Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom


Want to see what kind of work goes into turning a masterful photograph into an iconic print? Pablo Inirio, the master darkroom printer who works at Magnum Photos‘ New York headquarters, has personally worked on some of the cooperative’s best-known images. A number of his marked-up darkroom prints have appeared online, revealing the enormous amount of attention Inirio gives photos in the darkroom.

Sarah Coleman of The Literate Lens writes that Inirio’s tiny darkroom has many of these squiggle- and number-filled prints just casually lying around. Not just any ol’ prints, mind you, but some of history’s most well-known images.

The comparison images above show photographer Dennis Stock’s iconic portrait of James Dean in Times Square. The test print on the left shows all the work Inirio put into making the final photo look the way it does. The lines and circles you see reveal Inirio’s strategies for dodging and burning the image under the enlarger, with numbers scattered throughout the image to note different exposure times.

Coleman wonders whether the magic of seeing this process will carry over at all into our new digital age:

Over the last fifteen years, almost every photographer I’ve interviewed has waxed poetic about that “magical” experience of seeing an image develop in chemicals for the first time. You have to wonder whether today’s young photographers will rhapsodize as much about the first time they color-calibrated their monitors.

Here’s a similar comparison photo of a portrait of Muhammad Ali, captured by Thomas Hoepker in 1966:


A portrait of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, captured by Bob Henriques during Martin Luther King’s march on Washington:


Finally, a portrait of Audrey Hepburn, captured by photographer Dennis Stock:


Back in 2009, Magnum Photos tweeted two photographs showing Inirio at work in his darkroom. “Pablo Inirio, our Dark Room Printer at work,” the captions say:



You should definitely give Coleman’s original 2012 piece a read. It’s an interesting look into the mind of a darkroom master as he works in a rapidly changing industry.

(via POTB via Gizmodo via Fstoppers)

Image credits: Photographs by Magnum Photos

  • Scott

    Very cool insight into the process with film.

    One thing though, people talk about how we aren’t doing anything differently with our modern digital darkroom and that just doesn’t make much sense to me.

    How exactly do you selectively adjust sharpness and contrast in the dark dark room?

    It’s not like the only thing people do in Lightroom and Photoshop is dodging and burning…

  • o.b.1ne

    umm i’m pretty sure you’re just trying to save face, otherwise you would’ve specifically said content aware. And even content aware can be simulated in the dark room.

  • AtlantaTerry

    Mr. Zhang,
    Would you please stop using the word “capture”? Photographs are created, not captured.
    I guess it is like the relationship of a parent to a child. Would the parent say the baby was captured or created?

    Thank you for an otherwise interesting article.
    BTW, I have been shooting large format black and white film then after developing have the negatives scanned. I then edit the scanned image. There is a service that will print my digital edits onto actual silver-based enlarging paper. I find my time is far more productive using this blend of analog and digital photography.
    Terry Thomas…
    the photographer
    Atlanta, Georgia USA

  • Mr Hogwallop

    The term capture is used by people who have never shot film…it’s a digital thang. A couple of my younger friends do that.

  • Peter Michael Beck

    There are no rules on this- capture, create, suit yourself. We freeze a moment in time. I’m retired, but worked as a professional photographer or lab tech for 47 years and don’t care what term anyone uses.
    I am very pleased the darkroom crafts are still being practiced. It was my dream to buy a good Durst or Beseler enlarger, a 6′ Arkay sink and some reels, tanks and trays. I still have my safelights and Polycontrast filters. Had I retired much earlier that would have happened, but digital has caught up, to my satisfaction anyway. At work I scanned black and white and color negs as well as transparencies using Heidelberg and Hasselblad scanners and was well pleased with the results. I do still miss the darkroom smells, those wonderful Brovira papers, E-6 Ektachrome processing. Neat article.

  • Peter Michael Beck

    I cut my teeth on the old Speed Graphic, Graphic and a Calumet view cameras and the Leica M2 35mm as a Navy photographer back in the 1960’s, later working as an industrial photographer. Wound up at a well known magazine scanning images before I retired. Thanks for your post~ it was a trip down memory lane!

  • Marinus H.B. Vesseur

    I don’t get it. The James Dean pic just looks brighter all over, the Muhammed Ali pic has reduced contrast, the Henry Cartier-Bresson has more contrast (too much!) and the Audrey Hepburn is brighter all over again. That’s it. Can’t you see?

  • Dwight Decimus Meridius Smalls


  • William Burnett

    Horse and crap. If you find digital lacking then it is your skills that are lacking not the medium.

  • Steve Bigler

    I used to have sex in my darkroom… “cloning tool” no?

  • Steve Bigler

    Unsharp was merely a smudge of nose grease or vaseline on a gel between lens and paper, sharpen was using a higher graded paper…

  • Steve Bigler

    I’ve never found the penis tongs in my photoshop….

  • bob cooley

    Those are under View > Windows > Brushes > Anatomy :)

  • bob cooley

    Not if you are careful and are ‘content aware’ ;)

  • Steve Bigler

    Ahhh… I don’t have Windows. They were not included in the Mac edition. Wait… photographer using windows? You must still have a Friendster account too.

  • bob cooley

    You don’t have windows? Man – it must get cold in your house at night ;)

  • Steve Bigler

    I live under a bridge… but my box is inside a gortex tent… so I’m doing fine.

  • bob cooley

    That’s because you spent all of your hard earned $$ on one of those expensive Macs!! ;) (for the record, I’m actually a Mac user, and would also rather live in a tent than have to go back to M$oft…)

  • Steve Bigler

    What is a microsoft?

  • Steve Bigler

    Color printing sucked… everything always came out ruined. And you can hardly see the colors with the red light on!

  • Zorkikat

    Contrast can be tweaked when the film is developed, or else there is a selection of paper grades, or paper with variable contrast. Sharpness? It’s done in camera, or in film processing (the unsharp mask in PS evolved from a method used in the darkroom).