It’s no accident that many good photographers subcontracted their printing to professionals. Walker-Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Cecil Beaton, René Buri, Eammon McCabe, Hamish Fulton, Galen Rowell, Sebastião Salgado … the list goes on.

I’m reminded of something Cartier-Bresson once said:

“Those who go into the darkroom to develop our photos. That is a marvellous craft. Anyone can be a photographer, even a monkey can be taught to do that. But a developer no. It is the work of a real craftsman exactly like an engraver, it is a real profession.”

I don’t agree that anyone can be a photographer, or at least a good one, but the business of darkroom printing is a marvellous craft.

Professional photographer-printers were the exception rather than the rule. One thinks of Ed Weston or Ansel Adams, who, I feel, took pictures to be in the darkroom. But I don’t think there were many professional photographers who also printed their own work. Portrait photographers tended to subcontract out their printing because of the advanced printing techniques required for good portraiture. Street photographers and photojournalists producing high volumes of pictures would have found printing a distraction. After all darkroom printing takes a lot of time, money and energy. Photographers who also worked in darkrooms tended to be amateur enthusiasts or professionals at the beginning of their careers, like the Turnley twins, who couldn’t afford bespoke printers.

So, who were these darkroom printers? Here are a few:

Larry Bartlett‘s ‘The Black-and-White Photographic Printing Workshop’ is a standard of the genre. Bartlett was a Fleet Street printer who fashioned many of the top photo-journalists pictures of the time. Probably his most seen picture is of Mother Tereza. Here is his obituary in the Indie.

Glen Brent collaborated with Patrick Lichfield, Eve Arnold, Steele-Perkins and many others.

Sid Kaplan printed for Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, Weegee, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michals, and many others.

Pablo Inirio was one printer (among others) used by Cartier-Bresson and René Burri. Perhaps his best-known picture is Burri’s cigar chewing Che Guevara. As a darkroom printer, I learn much by studying his print maps. Here is an example – James Dean in Times Square.

George Fevre (another Cartier-Bresson printer)

Voja Mitrovic who printed for Cartier-Bresson and Koudelka

Adrian Ensor worked with many photographers including Cecil Beaton (archive), Terry Donovan (archive), Brian Duffy, Hamish Fulton, Richard Long, Terry O’Neil and many others. I know his work through his excellent book ‘Advanced Processing and Printing’, perhaps one of the best darkroom printing books I have.

Robin Bell who has worked with Elliott Erwitt, Terry O’Neill, David Bailey, Homer Sykes, Don McCullin, Eve Arnold, Bill Brandt, Sheila Rock and many others.

Andrew Sanderson who still upholds the tradition of photographer-printer and still works with clients.

3 thoughts on “The marvellous craft of darkroom printing

  1. Sometimes we just don’t think about the whole process of film photography, which is not too simple, especially for those who know how to take pictures, but the developing, printing and chemistry mixing skulls are not in their knowledge basket. Especially today when to be just a photographer is not enough. Some are trying to do self promotion, self marketing, videography for their YouTube channel..And finally their photography suffers and becomes not an issue.

  2. I enjoyed reading your darkroom articles Tony, keep up the good work. I also admire the photos by Andrew Sanderson.


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