I enjoyed this interview with Magnum New York’s darkroom printer, Pablo Inirio, Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing:
I was curious to see how the last few years of digital progress have affected things at Magnum, so I checked in with Inirio by phone this week. He was still there, bubbling with the good cheer that, along with his darkroom skills, have made him a favorite with Magnum photographers. In the three years since we met, he said, surprisingly little has changed at Magnum. He had to switch to Ilford paper when Agfa closed, and he hopes Kodak doesn’t take his stop bath away—but otherwise, things are the same. “Collectors and galleries still want prints on fiber paper—they just like the way it looks,” he said. He’s often called upon to print from current members’ film archives, and for the estates of various deceased members, like Dennis Stock and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The prints go to exhibitions, book publishers and private collectors. “I’m still pretty busy—in fact, I’m backed up,” he said with a laugh.
Magnum has been digitizing its archive, but so far, Inirio hasn’t been tempted to transfer his skills to the digital realm. “Digital prints have their own kind of look, and it’s fine, but fiber prints have such richness and depth,” he said. He thinks darkroom printing will always be with us—after all, he pointed out, “people are still doing daguerrotypes.”
You can’t disagree that there’s a difference in look and feel, but I wonder how often people making such a comparison are thinking of digital images printed on ordinary inkjet paper, rather than on the more modern baryta-based printing papers. Even as one whose photographic roots lie in the darkroom, I’m enormously impressed by the look and feel of inkjet papers like Permajet’s Royal or Hahnemuhle’s Glossy FineArt (the two papers I use most with my Epson 3880).
But I was particularly struck by Inirio’s printing plans for some well-known pictures. It’s ten years since I really got my hands wet, and my own dodging and burning plans were usually sketched out mentally, but the method is familiar or second nature to any serious darkroom printer. More than that though, don’t his lines and ovals remind you of Lightroom’s local adjustments?