Burning Beauty

The latest Magnum print collection celebrates the eye of the printer and the intimate art of darkroom magic.

Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Chuck Wein, New York, 1965 © Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos.

Introducing the Magnum Darkroom Collection, which presents some of the most iconic images from the collective’s vast archive, seen through the very discerning eye of master printer Pablo Inirio.

The new collection is made up of 11×14” reproductions of the darkroom printer’s test prints, complete with his mark-ups and notations. To the untrained eye, they appear something like an artistic intervention. But these scrawlings are in fact his own guidelines, revealing complex formulas and how he intends to ‘dodge and burn’ selected areas of the image as it is projected from a negative in an enlarger onto the surface of the print. The various numbers refer to the different exposure times he intends to use on portions of the image as he compensates for the imperfections of the original.

The facsimile prints in the collection therefore reveal an analog history — how depth and layers are accentuated through the printing process; how the subject is brought to life. They are also a testimony to the eye of the printer and the intimate art of darkroom magic. And this hidden history is made visible in the new collection, made up of five prints initially, each available in the Magnum shop, priced $250 (£250/€280).

New York, USA, 1963 © Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos.

"It’s a pleasure to print: great shadow detail, great highlight detail. You can’t ask for more."

Myanmar, 1997 © Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos.

They include Hiroji Kubota’s 1997 photograph taken in Myanmar, and Burt Glinn’s portrait of Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Chuck Wein, seemingly emerging from beneath the Manhattan streets, and Dennis Stock’s film set still of Audrey Hepburn playing in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina. A more candid moment is photographed by Leonard Freed, capturing the sheer delight of children cooling off from the summer heat, drenched by an open fire hydrant in Harlem. Elsewhere in New York City, in Chinatown in 1998, Chien-Chi Chang photographs a newly-arrived immigrant eating noodles on a fire escape.

New York, USA, 1998 © Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos.

“Chien-Chi Chang is awesome with his exposures,” said Inirio in a 2016 interview with Oktober Matthews for GUP magazine. “He’s so detailed about it. It’s a pleasure to print his stuff: great shadow detail, great highlight detail… you can’t ask for more.”

Elsewhere in the same interview he was asked to what extent his work is based on craftsmanship or art or science. “A lot of it is just craftsmanship,” he replies. “You can’t really get so much into the art, because it’s not your picture… I have to just print it how they want it — and that’s fine! It actually makes life easier, because if you have total freedom, there’s too much range.

”As far as science, it’s pretty straightforward. If you know how to mix the chemistry, you’re fine. I don’t do anything fancy, I keep it really simple in there…. It just has to wash really well, tone it nicely, then wash it again, and it should last for years and years.”

The prints from the Darkroom Collection are available to buy here.

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