 18 at the time he made this portrait. The subject in all three is Vasia Anikeef, a Russian-born opera singer who I assume lived in Carmel, CA, long-time home of the Westons. His wife Sybil was a photographer and student of Ed Weston. In the summer of 2015 I was in Carmel teaching and was invited to dinner at the Weston home known as Wildcat Hill by Kim and Gina Weston. Kim is Ed's grandson and Brett's nephew. We had a wonderful meal and visit, including a tour of Ed's darkroom. For a photographer like me, this a bit like going to Mecca.

With Kim Weston in Ed's original darkroom. I presume our print was made right here!
Ed's printing frame, dodging tools, etc.
One of the things Kim showed me was a guestbook that Ed kept for visitors to Wildcat Hill. There are signatures and notes from virtually all of the luminaries of West Coast photography. On one page, I stumbled on the following:

Sounds like this was quite a party! Ed and Sybil shared a birthday and it's the "Monthoversary" of Ed and Charis. So this was at the beginning of that famous love affair. This little tidbit helped me put together just who the subject of these portraits was.

In addition to these prints, we've recently added a Kim Weston print to our collection, purchased at the recent Four Generations of Weston exhibit at the Viewpoint Gallery in Sacramento:
Nude in Cactus, Kim Weston, 1999
I never imagined we would own an original, signed print by Ed or Brett Weston and we found them right here in our little town. Hmmmm.... I wonder when Antiques Roadshow is coming to town again...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Paper, Paper, it's raining Paper!

Lundy Canyon, 4x5 platinum/palladium print, 1993
I made my first platinum/palladium print in 1989, so I've been doing this for long time. In that time, I don't think there's ever been such a flurry of new and improved papers happening at once like there is now. As those who work with the historic/alternative/handmade processes know, a good print requires a good paper and we are forever on the search. Each process has its requirements for what constitutes a "good" paper, and the requirements for platinum/palladium printing are among the strictest. Well, suddenly it is raining new, revived from the dead and revised papers for my beloved processes from Hahnemühle, Legion Paper and Arches.
Stairway Down, Oakland, 1996. 8x20 Palladium Print on Hahnemühle Platinum Rag, 2016

Over the past nine months I (and several other printmakers including Christina Anderson, Keith Taylor and Mark Nelson) have been testing a brand new paper for platinum printing made by Hahnemühle called Hahnemühle Platinum Rag.
Hmm... That image on the label looks familiar. I understand the paper will be available for retail purchase in mid-March 2016. To cut to the chase, this is a great paper for platinum/palladium and the combined gum bichromate over platinum/palladium processes that I use. I understand it as also very cyanotype friendly. It is internally sized with no animal byproducts (although the sizing itself is proprietary), 300 gsm, non-mould made, 100% cotton, natural bright white with a nice subtle texture. My guess is that it will work well with most of the common "alternative processes".  It holds up very well to repeated wet cycles and makes a beautiful, rich print. Pre-shrinking is required for multi-print processes, but this is true with most papers. I found that it coated and printed even better following the pre-shrinking process. It can be printed on either side, the back having a very fine wire-side texture. I don't currently have a functioning reflection densitometer, but I will say the DMAX is very good. It resolved 14 or 15 steps on the 21-step Stauffer step wedge. The prints were made using palladium and a very small amount of Na2 contrast agent. It prints a little bit faster than Arches Platine by roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of a stop. This will be among the most expensive papers for the process (excluding Japanese tissues), but it is also among the very best. Here are a couple of scans of some of the test prints I made for Hahnemühle. JPG scans of analog prints are an exercise in futility, but they will give you an idea.
10x12 Palladium Print on Hahnemühle Platinum Rag
10x12 Gum Bichromate over Palladium Print on Hahnemühle Platinum Rag
Legion Paper

In other very good news, Legion Paper is bringing back one of my all-time favorites, Revere Platinum. Although it used to be somewhat inconsistent, the currently-retired Revere Platinum was one of the best papers I ever used when it was good. Magnani, the 600-year-old Italian paper mill that made the paper went out of business a couple years ago. I don't know who the new manufacturer is, but the few samples I've tried have printed extremely well. It's a little heavier at 320 gsm and has a pleasant off-white color without being too yellow. I've made both straight platinum/palladium and gum over platinum/palladium prints with this paper that are just beautiful. This paper also required pre-shrinking for multiple layer printing. In fact, double-shrink may be necessary. I am still testing... I believe this paper will also be available in the next 4 to 6 weeks from Bostick & Sullivan, NY Central Art Supply, Talas and others. My understanding is that the price of this paper will be roughly 30% less than Arches Platine. Michael Ginsberg from Legion Paper has pursued this tirelessly and my hat is off to him for making it happen. The man is passionate about paper and he's been in the business a long time. Here are a couple of sample prints on the new Revere Platinum.

10x12 Palladium Print on Revere Platinum
10x12 Gum Bichromate Over Palladium Print on Revere Platinum

In September of 2015 Arches announced it had re-formulated the venerable Arches Platine. Platine was one of the first modern papers designed from the ground up for platinum/palladium printing. It has a very close cousin in Bergger COT 320, a more expensive, but very similar paper.  It now comes in two weights (310 gsm as before and a thinner 145 gsm version). I wouldn't use the thinner version unless the prints were going into a handmade book or something like that. It's a little less white than Hahnemuhle and a little more white than Revere. The few samples I've tested of these papers have coated, printed and cleared very well and the prints look great. I saw no evidence of bleeding that sometimes happen with this paper. If you are pining for COT 320 which often seems to be in short supply, forget it. This is Platine at its best. I believe this paper is available now from Bostick & Sullivan.


There you have it. It's a good time to be making hand-made prints. These papers are all excellent. They produce nice rich blacks, smooth tones and are easy to work with. I've had the most experience with the Hahnemühle Platinum Rag from which I have made many prints now. Next would be the Revere Platinum of which I've had a handful of sample sheets to work with. I've only tested a couple sheets of each of the two versions of Arches Platine. They each have a different character, so there is room for all three of them in my darkroom. Now, we'll have to wait and see how these papers perform in the long run. Which one will prove to be the most consistent from batch to batch over time? In the end, that will determine the winner.

Now, go make some stuff!

-Kerik Kouklis

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Journey of the Stolen Korona


I've used many different cameras in many different formats over the last 25 years. I confess to being somewhat of a gearhead, but cameras and optics have fascinated me since I was a kid. Of all of those, one of my very favorite formats is 7x17. That's in inches, not centimeters. I bought my first 7x17 in September 1992 from Midwest Photo Supply. It was a Korona manufactured some time before 1928. Originally called a "banquet camera" because it was designed to take pictures of large groups of people when smaller formats weren't up to the task of resolving enough detail for people to be recognizable in large groups. I found it a perfect format for the landscape work I was doing at the time. Here is one of the first images I made with the Korona 7x17 in October 1992:
Ice House Road in Fog, 7x17 platinum print, (sold out)
I was hooked. I loved working with the large, vintage camera that was still in very good condition. Koronas were a lower-end brand in their day. When new, the camera was a little rickety and crude, even by the standards of the day. However, it was a very easy camera to use as long as you compensate for it's limitations. Around this time I was also working through teaching myself the platinum/palladium process which soon became my print medium of choice and has been ever since. Between 1992 and 1999 at least 90% of my best work was done in the 7x17 format, and much of it with the stolen Korona. A small selection of these images including an original platinum print were recently published by North Light Press.

I've grown to dislike the cheesy "look at me with my camera" pictures, but this picture and a few others like it taken in 1995 were the key evidence in proving that this camera was uniquely mine.

Shore Acres, Oregon, 1995 
on a 10th Anniversary Trip with Carol
Proof of Provenance

My good friend and fellow photographer Patrick Alt knows more about BIG, OLD cameras than just about anyone I've known. He also happens to be an extremely talented woodworker, designer and camera builder/restorer and one of the most prolific sheet film photographers I have known. He suggested I could overcome one of the Korona's shortcomings by having him completely rebuild the front standard of the camera (the part that holds the lens) to add tilt and swing movements, which makes the camera much more versatile. His design was also sturdier than the original. So, in 1993 I sent the camera to Patrick and he performed his magic making the camera better than new.

An un-modified, stock Korona 7x17

My Korona 7x17 after modification by Patrick Alt
(picture used in police report below)

Not only did this greatly improve the usability of the camera, it made it distinguishable from every other Korona 7x17 ever made. Lots of these old, wooden cameras don't have serial numbers, so you need some other indications to identify a specific camera. Patrick's fine work certainly did that.

The Original Crime

On September 6, 1997 I experienced every photographer's worst fear: I had a large amount of equipment stolen out of my car in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Carol and I were on our way from downtown San Francisco out to Ocean Beach where we were meeting some good friends for dinner. We were early, so we stopped in the park and took a walk around a pond to kill some time. I had a trunkful of camera gear and a portfolio case containing about 40 finished 7x17 pt/pd prints. We were away from the car for maybe 20 minutes. When we came back the trunk was open and empty. HOLY SHIT!!!!!! As you can probably imagine, I was beside myself. We went directly to the SFPD Park Station and filed a police report. My portfolio case and prints were found in the park the next day, so I got those back which was a huge relief, but the loss of the gear, especially the 7x17 and some of the wonderful vintage lenses I had for it was killing me. Among a long list of items were my beloved 7x17 Korona/Alt along with 5 filmholders. Here is the original police report (I've redacted parts of the report that aren't relevant to the stolen Korona camera and film holders, as well as personal information):

Police Report P. 1
Police Report P. 2
  I never did see any of that gear again. Until I received this email recently from one Anton Orlov:
 Followed later that day by this one: 
Look familiar?!? Here, let us review in detail:

Unmodified, Stock Korona 7x17
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine the two cameras are one and the same and clearly different from a stock, unmodified camera shown above. Yes, after more than 15 years, the camera that was taken from my trunk in Golden Gate Park was now in my email inbox and residing in San Diego with Anton Orlov. And guess what: I want it back! This camera, of the dozens of cameras I've owned in my life, has extremely high sentimental value to me. It became my main camera/format as I was growing into the photographer and printer that I am today. It was modified for me by a good friend who is now suffering from serious health issues and goddamn it, some one took it from me and I want it back! And I am legally entitled to get it back.
"It is an axiom of Anglo-American common law that nobody can pass good title to stolen goods. The true owner of a stolen item may always recover it from its current holder, no matter how many times the item changed hands in between." (Source)
Once I realized the camera in San Diego was the same one taken from me in San Francisco, I jumped on eBay and sure enough, an auction for this camera, three film holders and a lens ended on April 21, 2013. Here is a link to the item, although it will disappear eventually. The seller egl9sun turns out to be David Tribble from Sacramento, California (apparently he also goes by David LeRoy). David was a workshop student of mine many years ago. I am told by Mr Orlov that David claimed that he bought the camera in 2008 from the owner of a Sacramento camera store shortly before they went out of business. If this is true, where was the camera between 1997 in San Francisco and 2008 in Sacramento and how did my name stay attached to it? It's almost as if whoever stole it was someone that knew me. I've checked with one of the owners of the store who is a friend of mine and they can find no evidence of a consignment sale of a 7x17 camera during their last year in business. What's also interesting is that I noticed David's feedback rating was 80%, terrible by eBay standards. Well, it turns out he only had 5 recent feedbacks and the one negative one was for this auction. Apparently the winning bidder never got the camera and instead it ended up with Mr Orlov in San Diego. Weird, right? I found David's phone number easily on the internet and have called him several times asking for his help in recovering my property, but clearly he lacks the balls necessary to deal with the situation and has not returned my calls. I am still considering filing a complaint with the Sacramento PD with the evidence I have of David Tribble selling my stolen property through the internet. But my first priority was getting my camera back.

The Call

So now it was time to talk to Mr Orlov. He was anxious to learn about the camera's history, so I suggest we set up a face-to-face conversation using FaceTime because I had a pretty interesting story to tell. I told him my story and laid out all the details about why this camera was undoubtedly mine. I told him how important it was to me and that I would pay him the for the camera so it wouldn't be a monetary loss for him. Please understand, by law I still own this camera and I am under no obligation to pay for its return. I offered to buy it because, well, I'm a nice guy. It was clear Anton was a bit flustered. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not know the camera was stolen when he bought it, otherwise it would have been stupid for him to contact me. However, once he knows, he is obligated under the California Penal Code to surrender the stolen goods:
496. (a) Every person who buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.
(c) Any person who has been injured by a violation of subdivision (a) or (b) may bring an action for three times the amount of actual damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff, costs of suit, and reasonable attorney's fees.
I told Anton to think about it for a couple of days, but I would get my camera back, one way or the other. I never dreamed a fellow photographer would do anything other than try to get a stolen and important camera back to its rightful owner. I guess I am naive. He came back with this:
I did give it some thought and I really don't think I am in a position to give up this camera whether or not it was indeed yours at some point - I am really looking forward to using it and creating wonderful images with it. I did have to go through a lot financially to get it (I am not wealthy and had to sell some sentimentally-important cameras to be able to afford this one) and I am looking forward to making it big (publishing books and teaching workshops) in the future and hopefully this camera can help me with that. I hope you understand.
Well, no, I don't understand. Legally, morally and ethically the camera belongs to me and Mr Orlov was breaking the law by withholding stolen property.  Then he says:
I spoke with the police already. It's not stolen property if bought at fair market price (more so it was bought at fair market price twice - once from the store and once from David).
Based on the law, this is downright laughable. No policeman would have made such a statement. And then this:
Well, I don't know what to say man... Best I can do is if you find me another Korona I'll trade this one for it, but otherwise I think you're being quite... I don't know... unreasonable is the best way I can put it.
Right, I am being unreasonable. Anyone who has had property taken from them certainly understands my position on this, as does the California Penal Code.

The Pursuit

Having the original police report in hand, I spent several days being bounced around the San Francisco Police Department trying to find someone who would latch on to the case and pass it on to the San Diego PD, because the case was now in their jurisdiction. No luck.

It was time to call for backup. First, good friend and fellow photographer Ed Ross (who happens to be an attorney) chased down the appropriate legal language and put together a letter to inform Mr Orlov if he did not turn over the camera, we would take him to court and sue for its return. Having that in my back pocket, I then contacted another good friend and photographer Tori Nelson, whose husband is a recently retired Lieutenant from the San Diego PD. He made a call and in a couple of days I had a phone call from a SDPD officer. I pointed him to the earlier version of this blog and gave him all the details of my case. In the mean time I had been going back and forth a bit with Mr Orlov and when I finally showed him part of the police report that clearly shows the details that identify the camera as mine, he decided maybe he should sell the camera to me after all. The next morning the officer called me back with bad news. A legal analyst had reviewed the case and recommended no action be taken. The officer apologized because he said he was a bit of a "camera guy" and he clearly thought I should get my camera back and he'd be glad to do it, but his hands were tied. So, with that I contacted Mr Orlov again and we agreed on a price for the camera, three film holders, lensboards and he threw in a silver nitrate tank he had had made for the format. We decided to set up a meeting the following week for Tori to take him the cash and retrieve my camera. I was not happy that I would be paying what amounts to ransom for my property, but at least an end was in sight.

Later that same day.... the officer called me back late that afternoon. "Don't give up yet, I'm trying figure out some way to make this work. You'll get a call from a detective in a day or two." Sweet! Indeed, a few days later I got a call from a SDPD detective who had reviewed the details and had some specific questions for me. One had to do with how much I had been reimbursed for the camera by the insurance company. Because it was less than $950, it fell into a misdemeanor category rather than a felony, which means lower priority when it comes to application of the PD's resources. He said he would look into it more and get back to me the next day, which he did. He took the case to the City attorney's office for review. Because of the time since the original crime and the dollar value of the camera, they were hesitant to recommend action. The detective said he was willing to pursue it, but if I really wanted to get the camera back and I was willing to pay for it, that would be my best bet. Especially since Mr Orlov had plans for a long cross-country road trip coming up soon.

So, in the end, that's what I did. Tori met with Mr Orlov, paid for the camera and shipped it safely back home. This was never about money for me from the start. It's about what is right. Sometimes a camera is just a camera, and sometimes it's much more than that. I plan to put the camera to good use in the future. And now that I am nearly recovered from hip surgery, I am ready to start working with a REALLY big camera again.

There are more details to the story, but some of them are speculative at this point (e.g. I believe I know who sold David Tribble my camera, but I have no proof at this time) and my goal with this blog was to present just the facts as they happened. And, I'm sure you'll agree, this post is long enough already.

The Arrival

Out for a Road Test
Crystal Basin, California, 2013 - The Journey Continues
Postscript: I want to thank Tori Nelson and Ed Ross for their help in this effort. It's great to have friends who have your back when you need help. I also want to thank Tori's husband and the SDPD for taking time to try and help me get my property back. I understand the PD has limited resources and there are much more important crimes they need to spend their time on than trying to recover stolen camera equipment. It's too bad Mr Orlov turned what could have been an easy exchange in a few days into a month-long endeavor involving so many people's time and effort. It did give me something to focus on while my body was healing from surgery. And now that I am nearly healed the Korona and I will once again spend some quality time together.