René Burri, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara Contact Sheet

René Burri, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, 1963

The thing is, famous photographers who are considered the “best photographers of all time”, will always be surrounded by this magical mist, this seemingly massive genius.

There will always be the myth that their most famous shots – the ones known from books and galleries – were images that were produced as a single frame. The photographer simply took one picture and it was printed straight from the negative, no cropping, adjustments or editing.

This myth is reinforced by the lack of published contact sheets, where one roll of film is printed on one sheet, 12 or 24 or 36 images appearing on this one sheet against black background.

Just before Christmas Magnum released a book including 139 of those contact sheets by 69 of its most important photographers spanning almost 70 years, called Magnum Contact Sheets.

This publication can be seen as a deconstruction of those myths, those magical photographs that are known and admired. Suddenly it becomes obvious that those photographs were not produced in one perfect shot. Sometimes a whole roll of film was shot to get “that one image” that eventually became famous. Sometimes the one famous shot is the result of carefully bracketed exposures in a sequence of three, four or more images. And sometimes the one famous image is two frames before an image on the contact sheet that seems to be more technically well produced, more aesthetically pleasing, “better”. Nevertheless it was not this “better image” that became famous.

The magic of photography is not destroyed by seeing images in context of their exact creation, in sequence with images that were taken before and after the one shot. Looking at contact sheets makes photographers and their work more accessible. It helps in the understanding of their work, and sometimes there is more magic to be discovered. Because in these 139 contact sheets there are more than only 139 good images.

While the Magnum store and Amazon UK list new copies of this book as out of stock, the book appears to be available on Amazon US and via other vendors on Amazon UK. Please note these are Amazon affiliates links and any proceeds from this link assist in supporting Gasket.