PLATINUM/PALLADIUM PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM SHULER. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 6, through June 23 at Wolfe Street Gallery, 1204 31st Street NW.
You can almost see the wind blowing through the wheat. Long, delicate strands arch and strain to touch the sun. The corn is a myraid of angles, lines and gradations of a golden red-brown.
This is a palladium photographic process.
Before technology came up with a low-cost process for developing black-and-white film, photographers processed their pictures with platinum or palladium metals. Both methods are known for their soft image quality and increased tonal depth. But it's always been tedious and expensive, so few photographers bother with it these days.Tom Shuler is one of that small minority, and a collection of his platinum and palladium photos is being shown at the Wolfe Street Gallery now.
The platinum process is a starker hue of brown-black - very effective in highlighting architecture. Shuler's shot of a chapel have in the Washington Cathedral is alive with rhythmic patterns. Columns give way to gently curved gothic arches, framing an altar. Behind the altar are small bas-relief statues and lacy stone filigree.
The exquisite detail and hues, says Shuler, are due to matte surface with the emulsion in the paper fiber itself. He used expensive rag stationery for the prints in this show. Silver or "normal" paper has the emulsion suspended on top of the paper surface.
Most of his pictures are small, since he used regular 4" x 5" silver black-and-white negatives that can't be enlarged. They are printed onto paper coated with a special emulsion. The print is then made through exposure to the sun or "high-wattage brute force," which in this case is a special box Shuler built to house some 500-watt bulbs.Depending on the tonal range he wants to achieve, prints are washed in either potassium oxalate and hydrochloric acid or a citrate-base developer.
The pictures are striking. His landscapes are romantic and pretty, especially the C&O Canal study. By contrast, portraits of his family, friends and bums from a soup kitchen are almost austere. They simply stare back at the viewer with a sad, sometimes defeated gaze. CAPTION: Picture, AN UNTITLED ARCHITECTURE STUDY BY TOM SHULER, THROUGH JUNE 23 AT WOLFE STREET GALLERY.