The Art of Printing

The art of photo printing is slowly becoming archaic like a floppy drive or a cassette player. Nowadays, hardly anyone prints their digital photos, forget printing from film negatives. But not too long ago it was an art. It is still an art but the great practitioners of that art are slowly but steadily dying out. The intuition to judge the correct timing for development and fixing, the ability to extract detail from where it would seem impossible, correct mistakes made by the photographer and in the end produce a print that is virtually identical to the vision of the photographer is no mean task. But great printers are rarely given their due and most are content to toil in their darkrooms in search of that perfect print. It is therefore all the more important to celebrate one of the true artists in this field who printed for some of the very greats in photography. Reproduced below is an excerpt from one of the two lovingly written articles paying homage to Voja Mitrovic – one of the greatest printers in photography.

If you have even the slightest interest in photography, go grab a coffee, put your feet up and read the two articles (links after the excerpt) at your leisure.

Both Voja and Picto would have a tremendous impact on my own destiny. In June of 1979, after arriving back in Paris, I went to see Pierre Gassmann at Picto and asked for a job as a printer. Pierre, with his tough-love gruff voice, asked me what I knew how to do—and I exaggerated and told him that I was a great printer and knew how to do eve- rything with black-and-white prints. He said to me, “We will see. You will have a three day tryout, and if you aren’t as good as you say, you won’t get the job.” On my first day of my tryout, I was given 100 negatives and told to make 8×10-inch prints of each by the end of the day. At 4 p.m., a tall, handsome man with a foreign accent, one of the printers in the lab—Voja—came to my enlarger and asked how it was going. I told him that I had only printed 20 negatives. He said to me, “You will never get this job—give me the negatives.” I watched him take the hundred negatives to his enlarger, and in one hour, he printed the remaining 80 negatives, putting each sheet of printing paper in a closed drawer after exposing each negative. At 4:50 pm, he took out 80 sheets of exposed photographic paper and went to the open developing tank. I watched him chain develop all the prints, and one by one put all 80 prints, perfectly printed, into the fixer. At 5:10 p.m. that day, Pierre Gassmann walked into the lab and said, “letʼs see how you have done.” He put his foot on the foot pedal to light up the fixer tank with bright red light, and went through my 100 prints laying in the fixer-and a few seconds later, looked up and said to me, “you are as good as you said; you are hired!” After Gassmann walked out of the dark room, I took Voja aside, and said, “thank you. I will find a way one day to thank you for this!” He looked at me and said, “I was an immigrant also. I know what it means to need work—we need to help each other!”
—Copyright 2010 by Peter Turnley, Paris, France

Article I
Article II

Both the articles were written by Peter Turnley and were first published on Mike Johnston’s consistently excellent photography blog-The Online Photographer.