Currently on view in London's Atlas Gallery are these never-before-seen photos by surrealist artist Man Ray, saved by darkroom printer Pierre Gassman from contact sheets he had left behind. The acquisition of this collection clues us in on the often overlooked role developers play in a photographer's creative process.
Here’s why it’s important for a film photographer to establish good relationships with his lab technicians and darkroom printers: not only can they diligently work with you to ensure your images are created in the best quality possible, but loyalty to your printmaker can also mean major perks such as discounts, trade secrets, and the endurance of your artwork even after you’ve long gone, as in the case of Man Ray and Pierre Gassman. Photos from the found contacts are being exhibited for the first time, revealing the modernist artist’s experimentation on the medium.
Once belonging to Man Ray’s darkroom printer, Pierre Gassman, these prints reveal a subtlety that is often lost or overlooked in the prolific Surrealist’s work. Seen in their earliest, un-manipulated form, these still lifes and early examples of Man Ray’s portraiture evince a casual sensibility — a willingness to engage in trial and error — that feels, somehow, refreshingly at odds with the American-born modernist’s more widely known, finished works.
Of course, not all darkroom developers will be as enthused to archive your negatives in future hopes of exhibiting your Lomographic masterpieces, but it wouldn’t hurt to give them a more pleasant “How’s it going?” next time you catch them at the lab. Let’s show our film handlers a bit more appreciation and, who knows, maybe we’ll develop friendships with them as well!
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