Magnum Contact Sheets

I recently bought the latest edition of Magnum Contact Sheets (2011, Edited by Kristen Lubben). This (huge!) book is a landmark, perhaps one of the most important photography publications out there.

Contact sheet used to be a common tool for photographers when reviewing their work; it allowed photographers to see a quick overview of the images they had shot. This first draft reveals the thought process and work method of the photographer since the original sequence of the exposed film is preserved.

Indeed, contact print is something intimate that photographers are not usually willing to show. Quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson (from page 18), “A contact sheet is full of erasures, full of detritus”, and that “A photo exhibition or a book is an invitation to a meal, and it’s not customary to make guests poke their noses into the pots and pans, and even less into the buckets or peelings..”.

I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the mistakes of other photographers, but more I wanted to see the flow of images that existed in original film, I find there is something very beautiful and human in the process and how the mind of the photographer works. A perfect marriage of the analog workflow and human subject..

The book starts with iconic images of Cartier-Bresson in Seville in 1933, and chronologically walks the reader through the century of great photographic culture into the present day. The written stories and descriptions by the photographers themselves are fascinating to read; here are many amazing, moving stories here. I am especially touched about description of Marilyn Silverstone’s life, she was the only woman photographer to record Dalai Lama’s arrival to India in 1959 and became Tibetan Buddhist nun in the later years.

And then there is the iconic picture of the lone protestor in Tiananmen Square.

But Magnum Contact Sheets is not only a record of famous images with historical importance, it’s a record of the art itself. On the latter pages there are even video stills, and screen shots of the thumbnail images on computer screen.

It will be interesting to see how this book will develop in future as more and more photographers switch to digital.

I really recommend this book to anyone interested in photography or the human subject.

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