Aug 222011

Study the Masters

— Thames & Hudson Press

Wouldn’t it be nice to explore the

Magnum Archives?  I could spend

months, maybe even years pouring

over the contacts of my favorite

photographers.  Contact sheets

contain the subtle lessons of

composition, design, and the

moment when everything comes

together into a magical image.

The cover of "Magnum Contact Sheets" which will be released in October (2011) from Thames & Hudson.

A Book Of Moment

For most of us the archival racks from our favorite photographers will remain in the dark.  There is a better chance of getting our hands of classified government documents than thumbing through the millions of negatives hidden within Magnum Photo.  But this Fall, Magnum Photo in collaboration with the British publishing house Thames & Hudson will release “Magnum Contact Sheets.”  The four year effort to create this book culminates in over 435 images from Magnums archives.  There were only two members who did not participate in the book.  Who opted out?  Its still a secret, but one we will certainly solve once the book is released in October.  I already pre-ordered one from Amazon.

Gdansk, Poland. 1990. © Sebastiao Salgado


The only requirement for the contents of “Magnum Contact Sheets” were that all images were made on film and the photographer were, at some point, Magnum member.  A number of the agency’s most notable members have left over the years.  Famed photographer Sebastiao Salgado eventually resigned from Magnum stating he did not like the way the organization was evolving.  But I would expect to see some of his contact sheets included in the book.  He was a major artistic and financial force at Magnum for a number of years before his departure, which was described by fellow member Abbas.  (

Che Guevara contact sheet by Magnum photographer © Rene Burri.

The School of Henri

Everyone at Magnum who had the pleasure or terror of presenting their work to Henri Cartier-Bresson can describe every detail of Cartier-Bresson’s review process.  He would  offer critiques as he flipped and turned younger photographers contact sheets.  It must have been a nerve racking experience to prepare a body of images for one of the greatest photographers in history.  And it proves a useful lesson for future generations to understand that Cartier-Bresson put a tremendous emphasis on the contact sheets.  The contact sheets explain every right and wrong action of a photographer.  For the first time Thames & Hudson is mounting a massive block of contacts for photographers to study.

September 11th Contact. Thomas Hoepker.

If the book comes off well, it will be one of the most useful guides to successful photography ever compiled.  And one striking distinction is all the lessons will be in picture form.  There will be some smaller interviews from some of the photographers, but the real gem will be those perforated cells of photographic genius.  Like the sketch books of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, Magnum Contact Sheets should yield powerful lessons which we can apply to our image making.  Pre order a copy here and try not to explode with excitement until October.


Read more about the book on the Thames & Hudson Blog







  11 Responses to “Magnum Contact Sheets”

  1. Great write up! I will try not to explode with excitement until October!


    • If all goes well it should be a very helpful book. Fingers crossed huh?

      • Made a pre-order too. I’m looking forward. Sounds as an very interesting book. Great post Adam.

        • I am shocked at how little press this book has gotten. It should be one of the most useful books a photographer can own, IF they do it right. But so far it looks like its on point. They need to up their PR for sure.

    • One month closer to the October release. Its should be a good one. I am looking forward to everyone’s impressions once its released.

  2. Great news!
    Made a pre-order too :)
    Thanks Adam.

  3. I just received by copy—this book is phenomenal.

  4. The book is really excellent. I just purchased it. It is so interesting to see the different technics of these great photographers.

    • Hey Georg,

      It is fascinating to look through those contacts, isnt it? Some photographers are careful, others are a mess, while some appear totally confused. Its a curious mixture, but great to see all the approaches. I think they did a great job with the stories too!

      Hope you have a strong book case : )


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