“Moments that unite with eternity”
Jurgis Levdik-Zanarewsky is a rare photographer who works using a unique platinum-palladium technique. His personal exhibition of landscape photography – “The spirit of the place” is now open in the gallery of Classical Photography. We discussed “the spirit” of the platinum-palladium prints with the author, as he described us the complexity and value of such printing technique that represents fully the hand-printing process of the 19th century. Jurgis Levdik-Zanarewsky is an author of this exhibition and a member of the Creative Artists Union in Russia.
* The Spirit of Place… Does it mean that photographer is trying to capture the spirit or that he himself is to some extent the spirit of the place?
* Yes you can say, that this title of the exhibition has a double sense. Each particular place that is captured on the picture has its own spirit. Photographer, tuning to “feel” the tune of a place, once acquired the state has a choice to reproduce this tune. But if a man is not internally ready, if he doesn’t feel the place, it’s vibration or if the place’s vibration and his do not coincide, then he just passes it by. The photographer in such situations should be watchful – see, hear and feel, to understand what surrounds him.
* The most educated Italian of his time – Maurus Servius Honoratus in the 4 century BC said: “There is no place without a genius”. What is your opinion about that?
* Probably, there is a genius in any place. Genius or spirit. Bright spirit. Which is in the end – an angel. In every place there is such an intimate angelic point. Just one need to find it. You can do it as well at the level of macro photography, making pictures not moving more then two steps away from your house. This what I am occupied with sometimes in the past few month, making pictures of morning dew, meaning something very intimate and very small. Yes, this kind of spirit is everywhere. And you can always manifest its presence. Reveal the presence. You just have to be using the right revealing reagent for you. To react and reveal the essence of the place is a very difficult task for a photographer, and the unique old technique of platinum-palladium printing can help to manifest and reveal what is the “spirit” of the place.
* You mentioned, that the great “Russian Spaniard” artist, Nobel laureate Don Luis Ortega was your source of inspiration. Can we say he is in a way the “spirit” of your artworks?
* You know, it has only opened to me with time. When he passed away, I
only then realized how much he meant to me. I was acquainted to him and shared conversations with him in person. He was also a member of Creative Artist’s Union in Russia, but until 1990 he lived in a small one-room apartment on Shelepiha. He worked in a terrible conditions, but didn’t break down, rather on opposite created real things, he also build an International Fund, that takes care and promotes achievements in art, philosophy, IT and fundamental research… He didn’t use any PR services, but his exhibitions were sold out even before they opened. Luis Ortega not only finely engraved, he was doing incredible and astonishing things, using also the structure of the paper and it’s almost invisible pattern. To make high-quality reproductions of his prints was in the concrete almost impossible, a simple photo print was not satisfying enough. The light that falls each time from a different angle, created different pictures, not depicting what was really present. And works by Ortega lived their own lives. So do the prints created using platinum-palladium technique, they exist and live their own life on the paper, where the smallest fluffs create a micro-volume, what we now call a 3D effect. And here on the surface of the photo paper, even without special glasses a sense of depth is created. It is very difficult to transfer our 3-dimensional space into the two-dimensional space so that the depth doesn’t disappear. Platinum-palladium printing allows saving this depth and brings the feeling of space inside the print. Although, not all the pictures can be printed in this manner and not all the photographers, who have decided to apply this technique actually succeed to do it well. It either works or doesn’t work at all. If the photographer tries to “express his individuality” and deliberately makes himself an artist, his prints give a false feeling to the audience… This platinum-palladium technique was something I would love to discuss with Luis, I would like to invite him to the exhibition, and share this with him… But he passed away… For me he will always be a teacher, a figure unattainable.
* The technique itself was invented in the time of you great grandfather. What has changed in it since then?
* Platinum-palladium print of the XXI century has all the properties of the handprint of the XIX century. There are photographers, who repeat exactly the old chain of manual actions when printing. I’m using a hybrid version of technology, combining both the old and the new. At a certain stage, the original frame is scanned and becomes a digital negative. This is a kind of digital now-how. For me it doesn’t make sense to give up some of the scientific and technological achievements. Especially, when it highly reduces the price for printing. The scanned negative is retouched, there are some tonal nuances, and then it is displayed on a large format of film. This large negative is then transferred to the paper
that is covered with layers of platinum and palladium salts, then it is exhibited in the ultraviolet and finally it is printed.
* How laborious is this technique?
* Main problem is that, it is almost impossible to find materials for such type of printing. As the selling and buying of precious metals without a special permission from the state is forbidden. A license can be obtained by signing in the Assay Chamber. But for photographers, unlike jewelers, this is almost impossible. So, to get them one have to order from China or The USA.
* Originally there was only platinum printing. But then, when in the early 20th century, platinum has become 52 times more expensive than silver, photographers began using palladium or mixture of palladium and platinum. Did the prints won or lost from the process?
* Platinum gives cool colors. Palladium - warmer. Their mixture has allowed to extend the range of colors and achieve the sense of volume. My photos sometime appear yellowish light brown color – that is because they are made to the highest warmth level. There is no high contrast and deep black color in the pictures. This is possible only when using gelatin-silver printing, which in turn is closer to pure platinum printing.
* Why do you use maximum warmth level? Is it your personal preference?
* This shade does correspond to my inner feeling, and my vision of what I shoot. All the pictures are taken in the same tonal range, and the exhibition is like a complete music piece- there are things harder and softer, different counterpoints, different type of an “attack” of the viewer, but still in the same vein. Someone may have a different vision and prefer more juicy stuff, with well-developed light and dark colors – but it’s already a classic and accurate photo, only done in platinum and palladium. And this is something very different. It doesn’t make sense to those metals, and continue working with simple gelatin silver prints. I believe that this is the only possible topic for discussion one can argue about the platinum and palladium printing, using this tonal and tint context. This printing process gives such a subtle gradation of light colors, that it is possible to almost feel the air. Using the traditional method of printing on paper with silver-gelatin emulsion, you loose the feeling of this air in the photo. Color hue on my pictures is not a result of “taste experiments”, rather a position. I do not claim, that this is a final and unchangeable variant, and one must work only in this area using this technique. Just it’s my way of seeing it now.
* Your photo art you somehow correlate with Pictorialism? And what is Pictorialism for you?
* I don’t think this is Pictorialism. I’m very honest in my photos. The air is honest by itself. Pictorialism is only imitating the sensation of lightness it creates it by using a very specific tools, special optics, filters and monocles. Therefore Pictorialism is a slight distortion of the space. On contrary my optics is clean. It is what it is. I do not reject Pictorialism; I do like the idea of monocles. My next exhibition I would probably do using the monocles. One can get very beautiful pictures with it. But that show would be quite different.
* How important for you is the presence of people in your pictures?
* So far, I didn’t have a need to make shoots of people. I do have some portraits made, but I do make them very seldom and more over these are the pictures of the people who surround me, not just a random man… A man can easily ruin the picture. For example build some power line or other much and disfigure the chic landscape: my friend has a wonderful view from his house over the Lake Valdai. You could be setting up camera in the morning on the porch and not having to move anywhere, just shoot the change of weather, day and night… And now, because of the newly build power lines you cant do so anymore. So no, I prefer not to have people or anything that reminds about them in the picture. I would say I am a man of the forest and society just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve done some shooting of people in earlier reports, but I wouldn’t call it convincing or artistic. One must do what he is best at. Valeriy Nistratov is great at shooting people – he makes pictures of everyday life, a very different part of life for me, which I see only from outside and that scares me, when he dives with his head in it. Another great photographer is Valera Shekoldin, also great at shooting people – he can simply provoke people to create some kind of an interesting situation. But it’s still a provocation. And I do not provoke. I quietly observe and shoot. The Lord is giving me the pictures as a present. My job is to forward it further. I’m simply a technical performer or a technical director of the process.
* How did you start working in platinum-palladium manner?
* You know sometimes when you are little somebody tells you a magic word, and then you grow up and remember this magic word. This is how it happened with me. This word for me was “platinum-palladium printing”. And at some point it just entered my life. I’ve seen photos made by this method. I saw the Camera Work magazine, American one that was published in the beginning of XX century, from 1903-1917 by Alfred Stieglitz. There you could see works of Pictorialism and platinum-palladium. And this was very interesting. But I never really saw the originals. Having the pictures from magazine and later Internet in my mind I was aiming for this job, although I didn’t possess the technology
then. It took me several years to build the understanding of it, to learn how to feel and predict, which frame will be good for platinum-palladium printing. After all there is always a problem of visualization – when you are in the shooting point, you should always have in your mind, how it is going to look in the end. What you want to get in the end you invest in the beginning of the shootings. Know in advance what you are going to get, and whether it is going to be interesting or not. And only then make a shooting, or not make one. You have to make a choice. And also reduce and abandon the commercial thinking completely. It did took me some time to get away from a life when I had to make a photo, get it printed in the newspaper or some magazine and get the money for it.
* You are a photographer in the forth generation, had anyone beside you in your family used this technique?
* No family archives are left: the XX century “walked” through the genus. But I know that in the platinum-palladium technique I am the first in the family. This is in a way my feeling of what could have been in the archive of my great grandfather. I’m trying to fill up what is not there, something that I’ve been missing. So that my children had something to rely on. My pictures are my inheritance for them. I have four children, and it would be really great if one of them becomes a photographer, then the family photographic tradition will continue, as it did until now.
* Could you tell me a little bit about your photographic family?
* My great grandfather, Zanarewski Maxim Longinovich opened his first photographic studio in Rila, Kursk province, in 1891. Before the revolution in 1917, my grandfather Alexander Levdik-Zanarewski studied photography and sculpture in Paris at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. On his return to the already Bolshevik Moscow, he became the head of the first photo lab in the “Izvestia” newspaper. He also taught my grandmother the art of photography. She used to be a pure technician and responsible for polishing optical lenses at Lytkatino factory, but once she learned how to make photos, she never parted with the camera. My father didn’t become a professional photographer, but was seriously interested in photography, and when I became a photographer too, my father said: «It's the genes». That is why the interest for photography in the family was developed gradually and naturally. The passion to photography spread from one to another.
* Do you remember your first shoots?
* Childish photos on the film, I was shooting my schoolmates. There were landscapes as well – every year my parents and I went camping with tents. We’ve been in the lowland rivers of the European part of our country, in the Crimea, the Caucasus. The landscape was the main criterion for choosing a parking stop. My father was punctilious in this
regard. He even had a special rate system for this – a “C - class” parking, a “B- class” and an “A-class”, where A – was the highest level of appreciation. The tent served us as a mobile home with a nice view from a window for quite some time. At some point this search for a view resulted in a house on the bank of Volga River for me. There you can see miniatures on all the four sides. But I still had to find the main in this beauty. I was lacking the precise sensation. Yes, everything is good, but what would you shoot? After all, you have to be not just acquainted with the works of the classical photographers, but as well be able to isolate in the visual space, what would be really interesting in the picture. So I had to concentrate, to cultivate this sense of the photographer. It took me almost 10 years.
* You don’t have a professional degree?
* I’m a radio engineer by diploma, and graduated from the Moscow institute of Communications. I actually had two hobbies in my childhood –assembling the radios and putting together the enhancers, and photography. I wanted to combine these two hobbies and tried to enter Institute of Cinema-Engineering in Leningrad. But remained closer to parents in Moscow. After the end of my studies I worked as a photo-assistant, but was quite free in time to make shootings for commercials.
* In which magazines did you have publications? And could you give some examples?
* There were two advertising magazines in the Soviet Union – “Commercial Gazette” and “New Products”. They shot everything – clocks, refrigerators, everything that could be called “consumer goods”.
* Your engineering past helps in your present work?
* Of course, photography in its essence is a very technical thing. You always have to solve various technical questions. Now, with the help of digital technology many things became easier, this is also the reason why there are more women-photographers now. But I work in the hand-printing area, where it is as hard as it used to be in the past. From a creative perspective, my engineering past doesn’t really help.
* Few words about your Internet project “Fotograf.ru”, which now grew into your personal site…
* I’ve been doing this for many years. It used to be a place where I researched the photographic space, where I studied myself, learned and give links to good Internet resources. There was a specific list, a list of photographers, who you could contact directly through the site. There was information on Russian photographers and about all the best I found abroad. It was back in the time, when it was hard to find guidance; this site was kind of a source, which allowed finding something suitable for everyone.
* Is there anybody else working in this technique in Russia?
* There is a group of alternative photographers, but they are more fans, which make it in their free time. For example Aleksey Belov in Zelenograd, who is a teacher by his profession, who got involved into this process of platinum palladium printing, and does all by hands. Perhaps he makes some repetitions in his works, banal things… I also have some common things in my works, but I do it consciously. Most of the times it’s for the sake of selling the art-works, for those customers who want to see something very stereotype picture – a boat at the bank of the river, whole or broken one…
* Do you know who is working in this technique in America? And how popular is this technique there now?
* There are teachers who gave a chance to everyone. I felt this chance and the touch of them in the early 1990’s. There was and is Kerik Kouklis. But the main figure to my mind is David Fokos; he made a huge range of experiments and came up with a mathematical curve for output of digital negatives on the film. This is his present to all of us, he spent two years of his life on this experiments with the curve. Fokos produced large platinum-palladium prints of landscapes, mostly square shape 1m x 1m, highly expensive pictures for special customers: for a simple house or flat this prints are not suitable, only for houses that have a ceiling of 5-6 meters. Both Kouklis and Fokos are working still, but they don’t use platinum-palladium printing anymore. Kouklis, for example, became engaged in alternative things, such as wet colloid – creating an image on the glass and not the paper. This is also something our local fans of photography occupy themselves with. Fokos, since 2005 started to produce a totally commercial product and now makes only digital prints – they are also popular, since most of the people, do not really care whether it is hand printing of digital, or silver or even platinum-palladium… People do buy well pictures, printed in the usual way on digital machines. Though Fokos do bring these pictures to perfection: spending a few dozen hours on each of the image. You can’t say that Fokos photos are highly artistic, rather posters made at a very good level. He has a very typical American photography style; there is a lot of Photoshop in it. I almost don’t use Photoshop, only if for some specific reasons like changing the contrast or making some accents, but I do not darken the sky – it stays exactly the way it was when I shoot it. Americans like to dramatize. One can easily distinguish American school by this Photoshop tricks used in the prints.
* You are saying that “people don’t care”, but then how can you talk about any serious development of platinum-palladium, and the hand-made pictures in total?
* In regard to digital printing, there is a problem of repetition. Meaning that there is no “original”, you take a digital file, and make as many prints from it as you wish. But for the collector, who invests any money in works of art, that become more expensive with time – this is a way of capitalization, a way to save the money. And hand printed work in the end is much more valuable anyway.
* But “virtuoso”, people who understand appreciate it. So platinum-palladium print is the business of a few and for a few.
* Yes, it is quite a small circle of people who really appreciate it. There are maybe around 5 galleries within all the USA and two in Europe who are involved and do showcase this type of photography.
* Can you name us at least one of them?
* The gallery of Ansel Adams, for example. In Russia – The Gallery of Classical photography. I believe this is the only gallery we have, that actually showcases real photo art-works, especially those in platinum-palladium technique. Because everything else got spoilt and became too commercial. In the House of Photography in Moscow now you can find the Multimedia Art Museum, and the pictures are drowning in a host of other things exposed. There is everything now, installations and postmodern things and so on.
* Your photos are demonstrated with incidental music. What is the record that is played?
* It’s a Scottish guitarist Robin Guthrie, the founder of the Cocteau Twins. He is doing some solo projects lately, and his music is very consistent – we have one mood. He has collaborations and joint projects with my other favorite musician, pianist Harold Budd and this music also is played at the exhibition. The inner space of the Gallery of Classical Photography is like a museum, it’s cleverly build, but it feels a bit uncomfortable for the visitors in the silence. I wanted to create a more lively and warm space with the help of music.
* Can one say that platinum-palladium printing is part of some special genre of photography?
* I would relate it to landscape, or city shooting. I really want to make a photo in the church when a ray of sun falls into the darkness of the arches and the air begins to glow… I have a special concept for monasteries. Before monasteries were build in such a way, that all of a sudden you find a stunning view, so it feels like there is a wave that carries you away. The idea was to find such a point, create a picture and produce it using platinum-palladium technique – and later this print could be used as a present from the abbot of the monastery when the patriarch arrives. Usually they exchange icons. Such a landscape photo – is in a sense an icon. But this project requires a lot of effort, time and
distance. It is hardly possible to make it alone.
* How popular do you think a landscape as a genre of photography is considered nowadays?
* I believe it is not popular at all. If you think about it from a commercial point of view – a landscape is the most difficult way for self-realization. Photography is now the easiest way of expression. But the photographers are trying to be more original and make everything in a strange manner, to draw attention to them. Here, someone took a picture, expressed himself and believe this was enough. He doesn’t think about the fact that his work is going to hand on somebodies wall. And do not consider the fact that it might be simply destroying and violating someone else’s space… I have a different approach in this regard – I make landscapes, thinking about what I would like to live with and have hanging in my house, I make photos of land that would not violate anybody’s space. Any of my works can enter any house, and through this “window” a “soft light” will flow into the house. If pompously, I try to capture an eternity. I do have a feeling that the moments, captured by the camera do not stop; rather I live in those moments and connect with eternity.
* What camera did you use for this exhibition?
* Shen Hao TFC617, Chinese wooden camera with a format of 6x17cm. It is quite a cumbersome thing. The camera it self is not so heavy, around 2 kg, but the tripod and 4 lenses (Nikkor and Sсhneider) make it up to 10 kg in total. But I really enjoy making pictures on this camera. There are things that you can hardly shoot properly using any other. At the same time I needed a certain speed and great ability to adapt to field conditions, for example, you could hardly stand with a tripod, when shooting the flood. So part of the exhibition was shot on a more mobile camera Fujica GSW690III 6x9 cm – the famous “Texas Leica” with Fujinon SW65/5,6 lens.
* How do you classify the level of your exhibition “The spirit of the place”, the first personal exhibition in your life?
* All things are real here. With a real content. I do not have even a shade of doubt that this is not only a decent level, but also an international level. It doesn’t seem interesting for me to repeat or try to imitate the American or Russian artists. I had an aim to find my own way. And I did it. That is it.
The interview by Katerina Kudriavtseva, for Photographer.ru