I've had a while now to think over Magnum: Contact Sheets and Kristen Lubben's notes therein. First off, it's a beautiful book. The sheets and photographs depicted inside are high quality and the selection provides insight into the published works of the photographers discussed. For instance, I enjoyed calling Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment up from the British Library collections and knowing about the other photographs taken at the same time as some of those displayed in this seminal photobook.
Overall I also think Lubben's account of the history of contact sheets, what they brought to the practice of photography and what they contribute to the history of photography is a useful insight into this under considered photographic objects. In particular I found the insights into how contact sheets were drawn into the politics and legal struggle surrounding Bloody Sunday and the Northern Irish Troubles particularly illuminating regarding the relationship between photography and society.
However, there are parts of the argument which worry me. In particular, the introductory piece concludes with concerns regarding the access currently available to a similar tool of evaluation, verification and archival value in the age of digital photography. I mentioned these concerns in the previous post and suggested that they were unwarranted; photography and technology evolve by their nature - contact sheets were one such evolution and the means of archiving and verifying digital photography are another.
Furthermore, Lubben's slightly misty-eyed wonder at a 'new generation' discovering contact sheets, photographic archives and their loupes unnerves me as part of a wider fashion for reifying the archive in the digital age; something usually undertaken by those with priviledged access to the archive, the equipment to use it and the time to indulge in it. This is part of a broader trend, where wider user participation in archives and history is frowned upon by some and the archive itself is increasingly situated as a site of priviledge. In turn, access to it helps define an individual as an 'expert'. Personally I think this flies in the face of much of what we can achieve through digital media and archives and I hope it is in fact little more than a hipster fad.
These concerns aside, Contact Sheets, the images it contains and the history it articulates highlight an important part of the history of photography. It also underscores (sometimes inadvertently) that photography is a young, constantly evolving art and as such it is a medium which will continue to surprise and concern in equal measure.