Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Magnum – Contact Sheets

Yesterday I was in Blackwells Art Book Shop and saw the new book from Magnum, the picture agency. Called Contact Sheets it shows images from Magnum photographers and the contact sheets from which the images were chosen. Many of the images are very famous and you will know them even if you do not know the photographer. This is a fascinating book because as well as the pictures there is extensive text and explanations of the editing process that determined the chosen image out of so many.

I was interested to note at first that looking though the pages of contact sheets and recognsing the one image I knew so well that it was obvious why it was the first choice but then I wondered if this was just my familiarity with the image.

Anyway I haven’t bought the book yet but will, the £95 was more than I was ready for however with Christmas coming if any of my family read this make a note.

There is an extended article on the BBC website discussing and reviewing this book by Phil Coomes, here is some of what Phil has to say

The contact sheet is often described as the photographer’s sketch book. It is the result of those moments of exploration, moments spent waiting for a scene to develop before the final moment when, ‘click’, you know you’ve got the shot in the can.

The godfather of photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson is famously known for analysing other photographers’ contact sheets as a means to judging their work.

You can learn so much from what is left out from a final edit as well as seeing how the photographer explored their chosen subject. Although Cartier-Bresson used to cut up his own contact sheets, preserving only those that worked well as sequences or the best individual frames.

The out-takes also remove a little of the mythology around the final image as it begins to show what else was happening around the moment of capture. And that’s no bad thing. They also offer the photographer a chance to discover something new when revisiting those sheets many years later.

A new book from the archives of the Magnum Photo Agency brings together 139 contact sheets by 69 photographers, each one accompanied by the thoughts of the photographer.” 

There is so much more here, do go and have a look at the images and read the text

Peter Marlow: Margaret Thatcher, 1981

Philippe Halsman: Dali Atomicus, 1948

Magnum Contact Sheets edited by Kristen Lubben is published by Thames & Hudson.

I am sure this available from all good book shops or you can get it here

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