A Look at Ansel Adams' and Sylvia Plachy’s Darkroom Tools

The Photo Blog
Oct. 22 2012 8:54 AM

A Look at Ansel Adams' and Sylvia Plachy’s Darkroom Tools

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John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Ed Grazda, Richard Misrach, the Collection of the George Eastman House
Trays of Ed Grazda, Richard Misrach, and the Collection of the George Eastman House

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

These days it is possible to call oneself a photographer without knowing how to use a darkroom. Photographer John Cyr highlights the magic of this endangered process in a series of images of famous photographers' developer trays. Ansel Adams, Richard Misrach, and Sylvia Plachy are just a few of the photographers whose trays are featured in his exhibit, currrently on display at the Davis Orton Gallery in Hudson, New York.

John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Wynn Bullock
Trays of Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, and Wynn Bullock

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Tom Baril, Edna Bullock, Sally Mann
Trays of Tom Baril, Edna Bullock, and Sally Mann

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

A developer tray, for those unaware, is that critical vessel, which holds developer solution. When the light-exposed photographic paper goes into it, it makes the picture literally appear before one’s eyes. Even though it’s pure science, the process feels like magic. Simply looking at the photos of these multi-colored trays it’s possible to get a sense of this.

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Although some photographers mailed Cyr their trays, he aimed to photograph as many as possible in their natural habitat.

 “I have been fortunate enough to photograph Bruce Davidson's developer tray by the natural light of his New York City apartment, Sally Mann's developer tray in the backyard of her farm in Virginia, Abelardo Morell's on the floor of his Massachusetts studio's darkroom floor, as well as numerous others in various locations throughout the country,” he told me.

John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Sylvia Plachy, Andreas Feininger, Minor White
Trays of Sylvia Plachy, Andreas Feininger, and Minor White

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Eddie Adams, Andrea Modica, Abelardo Morell
Trays of Eddie Adams, Andrea Modica, and Abelardo Morell

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

John Cyr, Developer Trays, Famous Photographers, Darkroom Printing, Chuck Kelton, the Photo History Collection of Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Neil Selkirk
Trays of Chuck Kelton, the Photo History Collection of Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and Neil Selkirk

John Cyr/Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

Each visit was accompanied by an intimate discussion with the photographer or one of their surviving family members. By they end, every one emphasized the same thing: silver gelatin printing – and therefore a develop tray – had played a critical role in their work.

Cyr estimates that 30-40% of the trays he has photographed are still in use, including some that had belonged to deceased photographers: Ralph Gibson uses Andreas Feininger's tray, Abe Frajndlich uses Minor White's, and John Coplans' tray is used by Amanda Means. The tradition of darkroom printing carries on, regardless of the arguments surrounding it and its supposed demise.

Behold is Slate's brand new photo blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @beholdphotos and on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

 

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