Re-Discovering the Magic
By Tyler Mitchell - www.tylermitchell.photography
Hello Breed readers,
I wanted to share some stuff I’ve been working on recently, in an effort to bring back some inspiration and passion for photography. As with anything, being able to make a living from a passion is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you get to focus on what you love all the time. On the other hand, you have to make enough money to survive and maintain your desired lifestyle using something you love, which can get extremely stressful, and can sometimes start to kill that passion.
A great analogy for me comes through my friend Brandon Semenuk. If you don’t ride mountain bikes you may not have heard of him, though you also may have seen clips of him on social media and not known it. Brandon is, IMO, one of (if not THE) the best bike handlers in the world. He constantly pushes the level of his sport, and makes it look easy. His riding is art and the videos he produces are the same. Brandon competed in slopestyle events for years, but at a certain point (I haven’t talked to him in depth about this it’s purely observation) it seemed like he was getting far more stress than joy from his hectic competition schedule. A couple of years ago he re-invented himself, stopped almost all competing, and focused on making creative films showing creative riding, and his films have been nothing short of a gift to the entire bicycle riding community.
I ran into the same issue with photography a few years back. I had originally been shooting a lot of sports/action, but upon broadening the scope of photography that I was looking at I became interested in fashion, mostly due to the amazing sets and beautiful images and locations that I was seeing. After a few years of shooting, which was of course super fun, I started to get frustrated at spending money I didn’t have to shoot editorial with the hopes that my name being out there would help get some paying gigs. At a certain point I had to pay those bills so started shooting e-commerce. It didn’t help that it was the most boring e-com possible, just quantity over quality all day long, but through a couple of years of doing that I stopped picking up a camera outside of work, as I was just fully burnt out. I was un-inspired and the magic that had attracted me to photography when I started taking it seriously while learning silver gelatin printing in high school was lost.
Fast forward a couple of years, I’m still involved in the fashion part of photography even though I rarely shoot fashion anymore. I’m frequently on set as a digital tech or in my capacity as Art Director for Alice Magazine, and still retouch quite a bit. After that big slump I needed to do something to get re-inspired, and what that ended up being is a return to the physical processes that exist in photography. I had to get my face away from the screens, the perfectionist retouching, and get back into photography for the sake of photography. I suddenly found that spark lit again, though this time I was craving the magic of making prints using my hands and chemicals.
I recently re-discovered Platinum Printing, a favorite of Irving Penn that I had known about, but never gotten into. Platinum Palladium is an older printing process that was developed through the 1800s, but fell out of popularity around the beginning of WWI when platinum got too expensive due to the government buying it all up for explosives. Around this time Silver Gelatin printing was really well sorted out and it took over as the default wet darkroom process for creating black and white photos. I had always assumed (wrongly, it turns out) that any alternative process (ie cyanotypes, Platinum/Palladium, etc) would be much more expensive and difficult than silver printing. When I was beginning to look into finishing our basement as a darkroom, I read more into the platinum palladium process and it spoke to me, with the bonus being I didn’t need a full darkroom and enlarger to get started.
And now a (kinda) brief (and only slightly nerdy) overview of both processes, for those of you who might not have any experience with them. Silver gelatin printing is done in a darkroom, with light sensitive photo paper that has a gelatin coating on it containing silver that reacts to exposure to light and creates an image in that gelatin layer when placed in developer. Silver prints are generally made on an enlarger, where you shine the light through your negative, and can control the size/crop, etc through moving the enlarger around. This is that process with those red lights, as the paper isn’t sensitive to the red, which allows you to sort of see what you are doing while you print without ruining your paper.
Platinum printing, usually done with Palladium as well (to avoid typing ‘platinum’ and ‘palladium’ a million times, we’re going to call the process ‘PP’), is similar, and also very different. There are a couple cool things about PP printing that drew me to it, in addition to that elephant in the room of not having to spend thousands to convert my basement to a darkroom. In PP printing, the emulsion is hand painted onto non-light-sensitive paper. I’ve been using Arches Platine, which is specifically designed for alternative process printing, though people print on all sorts of papers. The emulsion is only sensitive to UV light, so a dark room with incandescent light is perfectly fine to paint your emulsions. PP printing is a contact print process, which means you need a negative that is the same size as you want your print to be. You can use negatives from 4x5 or 8x10 cameras, but you can also make negatives from digital files, by printing them on transparency. Once your emulsion is dry you place your negative on the emulsion, in some sort of contact print frame, and expose to UV light either in a light box, or go old school like I do and put that bad sally out in the sun. It works in the shade too or on overcast days, but be prepared for long exposure times if you don’t have bright sun (an overcast day where I live takes about a 45 minute exposure). You then develop with chemicals just like silver printing, though that setup is of course a bit different.
Some of the awesome things about PP printing are that since you paint the emulsion onto the paper and it soaks in, the image is essentially part of the paper when done. This also makes every print absolutely unique. That, plus the fact that the print is made with noble metals (some of the most stable elements) means that a well made PP print will last over 1,000 years. They have one of the largest tonal ranges of any analog printing process, they don’t fade, and as if all that wasn’t enough to convince me to give it a try, you can also control the warmth of the print with both your emulsion mixture, and the temperature of your developer. More palladium and/or warm (temperature wise) developer makes a warmer more sepia toned image, more platinum and/or cooler developer gets you a neutral black and white. Then there’s the magic part. The best thing ever. The print develops instantly. Unlike silver printing where you wait a few minutes in the developer and watch your image slowly come to life, with PP printing you pour that shit on the paper and BOOM instant image.
In case you can’t tell, I love this process. Finding something new to learn, that at the same time took me back to my beginnings in photography, re-inspired me to shoot, print, and just helped for me to start looking for images again, whatever they may be. The focus on black and white imagery has made me think and study images and why they work or don’t work for this specific process. When you are forced to think like that about one thing, I find that it helps your ability to apply that type of thinking, that real visualization, analizing the image, to any type of imagery you are trying to create.
I guess the moral of this story is that any creative is going to hit a block at some point or another, and there is nothing wrong with taking a break to reset. At the same time though, if you are truly passionate about something, sometimes breaking out of that block is as easy as figuring out why you liked it in the first place. If it’s your job, you may not have the luxury of taking an extended break, so looking to the core of why you love what you do is a great place to start, IMO. For Brandon, taking a step back from the high stress competition world was what it took for him to rediscover the joy of riding a bike, for me, it was going back to creating physical prints, doing things with my hands and stepping away from the screens that run so much of our lives these days.
I am currently selling fine art PP prints, in very limited editions, as well as working on a long term project doing very classic portraits of dogs. Please check out the store on my site if you are interested in purchasing a print. All currently available prints are listed, but if you are interested in a different image just reach out, as I am planning to do many more images from ‘Places’. The dogs are not for sale, as they were done for those specific clients, though I am happy to discuss doing a portrait of your best friend (I’ll do hoomans too). Lastly, I am happy to run prints of your images for you, whether you would like one yourself or to sell, please email for rates!