The Photograph Explained: Rock Cave by Julian Pearce

Rock Cave

Platinum/palladium photograph

This photograph is one of a series of platinum/palladium photographs made in Girraween National Park, which lies in the Great Dividing Range on the border between NSW and Queensland. The series of photographs were exhibited at Point Light Gallery in Sydney in October 2012 and at the Queensland Centre for Photography in March 2013.

Having visited Girraween over many years, I decided in 2009 to spend a concentrated period over three years making photographs that capture the interplay between light and shadow, granite and water. They were taken with an 11 x 14 large format camera to allow the final prints themselves to be reasonably large and contact printed from the original in-camera negative.

I find great pleasure (and occasionally frustration) in making these hand crafted photographs using traditional techniques and a large camera. The advantage of platinum/palladium is that it is well suited to the high contrast in the Australian bush and shows good detail in the highlights.
All the negatives in the series were made using Ilford HP5+ developed in Pyrocat HD at 1:1:100. After early failures with scratches, with practice and a lot of care and concentration, I have been able to successfully develop 4 sheets of 11 x 14 film in a 12 x 16 tray at the one time. As the developer is quite dilute a litre of developer per sheet of film is used. Development time is longer than generally recommended to ensure adequate contrast as required for the platinum/palladium process (for standard development, I develop for 14 minutes at 24C). Pyrocat HD gives low stain in the film base which helps contain the exposure times, while providing high contrast for the UV light used to expose the print.

The particular photograph shown here is taken from within a cave formed by several boulders, with the camera as tight as possible against the back of the cave. I was attracted to the stark contrast between the cave walls drifting to near black and the texture of the sun on the bark of the central tree and the flood of light on the trees in the distance. It took several visits to this place, and a lot of waiting, to discover the best time for the sun to show the texture in the bark of the tree.

By using platinum/palladium for the prints, and by developing this sheet of film gently and exposing generously (placing the deep shadows on zone III and rating HP5+ at 200 ISO), I was able to capture the detail of the rock inside the cave while showing the glow of light in the distance. The lens used was a huge and heavy 210 mm Super Angulon which is one of the few of that focal length which covers 11 x 14. It was stopped down to f64 to allow good depth of field.

The print was made using the standard ‘developing out’ platinum/palladium techniques on Revere Platinum 300 gsm paper, pre-coated with fumed silica prior to the application of the platinum and palladium salts. I find that this additional coat adds to the richness of the shadows

The photographs below show an artist’s talk at Queensland Centre for Photography and the 11 x 14 camera in use with Gordon Undy looking on. Gordon provided much good advice and counsel in the preparation of the Girraween series.

julian artists talk qcp

Further information about the Girraween series and platinum/palladium photography can be found at

The photograph below show the 11×14 camera in use with Gordon Undy looking on.

Julian Pearce & Gordon Undy with 11x14 camera