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Wednesday, 20 January 2010


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thanks for the heads up on this. just ordered a copy. jim marshall: proof is one of my favorite books and this looks to be another!

I'd really like to see some of Man Ray's contact sheets from his shoots of Lee Miller. JC

Thanks for this tip, Geoff! I love this stuff. I'm always fascinated looking at contact sheets of accomplished photographers to see the choices they had at-hand. Personally I think it's more instructive and illustrative than simply looking at the final selections. (Unfortunately, this will be a thing of the past.) So, of course I placed my order for this book right away.

Damn, TOP is becoming an expensive place to visit.

"I'd really like to see some of Man Ray's contact sheets from his shoots of Lee Miller. JC"

Your wish is granted. Kind of. Shepard Gallery in NY featured an exhibition of a private collection of Man Ray's work. See Plate #17 of this PDF catalog of the exhibition.

Will there be anything else?

Love this kind of stuff.

Reminiscent of William Klein's "Contacts" project, which resulted in dozens of short films (one per photographer) about contact sheets, which came out on a three-DVD compilation a few years ago. Still in print, I think, and also available at Netflix.

Highlights from Volume 1 include many iconic images by Cartier Bresson (a sequence of Giacometti crossing the street, the boys peering over a wall being framed a dozen different ways, etc.).

The photographers are asked to talk about the contact sheets and their work. Josef Koudelka only briefly discusses what a bad idea it is. However, he grudgingly lets us look; among other things, we see the classic black dog in white snow develop from grab shot to iconic photo in just three snaps. A breathtaking moment.

Others are much chattier, and relaxed. Some photographers direct their own segments. Depardon shares his dark thoughts as he documents a mental hospital. Very disturbing. Elliott Erwitt is funny, of course, but also incredibly generous and informative, in a segment that feels like a seminar and includes some of his "greatest hits". To my surprise, Helmut Newton is just as funny and self-deprecating.

A similar frustration: why one frame was chosen over others is seldom explained. Sometimes it's obvious (Koudelka's dog), other times it isn't. Depardon's rolls are one remarkable, striking image after another, yet only one or two per roll are marked, with no explanation.

The three volumes are:
Contacts: Vol. 1: The Grand Tradition of Photojournalism
Contacts: Vol. 2: The Revival of Contemporary Photography
Contacts: Vol. 3: Conceptual Photography

Just order it. Any similar kind of book?

Last Oct (?), I have read about the glass plate found by someone in some garage sale of Ansel Adams glass plate. (Search "ansel adams glass plate found" you can found the reference). I was more than please to look on how the glass plate look like (and wonder why Ansle Adam dump them).

Is the scrapbook by HCB similar?

On photo selection and as Mike has said, it is important to learn and decide on selecting your own top pictures and in this case, decide on frameing etc. As these are my pictures, no one can tell me. But still it would be nice to learn how others slect thier and how to present them.

It would be much appreciate to be informed by author is it the story, an angle, a technque, a feeling, a theme, a color, ... and why.

Even if it is not for our own sake, "the making of ..." has certain appeal and probably why nearly every DVD has one or there is podcast of TV series (Battlestar Galacatic is one famous one lately).

"Your wish is granted. Kind of. Shepard Gallery in NY featured an exhibition of a private collection of Man Ray's work."

Not exactly what I was looking for -- these are selected individual negs all apparently used in a book -- but interesting all the same. For one thing, why in God's name would an artist, even one as unusual as Man Ray, stick the negatives in the sleeves in all different orientations? I wonder if there was an aesthetic reason, or he was just sloppy? A weird pastiche of images...


OT Comment: So I am reading the Rivendell Reader - Winter 2010 Edition and who is featured with two entries in the Letters Section? Mike, you sure get around.

I always love to look at the contact sheets of interesting
photographers. It is understandable that you very rarely get a chance
to see them (few are willing to share with you their failures and the
way they work), but if it happens it's a treat because it's a bit like
getting a free apprenticeship.

As Geoff already mentioned, the gold standard for contact sheets is
the "Expanded Edition" of "Looking In". (Frank's proofs cannot be
found in the standard edition of this book!) Rarely, if ever, has a
famous photographer been so open in letting a large collection of his
contact sheets being published. (That's probably the case because
Frank is pretty old now and has always been kind of detached from "The
Americans" - and photography in general - after it was published.)

My take on the book reviewed today (perhaps one should mention the
author's name - Steve Crist - somewhere?) is that the collection of
photographers is very diverse, so you'll likely find several which are
very interesting to you as well as a bunch of others you simply find
boring. What's a bit irritating is that pretty often you don't really
see a contact sheet in the sense of a sequence where one shot was
selected but you rather see the selected photo plus two, three, or
four alternatives with no indication of the chronological order (and
no way to say if there were gaps). That's not a contact sheet in my
opinion and I suspect these are only in there because otherwise they
wouldn't have been able to fill the book. Also, there are examples
where you see a whole contact sheet which repeats essentially the same
photo over and over again with only very minor variations. But I'm
probably biased because I'm mostly interested in reportage-style (or
"street") photography and don't care much if someone like Peter
Lindbergh lets his models repeat the same pose three dozen times.

For those interested in contact sheets here are some similar books
from my collection:

1. Jim Marshall's "Proof" offers a whole book of contact sheets from
one specific photographer, each double page being a proof sheet on one
side paired with the selected picture on the other side and some

2. "Contact: Theory" from Ralph Gibson has contact sheets from a
variety of photographers and is a bit similar to Christ's book. It
contains, BTW, the contact sheet for Martine Franck's boy in the
hammock which is one of my all-time favorites.

3. "Contact Sheet: Secret of Creative Photography" by Al Gruen has a
cool title but is otherwise pretty useless.

4. There are some books that contain a few contact sheets although
these don't account for the bulk of the book. "Figments from the Real
World" (Winogrand) comes to mind. Or HCB's "Scrapbook" although it
doesn't really show contact sheets but rather rejects.

5. Not a book, but there was a TV series called "Contacts" which was
broadcasted by arte TV here in Europe some time ago. Based on an idea
by William Klein, it featured several well-known photographers (one
per episode) talking about their work. Not all of them really showed
contact sheets and the style of the episodes is very different, but
it's certainly worth looking at and unique in its kind. It's now
available as a 3-DVD box.

Did I miss anything important? If someone knows more good books with
contact sheets, please let me know!

Me thinks Flickr is a modern form of the contact sheet.

I wish to order this book but can get no clear indication of postage costs to Ireland. Using Paypal as a payment method the ordering procedure goes all the way to the final commit to pay page when a curious figure of about 89.00appears at the very bottom of the invoice. No indication if this is the total amount to be extracted from my Paypal account. Zero shipping costs still being shown in the body of the invoice. I'd love to think postage is free but somehow ......

Paul Mc Cann

Thanks for the tip, now ordered via your link.


Awesome! I've been looking for a book like this; the closest thing I'd found so far was the Contacts DVD series and the in depth version of The Americans.

I'm sure I won't be the only person steering you towards "Contact: Theory" from Ralph Gibson's Lustrum Press, 1980. Copies are available very cheap, but it is a treasure-house (as are "Landscape: Theory" and the two "Darkroom" books. Not so sure about "Nude: Theory" ...).

Elliot Erwitt's comments on his own contact sheets and why photographers should never show them to anybody is beyond entertaining.

Just ordered my copy, can't wait to have a little insight on how some of the greatest photographers judge, crop and select !

PS: I let the guys at AMMO Books know that I got the recoomedation on TOP.

I think part of what made these photographers so good is that they knew what to toss as well as what to show. It seems to be a tough skill to acquire because the photographer is forced to overcome his/her own pride and ego. The good ones learn to ask, "What was I thinking?" and move on.

I've been lucky enough to have seen some of the contact sheets from The Americans at Tate Modern, in London, which made me appreciate the work even more. Seeing that it never came easy made Frank all the more human to me. I took comfort and encouragement from seeing them

Looks like a great book, Geoff.


Contact Sheets? What are these things called contact sheets of which you speak? Wasn't this an ancient process of selecting individual images from a roll of this thing called film?

Seriously though, learning how to select photographs this way is even more important now that digital cameras can record huge numbers of photographs. In fact, I think that editing is now an even more important skill than it has been in the past.

Education in the art of editing can only be a good thing.

Such wonderful unexpected visual surprises on TOP! Thanks to the Doisneau contact sheet I shall now have a much more accurate mental image next time I read about Maigret enjoying his pipe on the rear platform of a Paris bus.

Great bonus that Ken points us to the Man Ray .pdf, thanks!

Cheers, Robin

These contact sheets take me back to my days in the darkroom during my college days. Some stunning photos!

For those living near the National Gallery in DC, there were three copies in the bookshop as of Sunday.

Of course, even their outtakes beat my best shots by a wide margin, but it's nice to see that the best photogs still take a large number of duds before coming to the masterpiece.

I read somewhere that the Doisneau kissing couple were posed. These contacts suggest otherwise.

They weren't posed, strictly, and they were an actual couple who were really in love, but Doisneau hired them to be the subject of his photographs and the three of them wandered around Paris for a morning, with him taking pictures in various settings. It's much the same thing I do when I do a portrait--I wander around with my subject and we try out different ideas in different settings.

I've heard from someone who knew Doisneau well that he was mystified and very hurt by the "posed controversy" and that it really has had a negative effect on his reputation. It's too bad as there is absolutely nothing unethical about his method in this case--it's very common and not deceptive at all, in my view, unless he made specific claims about the image that weren't true, which there is no evidence he ever did.


Thanks for sharing this, I just ordered my copy.

I really love TOP for this kind of posts!

I hope the book doesn't feature any contact sheet of shots taken at 7 fps or so.

1. Geoff, thanks for telling us about what looks like a wonderful book.
2. Re actually buying it, they seem to only ship to Canada by UPS, we syrup suckers know how costly that can be with UPS "brokerage" fees so I've asked if they (ammobooks) will use the trusty USPS, that may also be the way for the Irish poster who wa wondering about shipping cost.
3. Another book containing some interesting contact sheets is "Revelations", the Diane Arbus survey, e.g. page 53 captioned "An autopsy & female impersonators backstage".

It may be difficult to see at this size, but the Doisneau contact sheet above does indeed show that he posed this couple in various locations around Paris, including his iconic successful shot. Every one of the six frames has them smooching somewhere in the image; it's kind of a "where's Waldo" exercise now.

Just heard from ammobooks by email that "The Contact Sheet" is out of stock until March - but that they can ship by USPS if requested to at time of order instead of UPS.

"Not available from Amazon; must be ordered direct from the publisher"

Actually, Amazon does have it. There's one available from an Amazon affiliate seller and they want $149.57, plus $3.99 shipping. For a used one no less. Ouch!

"Contact Sheets? What are these things called contact sheets of which you speak?"

A fair question, but easily answered in that almost all (all?) digital picture sorting, editing, and grading programs, such as PhotoMechanic lay out the images in exactly the same way as contact sheets do.

So digital didn't do away with the need for contact sheets. The format and the advantages it offers in editing remain and is just as essential as ever.

4-6 weeks delay in shipping.

Mike and Geoffrey, thanks for your responses to my query. I see what you mean now about the Where's Waldo effect. Good to know.

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