Surprises in the Dark: 'In the Darkroom'

November 4, 2009


PHOTO TECHNOLOGY of the digital age has yet to exhaust its filmless possibilities. But “In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes,” at the National Gallery of Art, reminds us that technology’s role in broadening aesthetic horizons isn’t a modern phenomenon.

Chronicling image-development procedures from William Henry Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawings to chromogenic realist masterpieces of William Eggleston and Edward Burtynsky to the impossibly rich hues of Harry Callahan and the surreal landscapes of Richard Misrasch, the collection observes the subtle distinctions achieved through organic elements of image production.

Whether cyan tone-salted paper prints, albumen treatments, gelatin silver or the photomechanical processes of photogravure or halftone, “In the Darkroom” celebrates the craftsmanship that afforded icons such as the late Robert Penn Warren to, quoting a recent New Yorker eulogy, contrive “a quality of deep color that was the envy of every other photographer.”

A visual feast and an invaluable trove to students who would return lost elements of production to their own studios, the exhibit, drawn from the gallery’s archives, is a testament to the physical processes once vital to images that, despite technology’s advance, continue to guide us across the digital divide.

» National Gallery of Art, 400 Constitution Ave. NW; through March 14, free; 202-633-1000, nga.gov. (Archives-Navy Memorial)

Written by Express contributor Peter Cobus
Photo courtesy National Gallery of Art Washington Patrons’ Permanent Fund

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