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Sac State photo exhibit gilded in platinum

08-19-2014

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The exhibit includes works by Mary Swisher.

A now-rare method of photography will be spotlighted in the fall exhibit at Sacramento State’s Library Gallery Annex.

“Homage: The Platinum Experience” shines the light on platinum print photography, displaying works in that medium by three local photographers: Anita Scharf, Mary Swisher and Valerie Wheeler.

The free exhibit runs Sept. 4-Oct. 18, with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

While most black-and-white print paper is coated with silver gelatin as the light-sensitive material, a number of metals were used in the 19th century in coatings, including platinum. By the early 20th century, platinum was very popular for prints because it could capture more information from the light, showing more details and tonal depth, Wheeler says. It also lasts considerably longer than common monochrome prints.

During World War I, though, platinum was declared a strategic metal and unavailable. Now it’s very expensive and is part of a niche photography field known as “alternative photography.”

Since platinum paper is not made commercially, the photographers have to make their own coating. It’s an arduous, time-consuming job, but the artists find the end results are well worth it.

“Platinum printing is a contemplative process that asks the viewer to take a moment to consider a nuanced and complex image,” Swisher says.

“There is a luminescence that I don’t find in other processes,” Scharf says. “When light hits the platinum coating, it glows. Skin tones look beautiful in platinum.”

In addition to bringing this art form to the public, the artists have another reason for the exhibit. “We wanted to do this as an homage to Roger Vail,” Wheeler says.

All three of them were introduced to the medium by Vail, a former longtime Sac State professor and nationally recognized photographer. Swisher was a student of Vail’s in the 1970s, Wheeler began taking his courses in 2007, and Scharf in 2010. The Sac State connection continues. Scharf is a lecturer in the English Department, and Wheeler recently retired as an anthropology professor.

Each photographer will display about a dozen pieces, some of them fairly large. And all three plan to attend the Sept. 4 reception.

For more information on the University Library Gallery and its exhibits, visit www.al.csus.edu/sota/ulg or call (916) 278-4189. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156. – Craig Koscho