Nov 192011

London England

The Symposium

Courtyard of the Meiji Temple. Tokyo, Japan. Winter 1951. © Werner Bischof

Behind the Scenes

While I am on the other side of the ocean, in New York, Magnum London is planning a symposium to discuss the findings of the new book Magnum Contact Sheets.  My copy arrived a few weeks ago.  The book is a whopping 506 pages long and contains contact sheets from almost all of Magnum’s photographers.  Each contact sheet is accompanied by a short story by the photographer.  In the case of photographers who are no longer with us, the entry is taken from letters or written by someone who knew them well.  This book, unlike many other publications, is an opportunity to get inside the mind of a photographer.  We can finally flip their contact sheets upside down and test out the Cartier-Bresson technique of viewing images.  He famously taught the younger Magnum photographers to look at the images upside down so they could analyze the geometry.  Rene Burri shares an interesting story about his work at the Ministry of Health in Rio de Janeiro.

Contact sheet for the Ministry of Health in Brazil. © Rene Burri

“At Magnum, we’d send in our rolls and, once the pictures got to the office, the editors would scribble a red mark: You often did not have time to do the selection yourself.  Cartier-Bresson would also examine our contact sheets.  He always turned them all around and upside down.  It became like a sort of dance.  Strangely he didn’t want to look at the picture!”

RENÉ BURRI (Ministry of Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 1960)

Magnum Contact Sheets (Thames & Hudson) page 109

The Details

November 26, 2011, London, United Kingdom

A landmark new book, Magnum Contact Sheets presents an unparalleled wealth of unpublished material, revealing the story behind many iconic and historical images of modern times taken by the world’s most celebrated photographers. The book shows their creative process and also acts, in the words of Martin Parr, as an ‘epitaph to the contact sheet’ as it marks the end of the analog era as we move to a digital generation.

JAPAN. Tokyo. Courtyard of the Meiji temple. 1951. © Werner Bischof

Magnum Contact Sheets presents, for the first time, the very best contact sheets created by Magnum photographers. Contact sheets tell the truth behind a photograph. They unveil its process, and provide its back story. Was it the outcome of what a photographer had in mind from the outset? Did it emerge from a diligently worked sequence, or was the right shot down to pure serendipity a matter of being in the right place at the right time? This landmark publication provides the reader with a depth of understanding and a critical analysis of the story behind a photograph, the process of editing it, and the places and ways in which the selected photographs were used. For anyone with a deep appreciation of photography and a desire to understand what goes into creating iconic work, Magnum Contact Sheets will be regarded as the definitive volume.

The Ministry of Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © Rene Burri

Magnum Contact Sheets: The Symposium is held in conjunction with the Photography Department of London College of Communication. This one day event will discuss and address topics and issues raised by the book; in particular the foreword written by Kristen Lubben, Associate Curator of the International Center of Photography, New York. The Symposium will be introduced by Sophie Wright, Cultural Director at Magnum Photos.

Speakers include:

Simon Baker, Photography Curator at Tate
Martin Barnes, Senior Curator, Photographs, V&A
David Campany, artist, writer & critic and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster, London
Zelda Cheatle, partner of The Tosca Photography Fund
David Hurn, Magnum photographer and founder of the School of Documentary Photography in Newport
Francis Hodgson, writer & photography critic
Sean O’Hagan, photography writer, The Guardian
Colin Jacobson, author and former picture editor
Peter Marlow, Magnum photographer
Andrew Sanigar, Commissioning Editor at Thames & Hudson

Tickets are £45 and can be purchased online by visiting:

 Enjoy-Adam Marelli



  4 Responses to “Magnum Contact Sheets”

  1. That last Rene Burri image is just incredible. The book is a tad on the pricey side, but I imagine it’ll be worth every penny.

    • Hey Kyle,

      I have seen the book listed for less than $100. I bought the early bird for $75, its worth it.

      The book, the writing and the reproduction quality are excellent!


  2. Thank you for the recommendation Adam! I’m sure this is a great book and it is on my wish list; however the idea seems to be taken from the TV series “Contacts” of French-German chain arte. A couple of years ago, they produced a series of 20-min episodes in which some of the greatest photographers talk about their work, show their contact sheets and explain how the images came about. The series included Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Duane Michals, Sarah Moon, Nobuyoshi Araki, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Jeff Wall, Lewis Baltz, Jean Marc Bustamante, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin and many more. Alas, the non-English photographers are only subtitled in French and German.

    It’s available over



    • Hey Mirko,

      THanks for the link, the discs look really interesting. What a mixture of fine artists and photojournalists?! I have seen some of them speak in person which was great. Sugimoto speaks very plainly about his process and Sophie Calle is fairly seductive in her delivery. I love the different styles. Nan Goldin makes my skin crawl, while Don McCullin is the kind of guy I would like at my dinner parties.

      I dont doubt the concept from the book was a stolen. “There are no new ideas, only new arrangements of them.” -Henri Cartier-Bresson


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