Developer Trays: Recording the Photographic Process

John Cyr
John Cyr
Aaron Siskind

Last year John Cyr, a Brooklyn based photographer, printer and educator, began the Developer Trays project as part of his MFA thesis study at the School of Visual Arts.  With a strong attachment to his own developer tray, he began making images of other photographers’ trays, bringing to light the historical significance of the photographic process.

In his artist’s statement, Cyr speaks about his motivation:

“From the mid-nineteenth century until today, silver gelatin printing has been one of the most utilized photographic processes. From classic reportage to fine art photography, the majority of it was performed in a black and white darkroom until the mid-1970’s. As recently as 2000, black and white darkroom classes still served as the location for introduction to photography courses. The digital advances in photography over the past ten years have been remarkable. I am photographing available developer 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. By titling each tray with its owner’s name and the years in which it was used, I reference the historical significance of these objects in a minimal manner that evokes thought and introspection about what images have passed through each individual tray.”

Cyr takes interest in both the connotation and denotation of each tray. While speaking with TIME, he recalls the beginnings of his project.

“The first photographer that let me photograph their tray was Emmet Gowin….I was given the opportunity to look through the stack of developer trays that he had used for over forty years. I found a visually striking 11×14 tray with swatches of magenta, purple, yellow and blue. Not only was this tray historically significant as one that Emmet had used to print with for over forty years, but it was also uniquely beautiful. The moment I saw Emmet’s tray and imagined all the images that have passed through it, I knew that the project could grow stronger with each tray that I am able to locate and photograph.”

More of John Cyr’s work is available on his website.

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