Michael Spry obituary

My friend Michael Spry, who has died aged 79, was a photographic printer who counted David Bailey, Norman Parkinson, Lord (Tony) Snowdon, Don McCullin and Terry O’Neill among his clients.

His entire career was spent working in the medium and, while printed photographs went in and out of fashion, he latterly found favour with a new generation attracted to black-and-white photography and keen to learn the analogue mysteries of the darkroom. In photographic printing, he said, they found “an organic alternative to the bland qualities of the digital camera”.

Michael had the ability to print in the individual “house style” of each of his clients, with a range of techniques dating from the days of the pioneers. He experimented with lith printing, toning, tinting and more, all of which needed a specialist’s knowledge of chemistry.

I started working with Michael in the 1970s. Uniquely, I was permitted to be with him while he printed. In the dimness of a red safe-light, I was privileged to witness him working in the darkroom of his studio in Mount Pleasant, central London, and later in Valentine Place, Southwark.

I was reminded of an orchestral maestro, gesturing with his hands, allowing light from the enlarger to reach photo-sensitive paper – or not, as the image required – timed to the second. Ever the perfectionist, Michael would halt or advance the developing process while the print was still in the developer by adding hot water or ferricyanide directly on to a tiny part of the image, a risky business requiring a light touch and a steady hand.

Born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Michael was the son Minnie (nee Hancock), a cinema usherette, and Arthur Spry, a carpenter, and went to Ruislip Manor secondary school. Keen to work with his hands, in 1961 he took a chance position as a black-and-white photographic printer, via the job centre, at Gordon Bishop photography stores and services in Marylebone, central London, where he learned his craft. He left five years later to work independently, forming his own company, Downtown Darkroom, in Clerkenwell, which continued until his retirement in 2020.

He married Jenny Rackley, from Ruislip, in 1965, and they stayed there until he died. After his retirement he worked from a studio at their home.

He is survived by Jenny and their sons, Paul and Adam.