— Magnum Contact Sheets

Displaying at the International Center of Photography in New York until May 6th, ‘Magnum Contact Sheets’ is a fascinating exhibition revealing how Magnum photographers have captured and edited their best shots from the 1930s to the present.

The contact sheet, a direct print of a roll or sequence of negatives, is the photographer’s first look at what he or she has captured on film, and provides a uniquely intimate glimpse into their working process. It records each step on the route to arriving at an image—providing a rare behind-the-scenes sense of walking alongside the photographer and seeing through their eyes. Including both celebrated icons of photography and lesser-known surprises, the exhibition functions as an “epitaph” to the contact sheet, now rendered obsolete by digital photography. Through these fascinating and usually private images, the exhibition celebrates what and how photographers saw for nearly a century.


The show, in the words of Magnum photographer Martin Parr, is an “epitaph to the contact sheet.” A very stirring epitaph. “The contact sheet embodies much of the appeal of the photograph itself,” said Kristen Lubben, the curator of the exhibition and editor of the companion book Magnum Contact Sheets (Thames & Hudson). “It records each step on the route of arriving at a particular image, and thus provides a unique window into the creative process.”


In the book’s 200 prints are dozens of iconic images of the 20th century by 69 photographers from the prestigious Magnum cooperative, great examples of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment:” Bresson’s street children in the devastation of the Spanish Civil War; Robert Capa’s D-Day; Elliott Erwitt’s image of Vice President Nixon getting tough with Khrushchev, jabbing his finger into the USSR premier’s chest. The contact sheets are, as Erwitt said, “a kind of seismographic moment.” In looking at them, we are transported into that moment. These proofs, as they were called, are in fact proof of how much effort went into capturing these decisive moments. We have the book, and it’s fantastic – we recommend you get your hands on it if you can.


What a great shame it is, especially as Eastman Kodak announced its bankruptcy, that such a beautiful medium is soon to be lost along with so many other analogue techniques.


The English Group has enjoyed working with Magnum previously, have a look at our Marilyn & Eve monograph here.


Via V & M.

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