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Making Platinum Prints with Claire Warden

"Sauna printing" is how Claire Warden jokingly describes her process of platinum print making.


Warden says the process is easier to do in her own own makeshift darkroom than having to sneak into one around town -- and definitely cheaper than building a professional-grade one from scratch. 

The space in her Phoenix home isn't particularly dark. An incandescent bulb gives off plenty of light to easily see details; a few wet, 8-by-10-inch prints dangle from a clothing line in the middle of the room. 

Warden says these prints are part of her current series, which she'll show at eye lounge in downtown Phoenix in February.

Read more about her project and platinum process after the jump ... 

​Warden began making platinum prints after graduating ASU in December, with a BFA in Photography and a BA in Art History. 

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She says the photographs she's currently making are part of of a series of plants she's collected from different geographic sites. 

"When I started collecting all these plants and I wasn't really sure why," says Warden. "But I started developing this huge collection and eventually I started putting them in salt baths -- just distilled water and salt -- and covering them to preserve them."

​Warden says she then began photographing each each with her Shen Hao 4-by-5 camera as they dried. 

"[The series] stems from another series I did that really has to do with distortion of memory and the histories of place," she says. "I really like the idea of salt, and salt having such a huge history across the globe. Salt has a history everywhere. And kind of using this incredible rock mineral to preserve and manipulate these plants that I had found as little mementos for the places I had been ... But this is just the beginning of that show." 

Turns out, printing in a garage is "perfect," according to Warden, because the necessary chemicals must maintain a warm temperature -- they're otherwise normally placed in warm water. 


To prepare, she mixes Ferric Oxalate Solution No. 1 and Ferric Oxalate Solution No. 2Platinum Solution No. 3Palladium Solution No. 3 and a distilled Gold Chloride Solution

She then takes a sheet of photo paper, traces the outlines of an old 4x5 negative with a pencil, and then paints the chemical mixture within the borders. 

Warden then aligns a 4x5 negative with the painted rectangle and places both in a photo frame. 

Then, outside for a little sun.

Exposure times vary depending on the negative, the time of day and how much light is available. For this demonstration, it takes about 4.5 minutes.

One way to know whether the paper has received enough light is if a latent image (an invisible image on film that later becomes visible) begins to appear. If so, it's time to go back into the "sauna" for developing.

"Printing platinum, watching the image come up is kind of amazing because it's instantaneous," says Warden.

She has two of these trays and will leave the print for about 5 minutes in each. Finally, the print is taken to wash in a sink of water, and is eventually hung to dry.


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