Something and Nothing: reflections on an exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work and his book “The Nature of Photographs”

Reflections on an exhibition by Stephen Shore

window of the Spruth Magers gallery

window of the Spruth Magers gallery

It was by a chance scanning of photographic exhibitions in London that I came across this exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work at a private gallery in Central London. I wonder why the Open College of the Arts had not seized on it and made a study day of the occasion; it seems the college are more focused on photography as art rather than “photography for photography’s sake!” yet Shore is recognized as a seminal photographer. At the beginning of his book “The Nature of Photographs”, James L.Enyeart writes in the introduction that Shore can be considered in the same light as John Berger, Roland Barthes and John Szarkowski, all distinguished commentators on photography. Barthes and Berger wrote as critics of the medium while Szarkowski wrote with greater empathy for his subjects, promoting photography as art. What Shore has done is present photography and in particular the photograph from the point of view of a photographer or the “operator” as Barthes refers to the maker of photographs at the beginning of Camera Lucida.

Stephen Shore was born in 1947 in New York. He started taking pictures aged 6, had sold prints to the MOMA by the age of 14 and at 17 became a regular at Andy Warhol’s factory where he began to experiment with fine art techniques. In 1971, he switched to making colour photographs and started travelling around the USA photographing the diversity of the suburban landscape and producing the series American Surfaces and Uncommon Places; he started teaching photography at Bard College in New York in 1982.

Looking at the image on the Internet that advertises this exhibition, I wonder what makes it so remarkable. One sees the torso of a woman, her firm breasts filling the bra she wears while behind there is an interesting gold and black wall paper design. She does not seem to be an incredibly beautiful woman or particularly sexy neither is she a recognizable celebrity; what made the photographer take this image and put it in a gallery? The reason for it being put on the net is probably because the gallery thought that a loosely clad female would immediately attract attention particularly that of males, still the dominant force in society.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

I made the 2-hour journey by train to London to see this exhibition before it closed, reading Shore’s book “The Nature of Photographs” as I did so. He is interested not so much in the technicalities of image making but the substance of the photograph. The book written in the 1990’s is perhaps a little dated (it has since been updated) as Shore writes about “all photographs made with a camera and printed directly from the negative” hence revealing he is primarily concerned with the pre-digital photograph. However, his consideration of photography as photography rather than under the vaguer term of art is welcome. These days, the majority of photographs are viewed electronically yet his description of “an image, an illusion of a window onto the world. It is on this level that we usually read a picture and discover its content” is still as relevant today as when it was written possibly more so.

Prints still do function in the world of photography since they are the mainstay of the gallery though screen viewed images are increasingly popular. A print created through electronic rather than chemical means still possesses many of the characteristics Shore mentions such as the physicality of flatness, the frame, hue and tonal range, texture of the base, the effect of dyes and pigments. Still of interest is “the way shadows, mid tones, and highlights are described by the print; they determine how many shades of gray the print contains and whether these tones are compressed or separated.”

The text refers to prints that were viewed in an exhibition and hence the book falls rather short of accurately conveying what Shore is talking about although the series of images reproduced give an excellent insight into the photographic medium and many of its protagonists. In his own words, Shore writes, “The context in which a photograph is seen affects the meanings a viewer draws from it.” A book or screen can never reflect the carefully produced image of the individual print, a fact that is often lost in the contemporary electronic proliferation of images.

A photograph “depicts” aspects of the world and “are the means by which photographers express their sense of the world, give structure to their perceptions and articulation to their meanings.” The three dimensional is transmuted into the two dimensional and yet photographs can present spatial depth and their monocular vision although apparently limited does give a unique view of the world as it “creates juxtaposition of lines and shapes within the image, edges create relationships between these lines and shapes and the frame. The relationships that the edges create are both visual and ‘contextual”. New visual relationships emerge from within the frame and the photographer needs to respond to these.

What the photographer includes or excludes is another important consideration. Visual relationships exist not just between elements within the frame but also in regard to the frame itself. The active effect of the frame varies between images.

Time also plays an important part in the still photograph since it is frozen. As Shore says, “A photograph is static, but the world flows in time. As this flow is interrupted by the photograph, a new meaning, a photographic meaning, is delineated.” What Szarkowski called “a discrete parcel of time” is effected by what Shore identifies as “the duration of the exposure and the static nature of the print and film.”

Focus and the way in which it is employed by a photographer is another important feature of the photograph as it can effect the reading of the image; it can also effect the way the eye adjusts to seeing the image when different planes of focus might upset the predictable movement of the eye. There is a mental focus as “your eyes don’t actually refocus (since you are only looking at a flat page). It is your mind that changes focus within your mental image of the picture …” There can be a marked difference between the space depicted in a photograph and the way the eye understands that space. “The mental level elaborates, refines, and embellishes our perceptions of the depictive level.”

When making rather than taking a photograph, a photographer makes decisions relating to vantage point, framing, timing and focus so that “The quality and intention of a photographer’s attention leave their imprint on the mental level of the photograph”. Such decisions can be “conscious, intuitive, and automatic” according to Shore and are part of the way a photographer mentally arranges a picture. “When photographers take pictures, they hold mental models in their minds, models that are the result of the proddings of insight, conditioning, and comprehension of the world.” There are basic models that allow “only sunsets to pass through” while “At the other extreme, the model is supple and fluid, readily accommodating and adjusting to new perceptions.” Shore makes the point that if the photographer is conscious of this process it can bring “the mental level of the photograph under control.”

There is depictive and realized space not only within the photograph but also between the photograph and its viewer. A landscape might cover a large area but not require the mental eye while a close up of a confined space might make the eye move between different elements.

The making of photographs “is a complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination, and intention.” There are different levels to the photograph that is ultimately ‘a piece of paper … a seductive illusion … a moment of truth and beauty.”

Reading Shore’s book “The Nature of Photographs” I thought might set me up for an exhibition that I might otherwise have difficulty comprehending although its message is probably much simpler than one might imagine from reading a book. It was good to read the book again and again, like last time, in a train! It is full of a certain kind of photographic wisdom as it tightly analyses the elements of the photograph. It did not however relate much to what I was about to see.

Spruth Magers gallery, London W1

Spruth Magers gallery, London W1

Spruth Magers is a gallery in Central London occupying a corner of Grafton Street tucked away behind the Royal academy of Arts amidst shops named after well known brands such as Burberry’s, Chanel, Cartier, Dior, Gucci and Tiffany’s. On the ground floor of the building, there is an impressive front window in which the exhibition is announced. “Something and Nothing” curated by Todd Levin starts (if indeed it does have a beginning) with a couple of books under a glass case, held in place by a large pebble with the Taoist ying-yang symbol on the top. Text by the composer John Cage is visible behind the glass and begins as follows …

“This is a talk about something and naturally also a talk about nothing. About how something and nothing are not opposed to each other but need each other to keep going.”

glass cabinet with John Cage text

glass cabinet with John Cage text

A print out from the gallery also on their website, gives information as to how this exhibition might be understood yet I leave this to read later.

Inquiring at the entry of the building whether photography was permissible and receiving an affirmative, I started by adjusting my camera to the colour temperature of the gallery by photographing a white wall. I could of course have left the colour correction to the eye dropper in a software program yet more elaborate approach seemed a good way to start if only to sustain something of the purity of the photographic process which Shore has obviously used in the making of his images. Another visitor asks me whether I think the photographs are digital or chemical; he points out one image in which the curious nature of digital seems to lurk in distorted foliage. A digital print perhaps possibly even the result of a digital camera? I wonder if this consideration is really relevant to the exhibition and show being more a concern of photographers trying to clumsily eke out the method behind the genius of Shore.

collection of landscape photos

collection of landscape photos

Behind the presentation of the books, is a wall with 4 large landscape photographs with white frames. Like all the photographs in this exhibition there are no titles or captions given, one needs to rely on the image itself to understand it, another example of the photographic purity of Stephen Shore. All four images contain slopes of one kind or another with 3 having texture brought out by rocks and stones and the other by grass. Other than being part of the landscape genre, one wonders what relationship these images have between each other; there seems to be no clear message although one image in the top left of the display surprisingly reveals a town that blends into the image disguised by the building’s similarity with the stones on the slope beneath it.

more photos from the first gallery

more photos from the first gallery

On another wall of this gallery, there is a series of 6 images that indicate a merging between landscape and the urban. In one, a tarmacked road leads towards a large Christian building, half hidden by the vegetation and buildings that surround it. Although in the background, Shore has focused on this building leading to a softening of the foreground detail thereby focusing our attention on the building in question, a technique suggested in his book “The Nature of Photographs.”

A feature of this exhibition is the way images have been grouped together, recognizably joined by subject matter. This was done in preference to presenting a chronological order.

Magritte painting

Magritte painting

Shore's photograph

Shore’s photograph

The other gallery, the one that forms the entry to the exhibition, also has a glass case mounted in the centre of the room. Under this, there is a painting that appears to be a Magritte original. It shows a meticulous and realistic painting of the seaside that perfectly merges with seaside behind it, seen through a window behind the easel on which the painting rests. The easel is inside a room. The motif is characteristic of Magritte and recognisably surrealistic. To the right of Magritte’s painting is a landscape photograph that contains another landscape photograph. As in Magritte’s painting within a painting, Shore’s photograph reflects the landscape yet it is far from a seamless blend showing the view at a different time of year and day as well as from a slightly different viewpoint. Shore seems to be making a point here about the nature of the photograph and the differences between painting and photography. They are different disciplines producing different results might be one message but one might speculate further. The photographed photo for instance is an idealised view, it contains not only a snowy peak yet also a sunset or sunrise, and like so many photographs of that kind remains an idealised view of the world rather than a realistic one as is clear here. I think perhaps this is my favourite image in the exhibition because it contains meanings that interest me and that I understand to some degree; there is also an element of humour in the juxtaposition.

grouping - main gallery - Shore exhibition-20140108-London-_MG_9357

The first set of photographs I look at in this room involve people moving through landscapes. There is an image of a man seen from behind, wheeling his bicycle through woods; he is just approaching a divide in the road and one may wonder whether he will continue along the well-worn path that bears left or the overgrown one that leads to the right. The photograph has a subtle tension and is another favourite of mine. In another image alongside this one, a man walks past a long lorry from which an arm drapes out of the passenger window. The man walking towards us looks to one side and carries a bouquet of flowers. In the background there is architecture that looks dated particularly the top of a tower above which a small mobile mast pokes incongruously into the sky; the road is unkempt, the setting rural. Another image shows a woman striding past a building, her shadow falling crisply on a stone wall while behind her is a much larger yet softer shadow of a tree looking almost as if it might ominously be creeping up on her. Other images of people walking through built up areas show different characters most notable a couple of bowler hatted Jews with beards and flowing locks.

grouping 2 - main gallery - Shore exhibition-20140108-London-_MG_9348

The next group of framed photographs contain not people but cars in built up areas. As with all the groups of images, some prints are small possibly contact printed from 4 by 5 inch negatives, while others are much larger. In one of the larger images, a woman sits in a car drinking from a bottle, her face partially obscured by shadow and the bottle she drinks from.

grouping corner - main gallery - Shore exhibition-20140108-London-_MG_9349

A group of 4 images is set in one corner of the gallery, indicating both the complex design of buildings that stand alongside each other in towns and cities as well as the array of objects that modern civilisation produces which includes keys and locks, light bulbs, kettles and so on. There is a symmetry to these images that arises out of careful design on the part of the photographer.

images of ordinary food

images of ordinary food

The next group of photographs shows close up images of different kinds of mostly prepared food although fruit does feature in one. The food is accompanied by cutlery and hence the idea of consumption is suggested. I cannot help but think of Martin Parrs culinary images although those suggest nauseasness while Shores merely imply a slight distastefulness, for instance, food being kept beneath plastic covers.

photographs of ordinary objects

photographs of ordinary objects

Another group of photographs show a set of interiors within which characteristic objects are found although these are of a dated appearance. There is a TV in a wooden cabinet, a newspaper with Russian script, a book with Jewish script on the cover, medals with Russian inscriptions are placed on a carpet, a telephone with a student ID card lying beside it and an image of a radio. These objects are transitory, the kind of devices that people change on a regular basis and their presence says much here about time.

group of found portraits

group of found portraits

The first of two groups of portraits shows found images; portraits in an official document, a photograph attached to a gravestone and portraits that are part of advertisements.  The second group of portraits reveal more formal yet unstudied portraiture, the subjects appearing in the real life the photographer is documenting. There is a baby (a small print), a young boy asleep against a window, a young woman wearing a head scarf her identity obscured by the fact she is photographed from behind, two small images of glamorous women (one of these is the one being used to advertise the exhibition), an elderly woman who looks up from her pillow with a lined face and eyes that do not meet those of the photographer, another small photo of a man with a naked torso lying on a couch in front of a window while a larger photo reveals a young man seen from the side who wears a small cap on his head. Another reference to Jewishness! Is this a subject Shore is concerned with? These two portrait groups and the former one of people walking through urban areas reveal that Shore likes to include a varied range of subjects.

group of portraits

group of portraits

grouping of photographs of suburban houses

grouping of photographs of suburban houses

The final series of photographs, these are on the right of the entrance to the galleries and so might be intended to be viewed first, shows a series of suburban houses. Again a taxonomic approach is suggested as Shore records houses that range from a mini castle complete with crenelations, a bungalow amidst trees lit by dappled light, a modern looking building with high windows set behind palm trees while there is a two-up, two-down fronted by lush green topiary.

I go to a nearby café for some refreshment; over an hour of seeing the exhibition and making notes starts to tire me. I also want to consider what I have seen, reflect a little on the nature of the images. Their appeal lies partly in the fact that they don’t need captions and can be viewed as entities in their own right.

The lighting in the gallery illuminates the photographs well yet there are many reflections that interfere with the viewing of the images, requiring the viewer to move around rather like a photographer seeking the best angle from where he can make his image.

The use of large format does add a clarity to the images that is admirable and eases the gaze of the viewer. This may just be a technical matter but it does have a considerable effect.

cabinet in passage way where Stephen Shores books were kept

cabinet in passage way where Stephen Shores books were kept

In another space, a hallway in which there is also a lift, there is a display of Shore’s books on shelves behind glass. They are not for sale (the poster was but copies were exhausted soon after the exhibition began) but can be ordered through the publisher Phaidon. The fact that Shore has released a project called “A New York Minute” in digital format and is still producing new work is evidence that he is not just a seminal photographer but also a contemporary one.

My lingering perception of Shore’s photographs is that they are well-made, high quality products. This is partly a result of them being made with a large format camera by a skilled operator who knows exactly what he is doing, not as common a occurrence as one might assume, while the content of these images are also thought provoking and informative. There is a kind of photographic purity to Shore’s work that I find refreshing in todays world of mass produced electronic photographic imagery which usually reveals little skill requiring only pointing the device in a certain direction at a given time. Shore’s images are everyday yet they are not mundane rather they transform what might be considered banal into something worthwhile. Shore’s approach is not just referential it is also reverential.

main gallery

main gallery

The A4 print out I read after seeing and reflecting upon the exhibition; it mentions that “the images are organised categorically rather than chronologically” as evidenced by the groupings mentioned in my account of the exhibition. One sentence from this print out reads, “Shore’s photographic eye similarly directs us to markers of time and of change, capturing the quotidian, a sense of locality and signs of cultural and temporal change” and that he pioneers “two of the most important photographic idioms of the past forty years; the diaristic snapshot and the monumentalised landscape”.  My understanding of the exhibition is influenced by the title and introductory text by John Cage though the correspondence is not immediately obvious other than to suggest that this is more than just a collection of favourite images, the result of many years of photographing the social landscape.

Here is a link to Stephen Shore’s Book of Books, a collection of his life’s work so far.

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.


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 …

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