Larry’s Darkroom Tray

Larry Fink's Developer Tray. Photo courtesy, John Cyr.

Recently, a very thought-provoking project came across our radar involving ONWARD ‘11 juror, Larry Fink, as well as an array of esteemed photographers. The binding subject matter: darkroom developer trays. Photographer John Cyr is working on an ongoing project to photograph the developer trays of some of the most renowned photographers that made (or are still making) silver gelatin prints. The photographs let people see a piece of fading photography ephemera from some of photography’s greats. Fink’s tray is just one of the many Cyr has had the opportunity to immortalize.

Cyr, a master printer and proprietor of Silver68, is photographing these trays “so that the photography community will remember specific, tangible printing tools that have been a seminal part of the photographic experience for the past hundred years.” His unusual portraits not only preserve these integral pieces of the photographers’ equipment, they also offer a piece of insight into their process.

Emmet Gowin's Developer Tray. Photo courtesy, John Cyr.

Ruminating on the hundreds upon thousands of prints that passed through Emmet Gowin’s tray, or the intense scratches on the surface of Sylvia Plachy’s silver-stained tray, one gets a sense of how these photographers work. The darkroom tray is where the image comes into fruition and one gets the sense that a lot of time can be spent here, hours upon hours in fact. As we trade our darkroom trays for computer screens and digital files, Cyr’s project takes on a relevancy and importance when remembering photography’s days of yore.

While only about halfway through his target number of 60 trays to photograph, Cyr’s project is a photography family tree of sorts – as he photographs a photographer’s tray, he is usually put in touch with other photographers who might also be interested in being a part of his project, according to his interview with Wired. Following these leads is turning his Developer Trays project into something that has also garnered attention from NPR’s The Picture Show and it will certainly continue to enter people’s consciousness, especially as we ponder: Will we be staring at photographs of famous photographers’ computer screens in 50 years?


    what a wonderful idea! who would of thought developing trays could have so much character. these make mine look pristine, having only been at for 9 years.

  • It is presumptuous to make statements like, “As we trade our darkroom trays for computer screens and digital files”. The author has unfortunately simplified technological displacement to mean inevitable and final. The actual study of history and the contrariness of artists should displace that notion and curb the tendency to create a facile narrative.

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