Assignment 4 – whittling them down

The brief calls for 6-10 final prints. I shot 318 frames; here are the contact sheets:

Whittling-down proceeds by stages. First, eliminating the frames with irretrievable technical issues, mainly focusing or camera movement reduced the count to 228.

Next, having made the decision to concentrate on close-up reflections in wet pavements I can reduce the count to 100 frames. It is this set of 100 that I will be submitting with the assignment.

The ‘first cut’ on subjective criteria gave me a long-list of 36 images. At this stage I decided that, for consistency, I would present only landscape-format images, which eliminates another 12.

The next stage will be to work them all up, with a 3×2 crop (best fit on A4 with 25mm margins) and basic Lightroom adjustments then print out laser proofs for final selection.


Magnum Contact Sheets

Pulling a good picture out of a contact sheet is like going down to the cellar and bringing back a good bottle to share. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

‘Magnum Contact Sheets’ is a coffee table book, not just because it looks good on the coffee table but, at 524 pages of 150gsm art paper, it weighs roughly the same. According to the copyright page, the 2014 book is the compact edition.

The premise is simple, iconic images from Magnum photographers are presented with commentary (either from the photographer or Kristen Lubben, the editor) and the contact sheets from which they are extracted, complete with the editor’s chinagraph markings. The result is an insight into how photographers work on location and how they, or their editors, approach the task of selection and editing.

The book starts in pre-Magnum days, with HCB’s image of street kids playing among wrecked masonry in Seville 1933. Almost uniquely among the featured photographers, HCB did not like revealing his contacts. Indeed, it seems that he cut out his usable negatives into separates and would discard those he did not like. He is quoted thus, ‘A contact sheet is full of erasures, full of detritus. A photo exhibition or a book is an invitation to a meal, and it is not customary to make guests poke their noses into the pots and pans, and even less into the buckets of peelings’ (Lubben 2014, 18)

However, most contributors had views similar to David Hurn (quoted on p159), “The contact sheet is a valuable instructor. … Ruthless examination of the contact sheet, whether one’s own or another’s is one of the best teaching methods”

That appears to be the raison d’être for this book. Later (p162) Hurn tells us, “Looking at other peoples’ contact sheets allows one to understand their method of working and their thinking processes. When I first came to Magnum, I learned an enormous amount by perusing shelves of books of contacts from Henri Carier Breton, Marc Riboud, Réne Burri, Elliott Erwitt, etc. … What was a revelation to me was that I could see a similar working pattern in virtually all the photographers I admired. Little sequences which show the photographer seemingly stalking the image”

The book includes some classics of reportage. On p50 we learn how most of Robert Capa’s D-Day negatives were destroyed by a darkroom error, and on the following page we see the nine which survive. Pages 208-215 covers Gilles Peress’ images from Bloody Sunday together with a sketch and part of his statement to the Widgery and Saville enquiries.

There is also a leavening of lighter material, such a Martine Franck’s Buddhist monks of 1996 (p403) and Elliott Erwitt’s 2000 ‘Bulldogs’ (p457)

I bought this book as part of my research for EYV Assignment 3 (The decisive moment) for which it was useful (I liked Peter Hurn’s comment about stalking the image). I regard it as essential reading for any topic relating to reportage or documentary work.


Lubben, K (ed) (2014) Magnum Contact Sheets (compact edition) London: Thames and Hudson

Assignment 3 – random further thoughts (and a decisive moment of my own)

In a previous posting, I concluded that the ‘decisive moment’ is a tautology; it is the moment that the photographer decides the timing and composition is right to press the shutter button. It is not the moment that is decisive, but the photographer.

I also discussed ‘spray and pray’ and concluded that it was a way of deferring that decision until post-processing. Except in fast-moving situations, I considered it a lazy way to work. It is therefore slightly worrying to see how much I used burst-fire in each of my three possible sets for Assignment 3 (regatta, white water or pub gig). In my defence, most bursts were of only 2 or 3 images, rather than a full ‘machine-gun’ treatment.

With a deadline looming, it is time to decide which set to move forward with as my assignment. I have decided to work with the regatta for several reasons. It is the subject matter that I am most comfortable with; as a racing sailor myself, I was able to anticipate developing situations better than with the other two sets. It is also the set that has the greatest variety in situations and subject matter.

The next stage is to select the final images. There is good guidance in the literature.

Michael Freeman (2010,156) in a chapter titled “Interactive composition” gives a case study and describes the process of exploring a scene to find the best composition and timing. Although the image finally selected in that case was the last shot (no.37) he notes that this is by no means always the case.

The Magnum contact sheets book (Lubben (ed) 2014) is a fascinating read – and will be the subject of a review – which highlights iconic images and presents them together with the contact sheet and sometimes the photographer’s notes. This gives a good insight into the process of editing, although I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the editor’s choice.

I hope to live up to a comment by HCB, “Pulling a good picture out of a contact sheet is like going down to the cellar and bringing back a good bottle to share” (Cartier Bresson, quoted in Lubben 2014, 18)


Freeman, M. (2010) The Photographer’s Mind Lewes:Ilex

Lubben, K (ed) (2014) Magnum Contact Sheets (compact edition) London: Thames and Hudson

Square Mile – more contacts

These contacts are the result of three more visits to the riverside; various weather conditions (all sunnier than the first visit) but all around lunchtime. The last visit was a sunny day at half-term so there were a lot more people around.

With a total of 162 images between the two sets of contacts and a brief to produce 6-12 images for the assignment, there are multiple stories to be told. My plan is to select images showing people using or interacting with the space. There are images of a motor launch, rowers (unfortunately, the only canoeist is too small in frame), dog walkers, cyclists, swan/goose feeders, people eating their lunch and people just walking through.

I will need a mix of scales, mostly fairly intimate but building up an overall picture of the space.

Lightroom (OlyTripFeb16-092.tif and 90 others)

Square Mile – first contacts

My first idea for “my” square mile was the shopping streets in the centre of Maidstone, a short walk from home and full of details and people. I never quite got there because I first had to cross the Medway, and found myself spending an hour and two rolls of film there instead.

The area that I have chosen is the Medway as it passes through the centre of Maidstone; there are four bridges and two riverside footpaths, surprisingly well used even on a stormy, cold Saturday in February. There are anglers, joggers, dog walkers and people simply using it as a route from A to B.

Quite a lot of the buildings annoy me, and I think it shows in some of the contacts. There is a semi-floating restaurant barge, which looks like a glorified  Portakabin, stuck right in front of the Archbishops’ Palace and interfering with the view of the historic buildings from across the river, and an appalling Travelodge which is now the most prominent building in the centre of town.

Technical details: These images were shot on HP5+ film in an Olympus Trip 35. The choice of camera was partly influenced by my current year-long project, 12 months – 12 cameras, in which I had selected the Trip for February and partly because my take on the brief is for a snapshot approach, for which the Trip is ideally suited.

Given the weather, this set of images gives a very gloomy impression of my square mile. There will be a second session with sunshine (when that eventually occurs) and my final selection of images will be drawn from both sets.

Contacts (OlyTripFeb16-004.tif and 70 others)