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Archive for Sunday, November 17, 1991

THE POWER OF PLATINUM

November 17, 1991

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Details, details, details.

That's why Nicolette Bromberg walks down the photographic equivalent of the road less traveled. Instead of using silver processing for her landscape and interior photograph prints, she chooses platinum. Is it harder? You bet.

"People think I'm nuts, but I enjoy doing it," said Bromberg, a Lawrence photographer.

Bromberg currently has photographs displayed in two Kansas City, Mo., shows, one at a large, juried exhibit at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2102 Baltimore, and one called "City Perspective'' at the Society of Contemporary Photography, 218 Delaware. She has also displayed her works in shows across the country, including the Architecture in Focus exhibit in Oakland, Calif. Since 1983 she's worked as the photo archivist in the Kansas Collection at the Kenneth R. Spencer Research Library at Kansas University.

TWO KINDS of images seem to dominate Bromberg's black-and-white work: uninhabited landscapes and equally uninhabited buildings, particularly train stations, factories and churches. One photograph shows the devastation time has wrought on Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.; another displays the fine detail of the arches inside a London cathedral. Yet a third displays the barren landscape around a huge, ancient burial mound in Ireland.

The problem with silver-based chemicals used in photographic printing is they fail to produce a strong contrast between darker areas that appear on a negative. Platinum paper preserves that detail.

"If I print in silver, all that detail just gets darker and darker," Bromberg said in a recent interview at the library. "Those areas fill in. In platinum processing, those areas stay there.''

PLATINUM PROCESSING from large negatives dates to the 19th century, but the art saw a revival in the 1970s, she said. Bromberg must prepare her own paper using a platinum solution, and the process consumes lots and lots of time.

"It's a difficult print medium, but others just can't hold that detail," she said.

Born in Olympia, Wash. and raised in Oregon, Bromberg studied art as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware.

"Actually I was never interested by photography," she said. "When I was in art school, we were required to take photography, but I was really more interested in drawing and painting. So I picked it (photography) in school, and I stuck with it.''

SHE WENT on to earn a graduate degree in photography at the University of Oregon, and during the late '70s and early '80s she taught at a college about 30 miles south of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. On the day the volcano erupted in 1980, she said her city of Longview missed most of the ash and the explosion because the mountain exploded toward the northeast. But she did feel the effects.

"I lived up on high ground, and my friends who lived in a valley came up to stay with me," she said. "There was a lake that was dammed by logs and debris, but if that had broken it would have flooded out the valley. So they spent a few days with me.''

Bromberg now works with the 30,000-piece Joseph Judd Pennell Collection at the Spencer Library. At the moment she's writing a book based on the work of Pennell, a turn-of-the-century Junction City photographer; the book is due out in 1993 by the University of New Mexico Press.

Despite the extensive use of photographs in the PBS documentary "The Civil War," she said using photographs to study history is still an open field.

"I'M ONE of the few people in the country working with photo archives," she said. "Historians haven't yet learned how to work with photographs. We're getting away from the idea of using a photograph just to introduce a chapter in a book.''

Her work has sometimes dovetailed with her photography. For example, when the Spencer received a collection of Union Station photographs, Bromberg was allowed to take some of her own inside the structure.

Despite the empty feeling of some of her interior images, Bromberg said they have a nearly mystical connection to human beings.

"I'm interested in a sense of place, which is the feeling you get when you go into a building that's been inhabited for a long time," she said. "If you open yourself to it and be aware of it, you get the feeling of what's happened there before and the energy that people have left behind. That feeling of human energy is still there if you look for it.''

AS FOR her exterior images, she said she's working on a series of "modern petraglyphs.'' Petraglyphs are mystical signs carved or painted onto rocks by early Native Americans; she's taken photographs of graffiti carved into the stones at such places as Rock City near Minneapolis, Kan.

"I want to show the changes that humans have made on the landscape," she said. "I'm interested in what we've left behind, really old ruins and such.''

As digital technology looms over the world of photography, Bromberg said she intends to continue working in this difficult medium.

"The technique you use depends on your purpose," she said. "For me, I have no interest in digital or electronic photography of any sort. My reason for doing photography is in getting fine detail, and so platinum is for me.''

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