Inside The Contact Sheets Of Magnum Photos
Not too long ago, Magnum Photos insisted that new members of the collective had to share their contact sheets. Studying them is a way to retrace a photographer’s "footprints" into their project, says Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, who has been a member since 1976 and is the recipient of so many honors and awards (including being named a MacArthur Fellow in 1992) that I won’t even try to list them all.
"We see our minds and eyes at work," Meiselas says of her old contacts. "Sometimes of course it’s disappointing when you miss a moment — and I don’t ever request to ‘reenact.’ They are like your footprints and can help spark your memory as to how a situation unfolded and the path you took to capture and frame a relationship in a spatial field."
Choosing a single photo, or "hero" shot, to represent the work in a contact sheet is a process that may be as uniquely personal as the contact itself. For Meiselas, her goal isn’t to choose a "hero" shot but instead to choose "images that I think have caught the essence of what I was envisioning at that moment."
The upcoming Magnum Contact Sheet Exhibition at Milk Gallery promises to open a similar window into the minds of dozens of Magnum photographers, including Martin Parr, René Burri, Dennis Stock and, yes, Susan Meiselas. In many cases, their contact sheets reflect a time before digital photography, as when Meiselas was documenting civil strife in Nicaragua during the late 1970s, or a group of young girls growing up in New York’s Little Italy that same decade.
"It used to be that if you went far away it could take months to see your contacts at all," Meiselas recalls. "With Nicaragua, I didn’t see anything for the first six weeks of work until I came home, whereas with Prince Street Girls, I was developing the film in my darkroom and the girls themselves were sometimes watching."
The Magnum Contact Sheet Exhibition runs June 27 through July 13 in Milk Gallery. The Alec Soth Artist Talk will be held June 30 from 5:30-7pm. Select Contact Sheets are available for purchase in the Milk Gallery Store.