OBITUARY: Larry Bartlett

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Like all Fleet Street printers, Larry Bartlett was little known outside the photography and darkroom world. However the images that he brought to life for so many photographers are among the best-known press photographs of the past 20 years.

Most of his work was in black-and-white printing, where he would create an atmosphere that was almost tactile. The function of the photographic printer is to control the contrast and the density of the final print. Emphasis can be placed on certain elements of a scene by increasing their contrast with their background and reducing the importance of distracting elements by making them disappear into a sea of black or a haze of white. In Bartlett's darkroom, by means of cropping, exposure techniques and a few tricks, distracting detail would disappear, and the main subject seem to leap out of the paper.

The expert printer can also introduce new elements to a scene by sleight of hand. For example, in his interpretation of the photographer John Downing's portrait of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which appeared first in the Daily Express and has been frequently reproduced since, Bartlett created a beatific beam of light to brighten the careworn face, in contrast with the brooding wide black borders which were a characteristic of his work. Bartlett often spoke of his two-decade partnership with Downing and how the photographer would, in dry countries, stamp around in big boots to create brilliant dust motes for Bartlett later to turn into an atmospheric sheen in the darkroom.

In the prestigious Ilford Printer of the Year Awards, Bartlett was all- conquering, winning the overall title three times, and receiving so many commendations that the sponsors lost count of his successes. Photographers entering their images in other competitions knew that a Bartlett print was sure to achieve the equivalent of a bye to the final. However, unlike many who are at the peak of their powers, he was not a secretive craftsman. Through the pages of photographic magazines and through his work with the Royal Photographic Society, he would encourage, correct, and above all inspire those who showed promise in the black art of printing.

Perhaps the most appropriate vehicle for a man with his enthusiasm and sheer stamina was the printing masterclass he ran every February for a dozen budding amateurs, at the "Focus on Photography" exhibition in Birmingham. Like a cross between a orchestral conductor and a chess master playing 12 simultaneous games, he controlled the whole room while advising and helping on individual problems.

In his primary career as a newspaper darkroom worker, when the Daily Express, his employer for 20 years, was switching to colour work, Bartlett moved seamlessly into its entirely different practices and techniques, and was named Technician of the Year 1995 by the British Picture Editors' Guild.

As the newspaper industry moved closer and closer to abandoning darkrooms altogether, he recently left the Express and was working on a bewildering range of projects. The first of these to bear fruit was the book which will be published next spring, entitled The Black-and-White Photographic Printing Workshop. It examines 40 of the most famous images he printed and explains how anyone could do it. As a book it is reflective of the man - aware that he is the best at what he does, and yet willing to share all his secrets to allow others to follow.

Joel Lacey

Larry Kenneth Bartlett, photographic printer: born London 30 December 1952; married 1973 Pat Tarrant (two sons); died Wallington, Surrey 7 December 1995.

Comments