Sid Kaplan: Legendary Darkroom Printer and Quiet Master Photographer


Have you heard of Sid Kaplan? If you’ve studied the works of great American photographers, you’ve likely at least seen some of Kaplan’s handiwork. Although he’s a master photographer in his own right, Kaplan had made a name for himself as one of the industry’s finest photo printers. Over the past four or five decades, Kaplan has made prints for some of the biggest names in photography.

Those photographers include Robert Frank–a partnership that is more than forty years old–W. Eugene Smith, Philippe Halsman, Weegee, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michals, Louis Faurer, Joan Roth, and Allen Ginsberg.

Kaplan in 1989
Kaplan in 1989

The 75-year-old Kaplan is also a teacher at The School of Visual Arts in New York, teaching other photographers the fine art of printing black and white photographs in a darkroom.

When he’s not printing photos for others or passing along his know-how to students, Kaplan uses his money and time for his own passion: the documentation of New York city. One of the subjects he focuses on is documenting sights in New York City that will soon be lost to history. Things that will soon be changed, whether torn down or built up. His photos offer a beautiful documentation of life in The Big Apple over the past half century.

So why have you not heard about this photographer who has spent so many years rubbing shoulders with the industries premier artists? Well, he’s not very interested in self-promotion. In a feature about Kaplan over on the New York Times’ Lens Blog, James Estrin writes,

[Kaplan’s] printing and teaching supported his own obsessive photographing of New York, but the striking images he has made over the last 60 years remain little known outside his circle of students and friends. Face it, he was a much better printer and teacher than self-promoter.

If you want to learn the secrets of holding detail in a deep shadow or the proper incantation to use with ferrocyanide, Sid Kaplan is definitely your man. But if you want to find out how to promote your photography and play the gallery and publishing games, he is not the best source of advice.

Kaplan might not be big on promoting his work, but we certainly will (with his permission, of course). Here’s a selection of some of the amazing images Kaplan has created:

05 - vSceoxJ

06 - U9Tp3dw

07 - upAcabV

08 - zOQjniC

09 - xiAmpA1

10 - vDZ57Jc

11 - Xuso1qb

12 - qR9F2Bt

13 - 0hHaQid

14 - UlHjmmr

15 - rjgVYGA

16 - 6aXA7nF

17 - 2zL9140

18 - aHGpEWi

19 - hSqdDiI

20 - AwxJIB8

01 - HdQXXru

02 - 0twmE6P

03 - dzojx5i

04 - 8KgMggs

You can find more about Kaplan and see more of his work over on his official Facebook page.

Image credits: Header photo of Sid by Ron Hirsch. Other photographs by Sid Kaplan and used with permission