Creating a black-and-white photograph goes beyond the shutter

A master photo printmaker describes the developing chemicals, tools, and techniques that bring film frames to life.

Photograph by MARK THIESSEN
Photograph by MARK THIESSEN
This story appears in the August 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Printing black-and-white photographs is like tango dancing, says Brian Young. Each step of the film development has a rhythm. Or it’s like making a flan: Each chemical mix is precise in measurement and temperature. Young began printing in black and white in the 1980s and got hooked on “the ability to control everything,” compared with color photography. Today, in his Connecticut studio, it may take two hours to turn a piece of film into a print. “It’s not about being quick, easy, or convenient,” says Young. “It’s about being difficult, slow, and something you have to learn.”