Magnum Contact Sheets

outside Thye London College of Communication

The alarm went off at 4.30 a.m. as I needed to leave the house by 5 to catch a train before 5.30; there was then the wait at another station for the connecting train. Before this journey started, I could not help but wonder what it was that took me to London for the day! I wanted to not just further my knowledge of photography rather try and refine my understanding of the medium. There were a number of eminent people i the world of UK photography due to speak so there was the chance to hear what people are saying now rather than what they said sometime ago as tends to be the case with much published criticism.

Image

We were told by Sophie Wright, the cultural director of Magnum photos, that the symposium was the alternative to a major exhibition that might have been rather text heavy and for which no funding was available.

The first discussion is a history and overview of the book Magnum Contact Sheets and the first of three speakers is the Magnum photographer Peter Marlow; he joined the agency on the recommendation of Philip Jones-Griffiths. He considers the contact sheet as a vital part of the working process of a photographer and very helpful in seeing the way a photographer works. There is the view that showing one’s contact sheets is a bit like showing one’s dirty linen to the public and yet, as Geoff Dyer points out, the contact sheet is like the 90% of the iceberg. Early in his career, Marlow learnt a lot by editing the work of George Rodger which was obviously done by looking at his contact sheets.

Has the Contact Sheet gone? Is it a past practice that has no place in today’s world. There are of course still some film users at work! I consider the contact sheet, as with other analogue practices, to have being carried into the digital medium. Software exists to allow us to view images on screen in a similar way; in Lightroom for instance, there is a Contact Sheet template in the Print module. However, printing contact sheets may no longer be practical.

So what is that makes one choose a particular image over others? Context, the way an image relates to the world, is important here; Marlow shows a photograph of Maggie Thatcher that me made during the famous “this lady is not for turning” speech. The choice of the actual image from a contact sheet of some 42 images, all of Maggie Thatcher giving this speech, was chosen using particular considerations notably showing the import of her stature that seemed to corraborate with the speech’s meaning.

(from the left) Stuart Smith, Peter Marlow, Andrew Sanigar.

The next speaker was Stuart Smith who worked on the design of the book. He finds working with photographers not an easy task as they tend to be very particular; publishers have a more definite approach. Design can be overdone – simplicity is important.

In this book, photographers were asked to write a text which turned out to be more difficult than actually choosing the photographs.

The book does not only contain contact sheets, it also includes artifacts such as sketches of photographs.

Editing is one of the hardest things for a photographer to do! Yes? No? Maybe!

Once a photograph has been selected then there is a tendency to keep to that photograph although another selection process might well turn up a different selection.

Photographs can be compromised when they are reproduced such as when cropping to fit on a particular page; for instance, a square composition becomes a vertical one.

One can get an idea of a photographer from some of the marks made on or around a contact sheet.

What makes one image better than another?

Designing the jacket of a book involves showing the publisher various ideas; old ideas are saved for later reference. The cover of Magnum Contact Sheets went through various stages involving at one time photographs on the front. The end result is minimalist making the book look like a box of printed sheets.

Sophie Wright pointed out that some photographers chuck out their unselected images and so were unable to contribute to this book. The book itself gives many insights into the way photographers work.

Selecting images can take time .. one needs to leave the selection awhile and then go back to it. Editing is also necessary while one is shooting or soon after otherwise one gets an unenjoyable back log of images to search through. For the photographer, there is no longer any hanging out at the end of the day in the bar as metadata needs to be added.

The next talk is by David Campany and called “The One, The Many, The One : Photography and Editing

David Campany - "The One, The Many, The One"

There is an interesting quote from Walter Benjamin (1931) that Sanders (German early twentieth century photographer) is not so much a picture book but more a training manual. I remember this because someone recently referred to some photos I had done as a bit like a training manual for navigating around a supermarket which made me reflect on their practical nature as photographs of something rather than about it.

Campany talks about the legendary French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose photographs have become iconic. What to say of his contact sheets? H.C-B tended to leave his editing to others being more interested in what was happening inside the frame at the time the images were made; his editors were forbidden from cropping his images! H.C-B drew much inspiration from artists.

Susan Mieselas is another magnum photographer who did not even get the chance to edit her images as it was done on film and sent back to the States for processing and later printing.

It has been said that the photographer is a proletarian in the process and may become a pawn in the game if they do not manage to exercise some degree of editorial input. However, photographers are not very good at editing (maybe because they have invested so much in making a picture!?) Magnum Photo agency was set up to give photographers more editorial control.

Campany has coined a new term, “tradigital”; digital cameras still use analog devices.

The gap between photographs is important; part of the narrative Photographs tend to work in groups and there is a need to be wary of the singular image, of a photograph becoming iconic.

Jeff Wall is an example of a photographer who does work towards the singular image. Is he really more of an artist? No, he’s a photographer!

Some photographs make you think – may even hurt the brain!!

William Klein is an example of a photographer whose work peaked in the 1960’s yet is now being shown a lot; has an upcoming exhibition at the Tate Modern …
http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/williamkleindaidomoriyama/default.shtm

Contemporary photography has become somewhat elitist, arrogant.

Photography has become serial; the pressures of the archive. Mostly photography is concerned with a succession of images rather then one although this may not be the case i advertising.

A lot of photographerrs have been left out of the standard photographic canon of history such as those from Asia and South America.

What exactly is a Photo-Essay? There is not really a default definition, a fixed editorial idea, and yet a standardised form has tended to dominate photography. Magazine editors think differently.

A website to check out …

However, it seems Campany has not checked out this website recently since although it is still there, it is no longer really active. There is however a book …

Another book mentioned is Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography …

There is some mention of DSLR video. Some cameras can produce video images good enough for still presentation; the interpenetration of video and still photography is not a new phenomenon.

The next talk is another group discussion about “The Importance of the Archive: photography and posterity” and involves Hilary Roberts (photographic curator at The Imperial War Museum, Antony Penrose director of the Lee Millar archive, Nick Galvin a freelance archivist and is chaired by Sophie Wright cultural director of Magnum Photos.

Hilary Roberts (photographic curator at The Imperial War Museum, Antony Penrose director of the Lee Millar archive, Nick Galvin a freelance archivist and is chaired by Sophie Wright cultural director of Magnum Photos

i listened to this talk but did not make many notes except for the discussion of the Magnum Archive in which every image is meant to have a long number that is unique to it. The magnum archive is really an amalgam of archives, about 15,000 in fact, and there are an estimated 11 million images.

Antony Penrose related how Conde Nast tried to claim ownership of The Lee Millar Archive but this was not upheld in the courts.

There is not much to eat at The London College of Communication so I go across the road to find something in a large cafeteria there.

cafe at the Elephant and Castle

leaves on the subway entrance outside The London College of Communication

The first talk of the afternoon is perhaps the best of the day since it is by David Hurn, a Magnum photographer and teacher who set up documentary studies at The University of Gwent in Newport. He says that we have a lot to learn from contact sheets and looking at those of accomplished photographers is one way we can progress as photographers and keep learning. Photographers can get better! (David Hurn has sold me the book though this is not his intention, he passionately cares about photography).

David Hurn photographer

David Hurn has been a professional photographer since 1955 but has kept up with photographic developments; one has to!

In the mid 1960’s, there were no real photographic galleries in the UK and not a museum that collected photographs as art objects (what about the V+A?) and no Arts Council grants for photographers.However, every week-end there were lots of pages of photographs appearing in newspapers. Photographers including many well known ones were not well paid as a rule which is one reason so many found refuge in David Hurn’s flat in London.

Photographic education hardly went beyond the manual!

1963 – one photographic M.A. in the U.S.
1967 – 13 photographic M.A. in the U.S.
nowadays there are about 500 photographic M.A. in the U.S.

1963 – MOMA had a photographic print collection based entirely on prints from Beaumont Newhall

1955 – no such thing as an art photographer

there were standard professional lines including portraiture,pornography,science record,landscape,weddings,photo-journalism – professional photo-artists came later!

David Hurn has in his house a photographic print of a man wrapped up in bandages by Philip Jones-Grifiths; quite often, this print reduces people to tears – surely this reveals that photography can be art!

There are different ways through which the photographer can learn, one being trial and error. Competitions do help one to excel while chatting with friends is another way.

“Buying a good pair of shoes!” is another piece of advice David Hurn has to offer. One often has to walk a lot as a photographer.

The contact sheet can help to prove a photograph’s authenticity.

Doing an MA can be a distraction; the ability to produce work is what matters.

David Hurn claims to have the largest photographic archive of Wales in the world.

For him, “the world is interesting – I want to record it and show it to you!”

He mentions Koudelka’s book “Gypsies”

To do something well, one needs to do it a lot. Take a lot of photos and look at a lot of photos.

Diane Arbus never had a solo exhibition while alive.

Talk to other photographers about the way they work.

DH has loved his life in photography … bliss is the word he uses to describe it. Enabled him to travel to places he wanted to visit and meet people he would otherwise never have met.

One needs 5 seconds to evaluate/consider an image!

The next talk is a discussion “A lost generation: the effects of the disappearance of contact sheets and the editorial market.”

(from left to right) Sean O'Hagan (Guardian),Colin Jacobson, Francis Hodgson,David Hurn (Magnum photographer),Chris Steele-Perkins (Magnum photographer)

The Contact Sheet is a lost item, a former working practice; reading them is a skill!

CJ – editing is messy – takes place too fast in the hurly-burly of working life. Editing works down from many to one.

The photographer can only go so far; after that, up to those who do the lay-out, art directors etc

Chris S-P – one can do own edit and do not have to show contact sheets; contact sheets are like a photographer’s underpants.

FH – photographers now selling themselves as a brand rather than just their photographs.

DH – some colleges lead their photographers to believe they can make a living doing books – books are useful as a marketing device but not for real income. Prints make even less!

S O’H – photography has become much more market driven – way of working still a craft skill.

CJ – need to also shoot in vertical format; magazines need these kind of images.
What is photographic story-telling today? A series of photographs linked by text rather than a group of good photographs; text tends to dominate photos.
A group of pessimistic old men discussing photography?

FH – photography is a major form of communication yet tends to be considered marginal. Cultural nervousness about photography.

DH – more staged directed photography rather than the world as it is

Chris S-P – iPhone makes work that much easier and possible; one does not stand out as a photographer. Chris tends to keep all his RAW images rather than throw away those that are no good.

DH – the iPhone has revolutionised photography along with the internet; the iPhone can go almost anywhere incognito!
“Old fogeys like me could not care a bugger!” says DH of new technology.

FH – there is a digital soup of culture; the medium does not matter.
Where is the contact sheet today in slid form!?

CJ – where are the stories today among the mass of images? What has replaced the photo-story?

S O’H – can newspapers compete with the internet’s messaging of news?

FH – newspapers can give a more in-depth analysis but often this comes too late!?!

Mitch Epstein is successful; Jim Goldberg has also responded to present day market needs

Chris S-P – basic 6 image photo for magazine seems dead!

FH – great waste of good imagery today.
The convictions over Sunday Bloody Sunday relied on the contact sheets of Giles Peress

CJ – BBC and CNN ready to use unauthorised, unverified images about an unreported event

FH – can a photographer still get his story out there?

DH – possibility of selling ebooks! via Kindle for instance. Could generate income.
Motivation of photographer to disseminate – also joy of making good photographs
Editor’s view – crop them down and blow them up!
Might Magnum have sold magnum Contact Sheets as an ebook?

Commissioned work superceeded by the internet revolution rather than in-depth coverage.

Print journalism has lost out to internet journalism

extraordinary photographic work not being taken by the mainstream

no great conclusions about what is happening today

The final discussion is concerned with “the contact sheet in art photography”

Simon Baker (Tate), David Campany, Zelda Cheatle and Martin Barnes (V+A)

The “Dismissive Moment” when one has to reject photographs in view of others

Examining the contact sheets of a photographer can help when exhibiting that photographer’s work

Contact sheets allow physical, visceral contact

The patron saint of photography is Saint Veronica !!?

Simon Baker

diaristic mode of the Contact Sheet

early iraqi photobooks suggest that photography is anything you can do with the medium

the contact sheet can be a work of art in itself (John Hilliard)

is the magnum Contact Sheets book an elegy to a lost age?

Martine Franck is one photographer who did not wish to share her contact sheets considering them too private; she did however since it was part of a general project.

The V+A has a new gallery; not THE chronology of photographic history but a slightly different one that will be changed from time to time.

Photography can still help to show people the world that exists about them

Tate Britain has a Don Mac Cullin room next to that of Turner
Tate Modern is showing photographs in their restaurant

David Campany – pleased that Magnum Contact Sheets is a book and not an exhibition
A contact sheet can give the experience of being there

What replaces the contact sheet? Likely to be onscreen rather than a physical object

The internet is the museum of the invisible; it can be policed but not controlled.

Its’ been an interesting day with quite a lot of pragmatic consideration of the contact sheet and the photographic medium as a whole …

Anna Gormley - selling copies of the Magnum Contact Sheets book

Assignment 4

We are asked to make photographs as if we were from outer space; this reminds me of a famous saying attributed to Henri Cartier-Bresson about Martin Parr that he was from “another planet!”.

The aim here is to look at the strangeness of human beings, with a fresh eye as if one has never seen them before … looking at people in a detached way, at what they are doing, possible alienation between each other.

Choose a different environment to one one knows, go undercover! One might look at different groups of people such as a tatooist, hair dresser etc

 

I do not feel entirely happy with this approach; in many ways, I favour an opposite more intimate approach even if one is still a bit of an alien. Various possibilities suggest themselves such as looking down on a crowd from an unseen vantage point, doing close-ups with a wide angle, photos made in the work place or while lying on the floor.

In fact, most of the photos are made while on a visit to London.

 

 

 

Black and White in camera

It is possible to take black and white photographs with one’s camera. However, if one is shooting RAW, as is the case here, the black and white will only be visible as a preview. This of course, will vary from camera to camera and here I am discussing a CAnon model, the EOS 5D Mark 11.

For one’s camera to “see” black and white, one’s needs to enter the Menu on the back of the camera; the menu is revealed in the LED screen where the second red menu has a listing called Picture Style. By scrolling down to the menu item using the dial on the back and then using the centre button of the dial to enter the menu, one comes across a Monochrome setting that can be selected via the dial before being selected with the info button.

This monochrome setting can be further customised by changing the settings on one of four different controls (sharpness, contrast,that are visible as scales.

Once the monochrome settings have been selected and implemented, then the Live View will appear in black and white; once the shutter has been pressed then a preview of the image made will appear on the back screen in black and white. When the images are downloaded into a programme such as Lightroom they will appear initially as black and white images though once in the system, they are shown as colour.

If made with a RAW file, the file will always revert to colour; black and white previews will be there for reference, to enable one to see the scene in the more formalist light of black and white.

Common Sense by Martin Parr

Martin Parr has said of his photobook, Common Sense, that it was was one of his finer achievements that had been somewhat overlooked. As an exhibition, it had been shown worldwide simultaneously at a number of venues.

As a book, it is striking in it’s absence of text. There is no introduction or even the usual publishing notes (these are found on the back cover) merely a photograph which appears to be a close up of some kind of sound equipment containing knobs, one of which says volume and the other tempo; this image replaces what might have been a list of chapters headings and invites us to enjoy the book as a sensory experience.

Looking through the pages of images (each photograph is a close-up and occupies its’ page without any border) one may feel overwhelmed by the banality of the image to the point of nausea. However, if one does continue looking through the pages one might find oneself laughing at the ludicrousness of it all.

If one looks through the book more than once and continues to look at it, one might start to see just how well it is constructed and become aware of the way it has been put together. The images are of commonplace objects (as suggested by the title) and there is the use of diptychs, each double paged spread is composed of one photograph playing off against another; this helps to create a dialogue so that the book starts to speak to one through the imagery.

There are some memorable images in this book such as a cup of tea on a red chequered table cloth, a number of images of painted cakes often containing faces, while the cover shows a map of the world on a metal globe in which a rusty slot can be seen for accepting coins; this idea of the planet as some giant money box is one of the stronger images yet similar puns can be read in the rest of the book.

“Common Sense” is a book that can be looked at and looked at again; in fact, it is a book that can be read almost like a book of poetry although it may not inspire one in the way poetry does.

Would it be presumptous to describe this book as a post-modernist book and Parr as a post-modern photographer?

Frozen Planet : the facts

Frozen Planet is a 7 part series made by the BBC that is presently being shown on the BBC channel; it is about life at the poles. Last night, in Bristol, one of the series directors, Vanessa Berlowitz who is also one of the authors of the book of the series, gave an illustrated talk about the making of the series. This was a fascinating insight not only into life at the poles but also into the way the series was put together.

One interesting topic that arose during the question and answer session at the end was about whether CGI (computer generated imagery) was used at all during the making of Frozen Planet. It would have been so much easier and much much cheaper, for the BBC to put much of the series together using material already gathered.

However, it is to the credit of the BBC, that they did not do this and made sure that everything was photographed as it was. They missed a few events such as Beluga whales caught by the change of seasons yet the whole series features events as they happened often caught not only by cameramen on the ground but also by cameras above in helicopters.

The result is imagery that is not only aesthetically stimulating but also informative as we learn more about a vast area of the planet from which we are isolated.

However, there was incident that came to light in the press that the BBC were not being open about. This was the footage of baby polar bears in their den before they emerged into the world. The impression given was that somehow the film crew had got cameras into the den itself situated on a snowy mountain slope in a polar region when in fact it was filmed in a Dutch zoo. Legitimate practice perhaps but some of the public felt duped.

A book of photographs from the series is available.

visiting the Hereford Photography Festival november 2011

Another OCA study day and as usual some interesting work to see and discuss.

I am going to discuss two exhibitions from the festival in my People and Place blog …

http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6942538433303753472#editor/target=post;postID=3015258351741356851

Here is a brief account of the day which started for me before I met up with the OCA since the whereabouts of the initial meeting was not clear from the map and I needed to ask at the Tourist Information Office. On entry, I was directed to the back of the shop where the photographs of Alfred Watkins were on show.

There were 11 black and white photographs on show each of about 12 by 16 inches each. They were made from the original glass plate negatives and selected by two photographers namely Simon Roberts and Sally Payen who are described as artists in the accompanying blurb. Alfred Watkins wrote a highly interesting and controversial book called “The Old Straight Track” (1925) about ancient pathways that run across the country.

The advantage of visiting with tutors is the feedback and advice. For example, we were told to be aware of the fact that the photographers on show were chosen by the curator who also manages the exhibition space. Seeing photographs in an exhibition is quite different to seeing them in a book or on the internet.

The first selection of images from the main exhibition (Time and Motion Studies) was of fine black and white photographs hung alongside a staircase.

These photographs were made in Georgia by Vanessa Winship.

In the main gallery, there were four photographers represented.

After this exhibition, we made our way to the Buttermarket to see photographs by second year MA students. These proved to be rather disappointing not only as images to look at but also in print quality. The Social Landscape was the theme so what was a photograph of a bird in flight doing there ? There was little sense of a body of work.

We decided to have an early lunch and do two exhibitions in the afternoon.

Our next visit was to “Walk in my shoes” which was by people who suffer from some kind of hindrance such as a physical disability like partial blindness and therefore need to find unique ways to photograph.

One is able to use a smartphone to download information about the exhibition!!

After this, we took a long walk to the outskirts of town to visit an exhibition at the Hereford Art College where there was an interesting series of black and white photographs called “Solsbury Hill” documenting a road protest. More details of impressions on my People and Place blog …

http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6942538433303753472#editor/target=post;postID=3015258351741356851

It was then a final session in the college cafe over a beverage. Discussions here touched on the importance of borders around photographs. Gareth mentioned that technical knowledge was not really taught as part of the course as one learnt the necessary skills as one went along and these are the skills one requires rather than certain ones one should learn.

Photobooks are good for assessments but can go wrong if over-designed; one needs to consider the images as a succession and their relation to each other.

I make my point about photography being a kind of transformation turning the everyday and the mundane into something miraculous. Photography helps us to see the world rather than just pass it by!

Apparently, a lot of people come to the OCA with lots of holiday photographs that they think are really good yet these are seldom well constructed.

about Hereford Photography Festival november 2011

The link for the photography festival is …
http://www.photofest.org/

The Open College of the Arts are visiting and the first exhibition we are due to visit is the main one. Here is the blurb about it …

Time & Motion Studies presents the works of five photographers, each the result of deliberate and sustained observation. But more than that, each employs a carefully thought-out strategy for their study, a methodology by which to transcribe and communicate ideas about the world, tackling subjects that aren’t always obviously photogenic. For the photographers in the exhibition, the ideas they are trying to communicate take prescience over aesthetic concerns, although these remain important, both in terms of engaging viewers and in contributing to the development of a wider photographic language. Photographers include Vanessa Winship, George Georgiou, Donald Weber, Robbie Cooper and Manuel Vasquez

Simon Bainbridge said: “I was thrilled to be approached by Hereford Photography Festival who have such a great history of exhibiting international photographic work. I’m excited to be working with them in this their twenty-first year, on an exhibition that will respond to the idea of movement; this year’s festival theme. Work will focus on the strategies contemporary photographers employ to capture everyday life as it passes across their frame and photographers will be selected from the UK and throughout the world.”

The statement that “Work will focus on the strategies contemporary photographers employ to capture everyday life as it passes across their frame” gives an interesting insight into the exhibition.

We are also due to see another exhibition called A Social Landscape; here is the blurb about that …

The last twenty years have seen huge shifts in the definition of documentary practice. The photograph can no longer be seen as an objective record. The work included in this exhibition has been developed within a demanding critical framework that requires students to continually question their process.

All of the photographers are in one way or another documenting the social landscape, be it Kentucky, Saint David’s, California or Paris. The work is at a half-way point for some students and two-thirds of the way through for others. The exhibition should be seen as a preview of the final work, which will be presented at the City University Campus University of Wales, Newport in June 2012.

There is a URL connected with this exhibition … www.wearedoc.com

We then have a choice of two other exhibitions … one of which is called Solsbury Hill which was published to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the 1994 Solsbury Hill road protest, one of the first major anti-roads protests of the 1990s. This exhibition of beautifully reproduced photographs by Adrian Arbib documents all aspects of that protest.

HPF stages this exhibition at a time that young people have staged protests for the first time in twenty years.

there is a more at this address … www.solsburyhill.org.uk

The other exhibition that we can visit as part of the OCA is “Walking in my shoes” …

Featuring work by seven talented photographers trained through PhotoVoice’s groundbreaking projects in the UK, this exhibition presents a truly diverse selection of perspectives and experiences of life in Great Britain. Visitors are invited to discover new ways of looking at their homeland, and to consider viewpoints and facets of life in Great Britain that they may have never considered.

Photographers showcased in Walking in My Shoes include one blind and one partially sighted photographer, both of whom use sensory photography techniques to capture and share their thoughts and experiences. Also showcased are photographs by two young people living in supported housing in Hackney, a wheelchair-using photographer, a young person with experience of homelessness on the streets of Glasgow, and a young Afghan photographer who is working to establish a new life in Britain having arrived as an unaccompanied refugee a few years ago.

An audio trail featuring audio captions, soundscape and quotes from the photographers will be available for download from the PhotoVoice and HPF websites during the exhibition.

It does not look particularly inspiring! The festival as a whole is impressive but I wonder how much of what I see I shall actually like and how much I will look at because it is on a gallery wall and hence expects to revered. As a student, I may find it interesting!