Magnum :: Contact Sheets
The worlds most prestigious photo agency, Magnum, known for it’s epic book publications, in 2011, produced Contact Sheets. In what the sentimentalist in me assumes is somewhat of an epitaph to film, this is yet another tome of proportion and significance.
It treads new ground in transparency and should be held up as integral to the practice of real photography universally. Photographers are forever reluctant for what came before and after their ‘known’ images to be seen by anyone but themselves. “Like reading someone’s diary… the contact is not meant for public consumption”. After all, would one ever ask to see a journalist’s notebooks? It is a domain until now considered private and indeed irrelevant to ‘the’ photograph. A photograph that would most likely not have been produced at all without what came before and even after it.
In her introduction, Kristen Lubben makes numerous references to the contact sheet’s importance in terms of authenticating the veracity of individual images by placing them back in the sequence and context in which the events depicted took place, “that an image is truly what it claims to be, that an event unfolded in the way the photographer claimed”.
With all the superfluous data attached to every single digital image produced today, new ways of editing have resigned tools such as the contact sheet to the ever-deepening analog grave and along with it a historical archive as accurate as any historian could ever hope for. Today, while a dozens of images from a significant event can be archived by hitting a button, the original sequence in which they were captured is rarely retained.
One instance referred to in Contact Sheets that reminds us of the importance of these photographic notebooks is that of Gilles Peress. His contacts were pivotal in the decision reached by a tribunal assembled to judge the role of the army in a 1972 massacre in Northern Ireland. The contacts were evidence and ultimately led to the original 1972 tribunal’s findings being overturned, 42 years later in 2010.
On the reverse side of the coin, surely the truth behind Robert Capa’s famous ‘Falling Soldier’ from The Spanish Civil War would be known had an original contact sheet existed.
A beautiful and insightful publication. Available for purchase through Magnum Photos here.