My Project: Post Process

John Cyr chronicles the history of printmaking by shooting photographers' developing trays

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John Cyr is a photographer and printer; he teaches at the International Center of Photography in New York. Visit Cyr, Courtesy of the Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

When John Cyr began his series "Developing Trays" in 2010, it was far from a nostalgia project. The 31-year-old photographer has been working in printing since 2003, and while many film clients have since switched to digital, his own tray was still in operation.

While pursuing an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, his search for a thesis project led him back home to his own darkroom. Capturing the objects within led him to a new idea. "I like the idea of the image as a singular object, which is what attracts me to printing," he explains. "A tray is an object that has helped make other memorable objects, and deserves to be captured on its own."

He began seeking out photog-raphers with a memorable history in film, as well as relatives of well-known icons—like Ansel Adams' son. When Emmet Gowin invited him to visit his studio, he became one of his first subjects, and the project was born.

"First we'd sit and chat a bit about the project, and often about the experience of going from analog to digital," Cyr explains. Many were no longer regularly using their darkroom trays—others still used them, if only once in awhile. Ansel Adams' still sits in a well-preserved darkroom, and Aaron Siskind's last assistant uses his as a carrier for yarn.

Cyr positions the trays as close as possible to available light, and shoots with a 4x5 Osaka view camera. Sometimes he uses a single strobe. Later, he scans the Kodak 160NC images on an Imacon scanner, printing them on inkjet. "The process reminded me that we're lucky to have all this at our disposal."

His thesis complete, he continues to shoot; with 72 trays captured, he considers the project ongoing. But it's the history, rather than the silver-gelatin, that fascinates him: "Digital equipment today can be rendered obsolete within a few years, but these trays have lasted photographers throughout their careers in print," he explains.

It's what makes them such compelling objects: a history of prints, in layers of silver lining.