Notes & Excerpts from Magnum Contact Sheets
Apologies for the typos below, as this is just a rough copy and paste of what I copied!
## On demystifying the seemingly magical quality of photography–
Martine Frank: “I have certain misgivings about letting my contact sheet be published but in final analysis I realize that I am curious to see how other photographers work.. One rarely expresses in words all the random thoughts that run through one’s head except maybe on a psychoanalyst’s couch, and yet the contact sheet spares neither the viewer nor the photographer. I feel that by allowing myself to be violated, and by publishig that which is most intimate, I am taking the very real risk of breaking the spell, of destroying a certain mystery.”
## Consntatn fear of disapppointment when looking at contacts
Elliott Erwitt: “It’s generally rather depressing to look at my contacts– one always has great epectations, and they’re not always fulfilled.”
David Alan Harvey: “I hate looking at my work. I delay it for as long as possible… I just know that it won’t live up to my own epectations.”
## Grease marks?
“Grease pencil or China marker notations in different colors indicate personal observations; throughout this book, one can see how unique these are to each markr, and how the physical trace of the photograpehr’s hand can be felt on the contact.”
## Why were contacts used?
“Contact sheets only came into use when they became a necessary companion to small-scale negatives that required enlarging, in the early 20th century. Prior to this point, negatives were large enough to assess without an intermediate tool. In the case of daguerreotypes, tintypes, and other poositive processesses, they were themseleves the final product, incapaable of being enlarged or otherwise altered. With the invention of the dry plate and flexible fil, smaller, more lightweight cameras were developed. While these cameras had nemouerous advantages and freed photographers from the constraints of the studio and darkroom, they produced images of limited size.”
“In 1914, Kodak marketed its first enlarger witha n artificial light source, paving the way for new possibilities with the smaller cameras. And with the advent of enlarging, the practice of selecting a portion of an image to print or crop out became commonplace.” — John Szarkowski, Photography Until Now (1989)
## How did Leica change photography?
“The Leica, the camera that became emblematic of the new lightweight cameras, was introduced in 1925. In 1932, Cartier-Bresson made it his camera of choice; the first entry in this book is from the following year. Clearly, the introduction of the contat is inextricably linked with a new way of working that comes into existence in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A Leica ad from 1935 says: “The Leica is the fastest camera: the film winds on automatically and focusing is quick due to the built-in rangefinder. You can take three successive shots in five seconds..” This emphasis on speed and on firing away at a subject also encouraged a new approach to photographing, less cautious with film and more reliant on editing after the fact than before pressing the shutter.
## Multiple contacts?
“When looking at contacts it is useful to keep in mind that there is often not one ‘master’ contact sheet; unlike negatives, there can be multiple sets of contacts, not only with different editorial markings but even printed in a different sequence or layout. Understanding each photographer’s working process, or who made the contacts on their behalf, is crucial.”
## Could photographer’s edit their own work?
“In the very early years, if the photographer was in the field and unable to edit their won work for immediate distribution to magazines, contacts were often dited by Robert Capa in the Paris office and Ernst Haas in the New York office.”
## Applying to Magnum
Until as recently as 2000, when photographers applied to Magnum, they needed to show contat sheets, not just finished prints.
Morris: “That’s so you can see their thinking.”
Cartier-Bresson would apparently rotate contact sheets oin his hands, looking at them from all angles, assesssing the formal composition of the photographs (and no doubt alarming the photographer whose work was submitted to such scrutiny).
Rene Burri: “He always turned them all around and upside down. It became like a sort of dance. Strangely he didn’t want to look at the picture!”
David Hurn: “When I first came into Magnum, I learned an enomrmous amount by persuing shelves of books of contacts from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud, Rene Burri, Elliott Erwitt, etc. A feast to be absorbed, night after night, in the Paris office on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore”
## Shift to digital
“Most of the images that come into Magnum today are digital, and very few photographers continue to generate alalogue contact sheets (exceptions include Bruce Gilden, Chien-Chi Chang and Larry Towell). The real turning point for digital work within the organization seems to been around 2001-02, when the younger generations of photographers began war reporting. As throughought the field, the shift to digital has been profound and game-changing, particularly for working pho-jouranlistson assignments.
Paolo Pellegrin: “The workload with digital has certainly doubled with fieldwork. You have now to photoraph, edit and send your images on the same day. You go back to your car or hotel room to download, caption and transmit your work. It’s much more immediate and it becomes much more diffficult to revisit the work.”
Susan Meiselas: “Digital photography can permit greater sharing in the field, but cuts out collectively at the other end. Fewer people share the whole process. It used to be that you sent raw film in and often the Magnum editorial or another photographer would take a look at the contacts.”
Jim Goldberg on how move to digital has changed pace of photographing. Having to reload film forced one to pause or reflect at intervals int he shooting process– “to reset, rewind your thinking. The opportunity for that forced pause has been lost.” as has the “containment of a roll of film”
Meiselas “I still think not knowing what you ‘have’ athe end of the day with film gives strnegh o the intensity when you work. It is a msyery and surprise. Now everyone spends more time looking at their screens, first on the camera an dthen the computer.”
Gilles Peress: “With film you kept track in your head of what you wer eshooting, and evenings could be spent on a mental recap of the work you had made: the technical demands of digital editing in the field, at their worst, mean ‘less reflection, less intelligence, less thinking time’.
## On digital contacts
“Magnum now uses digital editign software in-house, which essentially simualtes the experience of looking of multiple images on a contact sheet. […] While these systems mayu be highly functional for the short-term trafficking of images, it remains to be seen how enduring they will be. Will scholars of the future be able to pore through the outdated digital files as they do through prints, contact sheets and paper files, and how will that fundamentally different experience of the archive shape the histories that wer written of the current period iof photographic production?”
## Authenticity of photograph
“Despite the welath of detailted information now embedded in digital files, the instinctive sense of authenticity or proof of an image provided by its context in a contact sheet– one of its most compelling qualities is lacking. The traditionalcontact sheet, in its unaltered form, is inseparable from the notion of proof; indeed, they are also known as ‘proof sheets’. Placing a photograph back within the flow of time from which it was remoed, the contact sheet holds out the promise of substantiation that an image is truly what it claims to be, that an event unfolded in the way the photographer claimed.
## Conclusion on contacts
“On the cusp of becoming anachronistic, they take on the aura of history and come to stand in for a bygone era in photography, with its manual cameras and whiff of darkroom chemcials. No longer an active working tool for most pjotgoraphers, the contact sheet is relegated to the archive, of interest as a historic document. Its value there may yet prove even greater than its original workday function: an enduringly accessible record of what and how photographers saw for nearly a century.”
## HCB: Seville, Spain, 1933
HCB: “When the war came (we had sensed its approach for while a while), I took up my negatives and destroyed practically everything, apart from what remains in The Decisive Moment. I likewise got rid of all my paintings when I left Andree Lhote’s art academy. As to the reasons for this, I did it in the same way as one cuts one’s nails: allez, hop! I kept the photographs I thought were interesting.”
“A contact sheet is a little like a psychoanalyst’s casebook. It is a kind of seismograph that records the moment. Everything is written down — whatever has surprised us, what we;ve caught in flight, what we’ve missed, and what has disappared, or an event that develops until it becomes an image that is sheer jubilation”
“A contact sheet isf ull of erasures, full of detritus. A photo exhibition or a book is an invitation to a meal, and it is not customary to make guests poke their noses into the pots and pans, even less into the buckets of peelings”…
“Pulling a good picture of out a contact sheet is like going down to the cellar and bringing back a good bottle to share.”
## Elliott Erwitt:, mother and child, new york, usa, 1953
Elliott Erwitt: “It’s generally rather depressing to look at my contacts– one always has great epectations, and they’re not always fulfilled. But then eventually when you get to printing them and living with them, sometimes they become better. I don’t alway slike to look at contacts because it’s work and you can make mistakes, but it’s part of the process. You have to do it.. because very often you don’t see things the first time and you do see them the second or third time.”
## Marc Riboud, Eiffel tower painter, paris, france 1953
“In 1953, I leave Lyon for Paris. These are my first steps in the capital, and in photography. With my Leica and only one film, I’m strolling near the Eiffel Tower, which is being repainted. I suddenly tnotice these paintbrush-bearing acrobats, and wishing to see them more closely… I walk up to the tower, maybe one hour o wf walking. Hanging onto the little spiral suitcase with only my 50mm lens, I can’t take close-ups or wide-anlge shots, so I have only one choice left: that of the right moment. These constraints, these limited means, were my good luck in fact, and the choice was easy from this contact sheet, which isn’t always the case. The best photo strieks the eye, as the right chord strikes the ear.”
“Some people ask me, “Did you ask the painter for permission?” I said, “My goodness, no. To talk with them was to risk slipping and falling down. I’ve always been shy and I’ve always been trying to ignore the people I was photographing, so they ignore me. I’m trying to take a better pircture than the one before but I was not sure of this one. I didn’t think after I shot th epicture that I shot somethin ingeeresting. I learned from Cartier-Bresson what’s called “geometry in photography”. It’s not dependent on what you’d call a good photogrpah, but good geometry.”
On Painters: “the rhymes and rhythyms in my viewfinder.. I think photographers should behave like him: he was free and carried little equipment”.
## Rene Burri, Ministry of HEalth, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1960
Didn’t intend to be photographer:
“I went to art school, ad then I was interested in films, and then I wandered into various classes- graphic design, interior design, and so on. Then I walked into the photographic department and it looked like a mini movie studio, with all those lamps and everything, and I said, “Yes, that’s it!” And I imediately got out a film camera and I said, “That’s what I want. To make this emotion…”
“In the old days, we would have 100 rolls and go back through them and get 60, 80, 100 pictures together and project them to tell the story. You’d have one or two carousels of slides that you would take to the picture edito of the magazine you were working with, and edit your work with projections. At magnum, we would send in our rolls and once the picures got to the office, the editors would scribble a red mark: you often didn’t have time to do a selection yourself. Cartier-Bresson would always examine our contact sheets. He turned them all around and upside down. It became like a sort of dance. Strangely he didn’t want to look at the pictures! I forget now, but he probably did that with this sheet and with my ”
## LEonard freed, martin luther king, baltimore, usa october 1964
On editing contact sheets:
“It can be difficult to make a decision because you can like this frame for this reason, and that frame for that reason. Each photograph has its particular strength. But you only pick one. One has to represent all. So I am always trying ot put everything into one image: the statement, the foundation, the coposition, the story, the individual personality – all of that together into one image…”
## David Hurn, The beatles, london, england march 1964
“The joy of being a photographer is that you actualy have to be there to take the pictures. If you shoot portraits of people, you not only meet them but you often get to know them pretty well. Through working on the film, I became very acuqainted with ‘the famous four’.
“The contact sheet is a valuable instructor. Presumably, when a photographer releases the shutter, it is become he believes the image worthwhile. It rarely is. If the photographer is self-crucial, he can atttempt to analyze the reasons for the gap between expectation and actuality. How does one think? Could the image be improved by moving backwards or forwards, by moving to the right or left? What would have been the restulf if the shutter were released a moment earlier or later? Ruthless examination of the contact sheet, whether one’s own or another’s , is one of the best teaching methods.”
“The beauty about shooting on film is that looking at the contact sheet allows you to ‘authenticate’ a picture. You can see what’s been shot immediately before, and you can see what’s shot after, and your picture is clearly shown as part of a sequence. There can be no prefabrication, no faking. ITs difficult to show the same with digital photography because there’s basically no way of saying, “These are the before and after pictures”. nIn an age of very easy manipulation, te possiblilty of authentication becomes very, very important. The history of photography tell sus that many of the great pictures were re-edited many years later from re-examining contact shets, sometimes finding something that was actually more historically significant than the original spur-of-the-moment selection.
“Looking at other people’s contact sheets allows one to understand their methods of working and their thinking prossesses.When I first came into Magnum, I learned an enomrmous amount by persuing shelves of books of contacts from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud, Rene Burri, Elliott Erwitt, etc. A feast to be absorbed, night after night, in the Paris office on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. What was a revelation to me was that I could see a similar working pattern in virtually all the photographers I admired. Little sequences which show the photographer seemingly stalking the image.”
## Philip jones griffiths, civilian victim, vietnam, 1967
“The great thing about photography is you have to be there. I’ve got the negatives– I’ve got the original– that prove I was there. II didn’t make up the pictures. I didn’t fake them in any way. Are they opinionated? Well of course, when you look through a viewfinder, what you deicde to look at is a subjective action.”
Author: “Phillip jones griffith’s contact sheets are notable for how few takes of the same subject appear on them; how economical he was with his film, how little heshot”
## Josef Koudelka, prague invasion, czechoslovakia, august 1968
“What was happening in Czechoslovakia concerned y life directly: it was my country, my problem. That’s what made the differrecne between me and th eother photographers who came there from abroad. I was not a reporter. I didn’t know anything about photjournalism. I never photograph ‘news’. I photographed gypsies and theatre. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was confronted with that kind of situation, and I responded to it. I knew it was important to photograph, so I photographed. I took these pictures for myself, with no intention of publishing them”.
## Ferdinando Scianna, dog in the ghat, benares, india, 1972
“In effect, a contact sheet reflects the concious and uncncious mind of the photographer. Often even the photographer cannot interpret it correctly. Nonetheless,i is through the analysis of contact sheets – a form of self-analysis – that a photographer can try to grasp the direction or meaning ghat lies behind his own images. This process can be long, but it can also be fascinating.”
## Martine Franck Le Brusc, Provence, France, Summer 1976
“I had been commissioned by the newly created Foundation Nationale de la Photographie, then directed by Pierre de Fenoyl, to take a look at the French on holiday. My friend the architect Alain Capeilleres, asked me to photograph his recently completed swimming pool, which he had desigend for his wife Lucie.
I distinctly remember running to get the image, while changing the exposure on my Leica M3 (I used a 50mm lens and Tri X Kodak film), wondering if shutting down to f.16 at a 1,000th of a second would be sufficient. The sunlight on the white tiles was so intense and almost blinding. I remember the man in the background doing his push-ups and waiting for him to be in a taut position. I only had time to take four shots and then the young boy in the hammock turned around and saw me, and the picture was gone.
That is the excitement of taking photographs on the spot. Intuitively one grabs the image, and an instant later the perfect compostiion has broken up and isno longer to be seen. IT’s only when you go back to your contact sheets that you can se how the scene developed in time, which is why contact sheets are a neverending source of facinsating to those interested in photography. I chose this precise image because all the elemtns were in tplace. There was no second choice possible. It was evident from the statrt which imgae should be printed, and there was only one image.”
##Leonard freed, police work, new york, usa 1978
“Contact sheets are mostly a waste of money, I find. 99.9 percent of the frames on the contact sheet are mistakes one makes while photographing Because it is a waste of money, I love them. There are things in life we must do just because we find them unprofitable. Also, contact sheets are private, they belong to me, whereas photographs, once they are out of my hands, take on a life of their own.”
## Geroge rodger, circumsicion ceremony, masai mara, kenya, 1978
On photographing at 1/4th of second in low light.
“I could never have got my Masai pictures if handling my camera hand’t become second nature to me, a matter of reflexes as instinctive as opening one’s mouth to bite an apple. But in such situations the technical side is the least part of it; what’s vital is the contact you make with the people you’re among. Basically this is a mastter of the repsect nd liking you feel for htem, and which somehow they understand and feel towards you in return.”
## Abbas, armed militants outside the US embassy, tehran, iran 1979
“A contact sheet reflects not only what the photographer sees and chooses to capture in time for all eternity, but also their moods, their hesitations, their failures. It is pitiless.”
## Susan meiselas, sandinista, esteli, nicaragua. july 1979
“There was always an element of doubt and the question of: how do you konw that the material you have is important? But that’s also what kept me shooting – not knowing what I really had. That not knowing is totally different now with digital cameras. We’ve lost that sense of surprise”.
## Richard Kalvar, “piazza della rotonda”. Rome, italy, 1980
“One day I came accross my favourite raw material — peope in conversation — just next to the foundation. An older man was speaking to ayounger one (father and son, probably) in French, and reading out of a Michelin guide. The younger man apparently had weak eyes, and he wore thick glasses. I started my little dance, moving nearer and nearer, looking at all around the place and pretending to photograph the fountain or the surrounding buildings. It’s generally not very easy to photogrpah people close up without their noticing (and getting suspicious or angry, or at least modifying their behaviour) and rules are necessayr .I like to be almost on top of my subjects, parly beause I’m nosy (or eyesy and earsy) and want to hear what they’re saying; partly because I want my slightly wide-angle lens (35mmm) to embrace them; and partly because I don’t crop my pictures so I try to control the composition, limiting what’s in the background.
I kept working the two guys, the spitting gargoyle and the background, grabbing pictures when I thought I wasn’t been seen. I started picking up on the water jet seeming to hit the young man in the neck, and I was ready when the miracolo occured and he suddenly turned his head up with that look that seemed to show some surprise. I had my picture, but that’s not why I stopped; I had reached the end of the roll!”
## STeve Mccury, dust storm, rajasthan ,india 1983
“My first instinct was to try to protect my camera from the swirling dust, but then I realized that I could always buy a new camera but the opportunity to shoot this group of women was priceless. They were dressed in textiles taht are no longer produced, and I thought they looked quite beautiful.
The final image that I chose from the edit seemed to capture the spirit of this moment. It is important to me because it reminds me of the part of the world that I have explored for thirty years.
You can’t be hung up on what you think your ‘real destination is. The journey is just as important.
## Bruce Gilden, San gennaro street festival, new york, usa, septe 1984
“I am a tough editor of my work, and usually when I lok at my contacts I find that I can go as many as fifty rolls without getting a good photo. But when I looked at this roll, I had not one but two of my best images ever of new york city. What a coup!”
## Stuart Franklin, moss side estate, manchester england, 1986
“A contact sheet is a record of a journey, of a pursuit. It carries all the wanderings around an idea- or, as some would have it, a vision. Some of these wanderings are purely technical: what would happen if I changed the aperture? Did I mess up the exposure? Some are aesthetic: abot compostion, or a moment in time. These days I work both in analogue and digital photography. In the process of making a sselection from digital files, what is often lost is the chance to go back, to retrace oen’s steps – to follow the original journey”.
## Carl de keyzer, good friday parade, texas, usa 1991
“The God, Inc. project took 13 motnhs of travel in the US; 50,000 kilometres, 32 different states, 150 different churches and religious communities; a 1972 Winnebago RV and a VW diesel car; 1,200 rolls of black-and-white 120 film; and 1 roll of colour film. That last roll was a mistake. This is the contact sheet.”
## Nikos Econompolous – central railway station, tirana, albania, 1991
“I remember standing beneath the shelter of a shed as the man appraoched me in the rain. Choosing to take the photo was done mostly with a photographic cirteria in mind.
One always has subject matter; it’s a matter of selecting the form that works best. Usually one element strikes me inistialy, and then I start building around it. The rest of the elements are fluid, and it is in this fluidity that I try to capture and understand what I see. The man with luggage walking between the two trains is the shifting element; what interests me is his relationship with the surrounding context and the changing scale.”
## Mark Power, the shipping forecast, scarborough, england, july 1993
“During the four years I spent making The Shipping Forecast I exposed nearly 1,200 rolls of film, which amounts to 14,000 individual pictures. Editing this down to a manageable number was a major exercise. I had advice from several people whose opinion I respected, but this only served to confuse me more. So instead I asked myself what the work was really about, and the answer was far clearer: it was about my childhood.
In the end, The Shipping Forecast doesn’t depend on oustanding individual pictures, but instead on its collective strength.”
## Eli reed, rwandan refugees, benaco, tanzania, winter 1995
“Over three or four days I shot something like forty rolls of film. When I edit, I go for a gut, instinctual feeling. I started editing when I got the film back a day or two after I returned to the states. You are so aware of what you saw; the experiences that reflect in your mind. You don’ really forget the peole and what they are going through. So I wanted to work on it immediately. Like anything else, when you’re trying to put down what you witnessed, you go for the pictures that speak to you.”
“I always go back through sheets- and you find images where you wonder how the hell you missed them, but you often don’t have the time to see everything the first time around. I also look back and wonder about the people in these images, and what happened to them, Somehow, because you can hold contact sheets in your hand, they stay with you longer; the images don’t go away.”
## Larry towell, mennonites. kent county, ontario, canada, 1996
“When I look at a contact sheet, I try to remember the feeling I had when I took the frame. The memory of feeling helps me edit. Art for me is really simple. IT’s when a feeling overcomes you and you convey your feeling with sybols. In photography the symbols are the thing itself.”
## Bruce Gilden, Yakuza, tokyo, japan, 1998
“An image I took then became one of my favourites from the Japan series. It was taken early in the evening at a coffee shop in the Ginza area of Tokyo. As we were talking, the gentleman at the rear lit the other yakuza’s cigarette. I like bad guys, and cigarettes are one of my favorute photographic props. So at that moment, right there in front of me, I was offered a great combination of three elemtns that atrract me visually: cigarettes, smoke, and underworld characters. The scene looked wonderful, so I asked through my translator if they could do it again, and they agredd. I thanked them and I went on photographing. The lighting of the cigarette lasted at most another minute.
When I look at a contact sheet, I go in order from no 1 to no 36. I mark the ones I like, and unless something really jumps off the page at me, I go over them again to see which is the best one. Wtih my personal work, I only print what I think is good. When something jumps off the page, it’s easy. That photograph jumped off the page. It worked form-wise and emotionally. To me, the photograph says a lot fabout the hierachy in Japanese society, with the underling lighting the cigarette of th person above him, and i like the wary eye that the ‘boss’ gives the photographer”.
Alessandra Sanguinetti, the necklace, argentina jan 1999.
[Using b/w and color for different opportunities]
“After shooting four frames in black and white, I stopped. Something wasn’t right. Beli’s red lips and Guille’s crazy skin colour were lost in grey; their delight- normally a high-pitched string of silliness- was muted, but their disputes over the used-up lipstick were wonderfully solemn. […] I changed the film to color and photographed them some more (this is when I shot “the Necklace”).
## Christopher anderson, haitian immigrants, haiti, 2000.
On 44 haitians trying to sail to the US- boat starts to sink:
“Up to that point, I had not taken many pictures. Everyone on the boat knew I was a photographer, but it somehow had not felt right.. it’s difficult to explain. But as the boat sank, David, the haitian whom I ha dfollowed on this joruney, said to me, ‘Chris, you’d better start making pictures. We only have an hour to live.’ And so, without much thought, I began making pictures.
We were saved at the last moment by a US coast guard cutter that heppend upon us, but that’s another story. Much later on, back home safe, I reflected on this question: why make pictures that no one will ever see? The only explanation for me was that the act of photographing had more t odo with the expalinign of the world to myself than explaining smoething to seomeon else. The pictures were about ommunicating something about my experience, not about rpeporting literal information. This would be the single most transformative moment of my photographic life.”
## Elliott erwitt, bulldogs, new york, usa , 2000.
“I was out walking with my friend Hiroji Kubota around the corner from my studio on the upper west side of manhattan, and i didn’t have my camera. I saw the situation and i said, “Could I borrow your camera?” And I borrowed his leica. He was very generous and let me use it and I sho the whole roll of film on it.” [..] “Its a lot ofp ictures getting to the good one.”
## Mikhael Subotzky, beaufort west, western cape, south africa, 2006
“When I was a student, I worked with both 35mm film and digital cameras. I would edit the black-and-white 35mm work on handmade contact sheets, and the digital colour work on the computer. In the darkroom, I was struck by how one’s ‘gut feeling’ about an image changed as it revealed istslef- at first glance in the proscessed negatives, ont he contact sheet, and then in a larger work print. I was often fooled into thinking that a negative looed likea better image than it actually was, and that an image on a contact sheet was worse than it actually was.
Editing digital work on the computer was like going straight to a work print for each frame – a fully formed image that can be looked at with two eyes. Despite the distorting effects of the backlit screen, I preferred this ppproach to editing tiny images through a magnifier. Later I returned to working exclusively with colour film, but found it easier to replicate the digital editing process by scanning each frame I shot in low resolution”.
(Red initial selection, green next level, purple is final choice)