Magnum Contact Sheets is one of the best books any street photographer can own and it’s been re-released as a more affordable compact edition. The new version is physically smaller but has a few extra pages as some sections had to be redesigned to account for the smaller page size. Hit the jump for more info.
What The Heck Is A Contact Sheet?
Long before the advent of digital photography with its instant feedback photographers relied on film and traditional darkroom techniques to produce their images. When they got back from a shoot they would develop the film and make a 1:1 contact print of each roll to quickly view all the images they captured.
Because the film was directly in contact with a sheet of photographic paper during exposure photographers often described these 1:1 proofs as contact prints or contacts. Think of it as an analog version of the Library window in Adobe Lightroom. Only each contact sheet represents a single roll of film or 36 contiguous exposures.
In Magnum Contact Sheets, the editor Kristen Lubben goes more in-depth:
This contact sheet, a direct print of a roll or sequence of negatives, is the photographers’ first look at what he or she captured on film, and provides a uniquely intimate glimpse into their working process. It records each step along the route to arriving at an image– providing a behind-the-scenes sense of walking alongside the photographer and seeing through their eyes.
Magnum Contact Sheets Compact Edition
Magnum Contact Sheets was originally published in 2011 and contains over 139 contact sheets from 69 Magnum photographers. The book quickly became a number 1 seller and is considered a “must have” for every street photographer interested in learning more about the craft of photography.
The original book was a massive tome weighing in at nearly 10 pounds and many photographers thought a smaller version would be ideal. The new compact edition is less expensive and physically smaller (11.8 x 9.8 inches down from 13.5 x 11 inches) making it as friendly to your wallet as it is to your back.
In addition to hundreds of contact sheets, Magnum Contact Sheets also includes zoomed-in details, selected photographs, press cards, notebooks, and spreads from contemporary publications including Life magazine and Picture Post. The contacts themeselves are enhanced by text written by the photographers themselves or by experts chosen by their estates. Many of the greatest names in photography are featured, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, and Inge Morath, as well as younger members of Magnum like Jonas Bendiksen, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Alec Soth.
Decisive Moment Shmecisive Moment
Instead of simply showing great photographs, Magnum Contact Sheets allows you to see the shots leading up to the great photograph. You are walking in the photographer’s footsteps as they captured their most famous images. You’re able to see the foibles, the missteps and the near misses ans each photographer worked the scene.
Many street photographers are familiar with the concept of the decisive moment. The phrase was popularized by Henri Cartier Bresson and describes the fact that the best photograph can only occur at one point in time and space and to miss that is to miss the photograph entirely. Many thought this meant that Bresson sailed into a scene and perfectly snapped a single image. But look at the contact sheet for one of his most famous images and you see a different story.
The contact sheet reveals Bresson as a hunter. Discovering a scene and letting its players dance in front of his camera as he searches carefully for an excellent photograph. Most notably, he didn’t stop shooting when the famous shot was taken but kept working the scene. He kept searching until there was nothing left to photograph.
So the term “decisive moment” describes the end result, not the process. The photograph represents the decisive moment because it was instantiated as it was and could not be any other way.
It’s lessons like this that can really open your eyes to the photographic process and Magnum Contact Sheets is filled with hundreds of them.
This is a book you’ll want to sit down and study.
Apart from some minor variations in layout and physical size this is EXACTLY the same book as the full sized version of Magnum Contact Sheets. If you already own it then there’s no need to get the compact edition. Unless you need an extra copy for the cottage – in which case grab it!
But if you’ve never seen this book, or if you didn’t buy the original full sized version because of the cost then buy this book. It’s chock full of inspirational pages that let you see the world’s greatest photographs in a whole new light. As a bonus it’s selling for just over $47 USD on Amazon which is nearly half the price of the previous version.
You won’t regret having this book in your library.