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

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.

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.

Advertisement

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.

 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.