sábado, 22 de febrero de 2014

MAGNUM CONTACT SHEETS BY KRISTEN LUBBEN : A LANDMARK BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY


508 pages, a weight of 4.55 kg, dimensions of 29.5  x 34.8 cm, top-notch quality 150gsm matt art paper, exceptional level of reproduction quality of 435 illustrations including over 200 prints, 60 contextual images and 3,600 frames on 139 contact sheets, encompassing black and white and colour photographies made by 69 preeminent Magnum Photographers in 35 mm, 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ , 4 x 5 ´ and panoramic formats, a wide assortment of zoom-in details, notebooks and spreads from mythical publications like Life and Picture Post, a number of highly interesting articles enabling a further insight into each contact sheet and written by recognized authorities like Carole Naggar (poet, artist, photohistorian and curator since 1971, writer for Focus and Aperture magazines New York and Photomagazine Paris monthly, American editor of Camera International,  preeminent biographer of George Rodger and Werner Bischof and great expert in David Seymour Chim) , Cynthia Young (ICP Curator, manager of Robert Capa and Cornell Capa archives and current international benchmark organizing photographic exhibitions of great photographers, having set up till now Unknown Weegee in 2006, This is War! Robert Capa at Work in 2007, The Mexican Suitcase in 2010, We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim in 2013 and the recently premiered and milestone Capa in Colour on January 31, 2014), James A. Fox (one of the three best picture editors ever and Editor-in-Chief of Magnum Paris between 1976 and 2000), was hired by Cornell Capa in 1966 to organize Magnum New York Office Archives, has led a lot of photographic workshops and worked on a number of Magnum estate collections, being nowadays Curator of the Marilyn Silverstone Estate Collection), Peer-Olaf Richter (Director of the Estates of Herbert List and Max Scheler and Curator), John Jacob (Director of the Inge Morath Foundation and Director of Legacy Programs for the Magnum Foundation in New York), Brigitte Lardinois (Associate Director of the Photography and the Archive Research Center at the University of the Arts in London, she created the Magnum Photos Cultural Department in London in 1995, heading it for more than ten years) and Marco Bischof (son of the genius of photography and humanist Werner Bischof and Director of Werner Bischof Estate in Zurich).

These are only a few of the main features of an undoubtedly historical book whose core is an anthology of contact sheets of film rolls exposed by legendary photographers from Magnum Agency, in a time when they were printed and reviewed as a method to subsequently choose and edit the best pictures.


It´s likewise an amazing source of information paying homage to the birth and evolution of Magnum Agency and its photographers, who got many of the most iconic and representative images of XX Century and keep on striving after doing the same in XXI.

And of course, this gorgeous book conceived and manufactured according to the most stringent criteria in order to get the maximum feasible quality in every tackled scope (very specially as to content and quality of photographic reproduction), is a very valuable tool for any professional photographer, connoisseur, amateur shutterbug or anyone having a penchant for really good pictures and wishing to know the stories behind them.


A FASCINATING AND EDUCATIONAL WORK
Through deep knowledge, expertise, love for photography and brutal effort, Kristen Lubben (Associate Curator of the ICP New York) has managed to create a book which offers a fascinating insight into the Magnum Agency through  both a wisely chosen array of contact sheets including a number of the most defining pictures ever made speaking by themselves and a content that can only be defined as engrossing.

Paying attention to those contact sheets becomes a highly interesting experience enabling the reader to see what was shot and what was used and finally turned into iconic images featured in the book, which reveals the truth behind the pictures to great extent and provides lavish data on their back story, the stages before editing them which led to the famous images.

In this regard, the not chosen and unpublished frames prove to be fundamental to grasp the image context and the way of working and seeing of each photographer.

They may be also instrumental on trying to delve into the strategies, methods and editing guidelines implemented by the renowned Magnum Agency Masters of Photography and picture editors when they had to choose the best photographs to be published from these direct prints made from a roll of negatives, where film photographers often saw their work for the first thrilling time and marked their best frames with grease pencils, so there isn´t anything more accurate and faithful to show how a photographer shoots than a contact sheet.

Richard Kalvar, one of the 69 Magnum Agency photographers whose contact sheets and pictures (Piazza della Rotonda and Woman in Window) are featured in Magnum Contact Sheets edited by Kristen Lubben. Featuring an experience of almost fifty years as a professional photographer, was one of the founders of Viva agency in Paris in 1972. In 1975 became an associate member of Magnum Photos and a full member in 1977, having served as vice-president and president of the agency. He has made assignments for magazines like Newsweek. His work has been displayed at the Agathe Gaillard Gallery in Paris in 1980 and a retrospective of his career best images was shown at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in 2007. A remarkable specialist getting unposed pictures of people, steadily trying to go to places where interesting things could happen, always looking and paying top attention to relations between people, particularly conversations in the street, using his Leicas M rangefinder cameras as an exceedingly discreet photographic tool. He also has a penchant for long-term projects, like his unfinished Rome, which he began in 1978. 

Needless to say that those raw images belong to the most intimate inner being of a photographer´s work, so Kristen Lubben´s landmark publication is particularly worthwhile since it offers a kind of low-down glimpse into the photojournalists working ways and the behind-the-scenes building of famous images.

Therefore, the contact sheet can become a useful tool to provide clues into the reasons why the selected image was chosen to depict the events witnessed by the photographer, the context in which it was taken and the original purpose of the image.

On the other hand, throughout almost a century it has proved to be a savvy method to save costs and avoid to print large quantities of pictures that mightn´t contain the wished final results, because the images reproduced on a contact sheet have the size of the negatives themselves and are the way in which professional photographers who used chemical emulsions could view at first blush the content of a roll film exposed by them to subsequently select the best photographs to be used in illustrated magazines, newspapers, galleries, etc.


A TREASURE TROVE FROM MAGNUM AGENCY
The book Magnum Contact Sheets is also of course a homage to a golden period in the History of Photography epitomized by the contact sheets of negatives exposed by the great featured photojournalists: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David Seymour ´Chim´, George Rodger, Marc Riboud, Cornell Capa, Werner Bischof, Elliot Erwitt, Erich Lessing, Burt Glinn, Marilyn Silverstone, Richard Kalvar, Peter Marlow, Inge Morath, Eve Arnold, René Burri, Bruce Davidson, Philip Jones Griffiths, Constantine Manos, Leonard Freed, David Hurn, Thomas Hoepker, Herbert List, Philippe Halsman, Bruno Barbey, Paul Fusco, Josef Koudelka, Dennis Stock, Gilles Peres, Guy Le Querrec, Raghu Rai, Ferdinando Scianna, Susan Meiselas, Ian Berry, Micha Bar-Am, Martine Franck, Chris Steele-Perkins, Jim Goldberg, Alex Webb, Abbas, Raymond Depardon, Hiroji Kubota, Alex Webb, Abbas, Peter Marlow, Martin Parr, Steve Mc Curry, Bruce Gilden, John Vink, Stuart Franklin, Jean Gaumy, Patrick Zachmann, Carl de Keyzer, Nikos Economopoulos, Larry Towell, Cristina García Rodero, Eli Reed, Chien-Chi Chang, Trent Parke, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Christopher Anderson, Jacob Aue Sobol, Jonas Bendiksen, Thomas Dworzak, Paolo Pellegrin, David Alan Harvey, Alec Soth, Antoine D´Agata, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Mark Power, Donovan Wylie and Mikhael Subotzky. 

Their contact sheets enable us to see a lot of moments, not as single frames, but as stills from a greater narrative, and each sheet has a different story to tell.

The images themselves are stunning and anybody can learn very much merely watching the contact sheets and realizing how these world class photographers composed and shot their pictures, with all of the enthrallment it entails, because once and again they did their best trying to get what the great Philip Jones Griffiths defined as the only thing that photojournalists want more than anything: to become invisible.

Micha Bar-Am, a Magnum photographer since 1968 and Middle East correspondent for The New York Times until 1992, having also published pictures in Time and Newsweek magazines. Featuring an experience of more than sixty years as a professional photojournalist, he was one of the founding members of the International Center of Photography in New York in 1974 along with Cornell Capa and her wife Edie. A user of Leica rangefinder cameras since 1953, when he bought his first screwmount model, which would be subsequently followed by a Leica M3 Black Paint with Summicron-M 35 mm f/2, a Leica M2 Black Paint with Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 and a Nikkon SP Chrome with Nikkor-S 5 cm f/1.4, also being a remarkable 16 x 20 inch size printer using museum archival standards, hand developing, dodging and burning each black and white positive (particularly his highly sought after prints which were made with Agfa Brovura double weight paper and Eastman Kodak Dektol developer), considered as an individual work of art. Being 18 years old he saw Robert Capa taking pictures in Haifa harbour, moving around with great speed and energy, making a strenuous effort working with different cameras and lenses and getting images from every possible angle. The book Magnum Contact Sheets edited by Kristen Lubben includes the contact sheet and three enlarged contacts of his story The Return from Entebbe made in 1976. 

There are tons of examples of it in the book, which includes a great assortment of images arranged in chronological order, dating back to 1933 and spanning through 2011, featuring to name only a few such iconic images like:


Children Playing in Seville, taken by Henri Cartier Bresson in 1933 (with one page showing the original 16 contacts, two of which were selected by HCB and are respectively depicted in the book in half page and full page size, the latter being barely known and showing really poor little boys whose clothes are rather filthy and worn out, as well as revealing their greatly broken shoes, the only footwear they have daily used for a long time, and whose faces and physical appearance, in spite of their youth, already unveil the very hard conditions of their lives presided over by a bad nourishment, lack of adequate hygiene and a miserable household economical context).


Woman in the Crowd, taken by David Seymour ´Chim´ in May 1936 in a small town near Badajoz (Extremadura, Spain) where peasants are in a meeting listening to a speech (with the six surviving contacts being reproduced in large size on page 23). The text by Carole Naggar, top expert in the world regarding David Seymour Chim, provides lavish information on the context in which Chim made the pictures with his 24 x 36 mm Leica III rangefinder camera and a Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens.
Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera A.G. A visionary man who in 2008 anticipated the future of photography with his historical and far-reaching lecture The Future of Memories and was able to turn Leica into a top-drawer digital brand manufacturing reference-class full frame rangefinder cameras like the Leica M9, Leica M Monochrom, Leica M Type 241 and the medium format Leica S2, along with a vast choice of second to none highly luminous lenses in terms of resolving power, contrast and very small size and weight. The legendary German photographic firm has performed a key role with its screwmount and M cameras and lenses in the development of Magnum Agency since its foundation in 1947, without forgetting other excellent mostly manual focusing photographic systems which also proved their excellent quality throughout decades in the hands of professional photographers members of Magnum like the Zeiss Ikon Contax II and IIa rangefinders with Carl Zeiss Jena lenses, the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format binocular Rolleiflex, and the Nippon Kogaku Nikon S, S2 and SP rangefinders and Nikon F reflex cameras with Nikon F and F2 respectively fostered in USA since 1954 (Nippon Kogaku RFs) and 1959 (Nikon F reflex series) by the great distributor Joe Ehrenreich, owner of EPO, who made different annual trips to Nikon headquarters in Tokyo to provide suggestions from pros and brainstorms to the Japanese firm opticians, mechanical engineers and technicians aiming at steadily improving the level of Nikon products. 

The Battle of Río Segre, taken by Robert Capa near Fraga, Aragón Front, in November 1938, 


with two sheets of 35 mm contacts (pages 26 and 29) reproduced in big full page size, with the added bonus of an exceedingly dramatic picture of a Republican soldier (wisely reproduced at full double page) who abandons the shelter of a rock and advances towards a comrade coming to them and being on his turn helping a wounded comrade. It´s very apparent that both this man and Capa taking the picture risk their lives in the middle of the explosion of Francoist cannon shells bringing about very dense smoke everywhere, and the power of the image is enhanced by the presence of a further Republican soldier on the lower right area of the photograph, who is watching the scene under the protection of a big rock.

Cynthia Young´s remarkable text provides lavish and very interesting information on these two contact sheets (from a total of nine) and the great performance of Capa on getting these photographs, jeopardizing his own life and fulfilling one of the foremost war reportages in his career, as well as bringing readers to the front line in a way that had never before been seen, to such an extent that you can almost smell the powder.


The Blitz by George Rodger, including a contact sheet of the pictures he got in Coventry (England) in November 1940, along with  three photographs in big size: a 16 x 23 cm reproduction of one of its frames showing a postman who was about to deliver a letter, finding that the house of the address has been utterly destroyed by a German bomb; a king size full double page picture showing anxious people watching the list of identified casualties of their neighbourhood just in case there are relatives of them in it and the presence of shattered windows everywhere dominating the scene; a 16,6 x 24,6 cm reproduction of the smouldering surroundings of Coventry cathedral after the impact of some bombs dropped by German aircraft; and a full page with 12 contacts enlarged to big 6,5 x 9,6 cm depicting firemen at work, details of destroyed buildings and fidgety people checking the casualties list.



D-Day by Robert Capa, with a further highly informative text written by Cynthia Young in which she deeply elaborates on the different stages of Overlord Operation as covered by Capa: from the boarding of American soldiers on landing vessels in Weymouth (England) on June 4, 1944 to specially June 6, 1944 with the crossing of the English Channel and the very invasion of Omaha beach in the middle of chaotic conditions under a rough sea and a hell of German artillery and machine-gun fire falling on them while Capa photographed everything for around one and a half hour.

Young also reports in detail on Capa´s horrible return trip to Weymouth on board of a ship loaded with wounded soldiers and doctors trying to save their lives and the accident inside the laboratory of Time Life London Office when the emulsion of Capa´s four 35 mm film rolls of the action on Omaha beach melted and only eleven frames could be saved, being published in Life on June 19, 1944.

This is one of the highlights of the book, including very high quality reproductions of nine of the eleven surviving 35 mm contacts of Omaha beach on page 47 and two gorgeous double full page enlargements of two of the frames that are a real treat to watch and faithfully depict the dreadful context in which Capa had to get the pictures. 



Leipzig by Robert Capa, including seven 2 ¼ x 2 ¼  and ten 35 mm contacts of the series of pictures taken by Capa just behind a balcony of an apartment building in Leipzig (Germany) on April 17, 1945 while two men belonging to the U.S First Army´s 2nd Infantry Division are handling a Lewis machine-gun until suddenly a German sniper kills one of the American soldiers with a shot in his head.

The chapter features a text by Cynthia Young explaining in depth the circumstances in which Capa made these images, specially the gruesome one of the U.S soldier who has just been killed and whose blood is flowing on the floor.

Young even reports the exact location of the German city where the photographs were taken and the very high speed of Capa working with two different cameras: a 35 mm Contax and a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format Rollei, the latter being used by Capa to deliver more image quality on being edited and reproduced in illustrated magazines.

The book also features big size reproductions of two of the pictures of this series taken by Capa: a 14,3 x 22 cm one of a horizontal 24 x 36 mm frame in which appear the two American soldiers serving the machine-gun (one of them being the one killed a few seconds later) on page 54 and a very big 23 x 22 cm one of the 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ picture showing the U.S soldier who has just been shot in the head by a Mauser K98 7.92 x 57 mm caliber on page 55, along with the pages 408 and 409 of Life magazine May 14, 1945 number where the reportage was published.  


Courtyard of the Meiji Temple by Werner Bischof. Marco Bischof (son of the Swiss photographer, truly a genius both in the artistic sphere and the photojournalistic one) sums up in a short but highly meaningful text how his father became mesmerized by the beauty of nature in Japan, the exquisite and breathtaking shapes of its trees and the way in which Japanese people venerate it all, which he explained to her beloved wife Rosellina in a letter.

The complete contact sheet with twelve medium format 2 ¼ x 2 ¼  images (one of them being the famous iconic picture of the Japanese Shinto priests in the garden of the Meiji shrine in Tokyo during a snowfall) is simply sublime, gorgeous to see, and reveals the very good taste of the true genius of photography Werner Bischof, who thanks to his mastery of technique, his ability to perceive the best trajectories and qualities of light, his sensibility and gift to capture relevant details and textures, manages to convey the exotic natural beauty of Japan, focusing on its trees and plants covered with snow.

And the emotional intensity reaches its peak when we see the aforementioned famous photograph reproduced on page 65 in big 16,4 cm x 20 cm size and under it Marco Bischof reports that when Werner Bischof returned home from Japan he told Rosellina: Now I have the picture of Japan !, being aware about the remarkable significance of this image.



Eiffel Tower Painter by Marc Riboud. The French photographer explains in the text written by himself how he was walking near the Eiffel Tower and suddenly saw some brush painters working on its upper area, so he decided to go up the spiral staircase with his Leica and a 50 mm lens to photograph them.

However amazing it may be when one watches the pictures, there wasn´t any dialogue between the photojournalist and the painters, and Marc Riboud surprised them all while they were making their toil on the metallic structure, such as the author reports.

The book features the contact sheet with thirty-four 24 x 36 mm images, of which thirty-one were taken at a great altitude, in the highest area of Eiffel Tower.

Six of the pictures appear chosen by the maestro, two of them being the most well-known:

- The painter grabbing one of the iron bars of an upper area of Eiffel Tower with his left hand while standing and painting with his right hand a stretch of its vertical structure visible on far left of the image, in a pose more inherent to ballet and without any kind of security rope or harness

- Another painter leant forward and catching hold of a metallic bar of Eiffel Tower with his right hand while painting with the brush he has in his right hand.

These are two glorious photographs which truly embody the concept of iconic images: the moments captured reveal an outstanding prowess and even naturality in these workers while they do their toils.

Both of the pictures are highly symbolic and defining photographs revealing how two men earn their livings with the paint brush and the bucket as main tools, accepting their situation even with some humour. But at the same time, there´s an inherent background of death risk: any error will bring about the death because of the lack of any security measure of both human beings whose only supports to avoid the fall are their hands and feet, the latter being in a somewhat jeopardous balance on a sloping iron rail.

And if it all were not enough, the Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 used to get the picture has provided its unique image aesthetics as well as enabling to do (without barely any loss in quality and thanks to its amazing resolving power) the two really wonderful 21,5 x  32 full page enlargements reproduced on pages 72 and 73 of Kristen Lubben´s book.



Budapest by Erich Lessing, where the photojournalist himself explains the circumstances in which he got the pictures of the uprising in the Hungarian capital against the Soviet occupation in 1956, going by plane from Geneve to Vienna and once there taking a car and driving to Budapest.

The book shows two of his 35 mm contacts with the best shots chosen by the photographer and being marked with red pencil, along with two images enlarged to 11,8 x 18 cm size:

- A long row of Hungarian people queueing for food passing by the remnants of destroyed Soviet tanks in a street of Budapest, with the bodies of two dead and charred Soviet soldiers visible on the ground while an old woman points at them with her right index and a further woman in the background of the picture and wearing black garment does the same thing with her left index finger.

- A group of Hungarian civil combatants photographed in another street of Budapest on an armoured vehicle, taking captured Soviet submachine guns and pistols, while two young women - one of them grabbing a first aid wooden box - look at them and other passers-by walk in the background.

On page 80 there´s a large size 19,8 x 30 cm enlargement of a picture taken exactly at the moment in which a crowd of elated Budapest inhabitants try to pick up the first edition of the just made Hungarian Independence bulletin edition being thrown from the top windows of the former central office of Szabad Nép newspaper.

And as a bonus, page 78 displays Lessing´s sixteen 35 mm contacts enlarged to 49 x 74 mm.

All of the pictures convey masterfully the atmosphere reigning in Budapest during the October 1956 revolution against the Soviet occupation. Images bristling with tension, drama and horror (for example, one of the members of the hated and feared communist secret police AVO just executed and hanging with his tied feet from a tree), faithfully capturing the events going on.



Kitchen Debate by Elliot Erwitt, a further iconic image depicting U.S Vice President Richard Nixon pressing his finger on Nikita Kruschev´s chest during the opening of the American National Exhibition at Gorky Park in Moscow.

This picture is the very embodiment of the huge significance of being at the right place at the right time and was the chosen photograph of a 35 mm film roll contact sheet encompassing thirty-five frames and reproduced on page 94.

This very famous image is also reproduced with very wise criterion in king size double full page on pages 96 and 97 with exceptional quality.

It´s a point-blank range shot in which the experience and mastery of the photojournalist seems to make him invisible, to such an extent that none of the men appearing inside the frame are looking at him, in spite of the very short distance from which he gets the picture.

And there´s also a reproduction of an Elliott Erwitt´s Magnum Photos Press Card from early fifties and signed by Robert Capa, President of  Magnum Photos.



Joan Crawford by Eve Arnold, where the photographer successfully tackles a difficult assignment for Life magazine, bearing in mind the strong character of the actress, who besides wished editorial control.

Eve Arnold manages to capture Joan Crawford while she is making up and painting her lips, getting ready for the scene.

This way, the most important goal of the reportage is attained: to convey the actress´s devotion to her public for thirty years.

The book features one of the 35 mm contact sheets in full page (encompassing 30 frames), along with two 7,2 x 10,7 cm enlargements of two selected images, along with a gorgeous king size double page 32 x 40 cm reproduction of a further chosen frame in which the actress appears dying her eyebrows in an awesome close-up.

This is a vivid example of the not easy to attain necessary level of confidence and empathy required to carry out such an exacting work like this with Crawford, a famous actress oozing a strong and perfectionist personality as well as being unyielding insofar as the results she wants with the pictures.


Civilian Victim, Vietnam by Philip Jones Griffiths. One of the most representative pictures ever of Vietnam War. The great Welsh photojournalist (who made photographs in more than 120 countries throughout his career) sums up the horror of wars in a hard image of a wounded Vietnamese woman whose face and hands have been burnt by napalm, a dramatic context reinforced by the fact that her head is completely covered by medical gauzes, while a paper tag is attached to her left hand by a thin wire in which can be read: ´ VNC (Vietnamese Civilian). Female´.

This timeless image taken in 1967 appears reproduced in very big 21,5 x 32 cm on page 163, while the contact sheet with 34 heartrending frames it belongs to is on page 162, depicting a number of Vietnamese civilians (specially women and children) crippled by mines, shrapnel of shells and napalm bombing.

Both the iconic image and the contact sheet were the core of 1971 Philip Jones Griffiths´s book Vietnam Inc., a classic of photojournalism which had a lot of influence then, galvanizing the antiwar movement in the United States and helping to turn public opinion against the war.

Women at Graveside by Constantin Manos, the most representative image of an exceedingly dramatic reportage made during the burial of an old man in a village of the southern Peloponese in Greece and reproduced on 136 and 137 double page 30, 8 x 43 cm large size.

We can see five mature mourning women wearing coifs on their heads and utterly clad in black clothes.

The photojournalist manages to approach them going unnoticed and shoots from an incredibly short distance, capturing the boundless pain and gloom on their faces, in the midst of irrepressible weeping.

The unutterable emotional intensity of the depicted instant is culturally linked to a more than twenty centuries tradition dating back to the ancient Greece, with a very stark tragedy atmosphere.

The picture, made by Constantin Manos at the beginning of his photojournalistic career, exudes power and meaning, and none of the women (whose toughened faces could belong to a Sophocles tragedy) is looking at the camera.

Besides, the contact sheet with thirty-four frames (enlarged up to 39 x 60 mm size) from which this photograph was selected is reproduced on pages 134 and 135, enabling the reader to deeply get immersed into the bereavement context.

Needless to say that definitely the photographer has the knack of becoming invisible on photographing the most defining moments, being incredibly near their subjects on pressing the shutter release button of his 35 mm rangefinder Leica camera, constantly attaining to unobtrusively work without being seen in the middle of a maelstrom of stress and anguish, to such an extent that the thorough observation of all the thirty-four frames of the contact sheets with a loupe magnifier reveals something truly praiseworthy and stunning: not even one of the persons appearing in the images is looking at the photographer. Professional photography and top-notch photojournalism. Period.



Ernesto Che Guevara by René Burri. A quintessential image in the History of Photojournalism, taken in Havana (Cuba) in 1963.

The Swiss photojournalist manages to capture the revolutionary leader smoking a cigar while being engrossed in a heated ideological discussion with Laura Berquist, reporter from Look magazine, such as is explained by the photographer himself in the accompanying text.

Besides, the book includes three 35 mm contact sheets (featuring 36, 24 and 18 frames) of the eight original black and white Kodak Tri-X Pan 400 film rolls exposed by Burri  inside the room for two hours.

This is certainly a masterful and extraordinary series of pictures, because the photographer moves constantly around Ernesto ´Che´ Guevara, shooting him from different angles and being successful in achieving to go unnoticed while aiming three different cameras and lenses at him and pressing its shutter release button at very wisely chosen moments based on his experience and immense gift for his trade, and steadily striving after not missing a single shot, exposing a total of eight 24 x 36 mm monochrome film rolls.

Furthermore, Burri´s accomplishment to capture a lot of different ´Che´ Guevara´s moods is outstanding, so depending on the instants, he appears raged, smiling, pensive, fidgety, nostalgic, appeasing, tired, etc.

Two selected images appear respectively reproduced in 14,6 x 21,9 cm (showing him wearisome and rubbing his eyes) and double page 30 x 42 cm (the most worldwide known, depicting Ernesto ´Che´ Guevara smoking a cigar and with his gaze lost).

This is a fabulous reportage, exceedingly difficult to carry out, because of the very strong personality of the subject, the special indoor context requiring top discretion and attention to even the most minute details when shooting and the very high self-imposed standard of excellence of the photojournalist.

In order to properly grasp the significance and level of this assignment, suffice it to say that the painstaking observation of the three contacts sheets reproduced in the book reveals something awesome: Ernesto ´Che Guevara´ isn´t looking at the camera even in a single picture of a total of 78 images! 

Really breathtaking and a relish to watch for anybody having a penchant for legendary photojournalism and representative images.

But anyway, the raison d´être of this magical book is that it displays not only the selected iconic images but also the ones before and after, showing that these master photographers are human, sometimes also make errors of exposure, composition, etc, and have had to work very hard throughout their careers to get their best pictures, that most times are not the yield of one, two , three or four shots, but many more. 

These professional photographers have always been brutally exacting with themselves and they are often really satisfied with a percentage of their lifetime production not exceeding 1% of the total, so getting their contact sheets revealed has been an achievement made by Kristen Lubben deserving accolades and enabling photography enthusiasts and pros alike to visualize the compositional evolution in the mind of every Magnum photojournalist from shot to shot, along with their resolve and perseverance taking photographs until they realize they´ve made it, something which was complemented with a wise picture editing to attain the best possible results.


Sandinista by Susan Meiselas, a reportage made in both colour and black and white in Nicaragua in July 1979 and that became a turning point in the use of this medium, until then mostly used in commercial photography and magazines advertisements, while black and white was the highly predominant choice in classic photojournalism of illustrated publications.

There had been some pioneers in the use of colour (specially Kodachrome) since late thirties like Walter Bosshard, Robert Capa, the Farm Security Administration Project and the OWI of United States ( between 1939 and 1945 with great photographers like John Vachon, Marjory Collins, Arthur Rothstein, John Collier, Jack Delano, Russell Lee, Alfred T. Palmer, Marion Post Wolcott, Howard R. Hollem and others) and Ernst Haas (with his unequalled eye and his very in-depth research during fifties and sixties on Kodachrome films in symbiosis with intense light and colour) who published some essays shot with Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides in 35 mm, 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format and 4 x 5 " large format, realizing that in future colour would mark a new era in photography and would provide the photographers with a different choice to tackle subjects from new viewpoints, and a further way to represent previously unknown subjects and situations in this sphere.

But this iconic reportage Sandinista made by Susan Meiselas in July 1979 featured a huge historical significance, since it marked the beginning of the massive use of colour in documentary and war photography stories inside the most important illustrated newspapers and magazines, in a time when the great creators of the new language of colour like William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz and others started to unfold their chromatic theories, without forgetting the ´New Photojournalism´, a different route of photography, developed from early eighties, featuring highly saturated colours and use of chiaroscuro, embodied by figures like Constantin Manos and Alex Webb, together with the plush chromatism of Carl de Keyzer, enhancing the intricate compositions and peculiar moments.

The book reproduces in double full page the iconic colour image of the Sandinista guerrilla fighter wearing a black beret and jeans grabbing an assault rifle with his left hand and about to throw a Molotov cocktail with his right one against the troops of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, while other four guerrilla men crouch behind a lot of big rice sacks to protect themselves from enemy bullets, and two more in the left background run protecting themselves behind a brick wall.

This is a defining moment captured during the last stage of the fight against Somoza´s forces and an iconic image having amazingly endured the elapse of time to such an extent that it even goes on being currently a symbol of the revolution. 

And as a bonus, page 264 shows a complete black and white contact sheet of a 35 mm film roll belonging to the same day and action, with some of the frames showing the same Sandinist guerrilla man on the brink of throwing the Molotov cocktail depicted in the famous colour picture, and Meiselas herself reports that she was using two 24 x 36 mm format Leicas: one with colour film and a second one with b & w, until she got convinced that colour was more adequate to convey the enthusiasm of the combatants and the physical features of the location where developments were taking place.

This contact sheet is a good example of what Susan Meiselas has often explained: the strenuous effort to document the conditions and the difficulty to understand the nature of tensions and how a foreigner can become sensitized to the subtleties of what´s going on, because it´s not only an ideological position what you have. You try to understand the forces at play, and you capture so little of what´s going on, because there´s so much sense of fragmentation and there are so many layers of what lies behind any moment that you could photograph.

The photojournalist also explains in her text highly interesting aspects of her activity as a photojournalist during the Nicaraguan war: the difficulties to tackle the deadlines of the magazines, her isolation from the editing phase, and the steady element of doubt regarding how to know whether the shot material was important, and here she elaborates on the difference between the sense of surprise inherent to analogue cameras until one sees the results and digital cameras enabling to instantly watch the images.



Bad Weather by Martin Parr. This is an exotic reportage, in which such as explained by the photographer in the accompanying text, he searched for a project giving him more freedom.

But the interesting thing is the unique way to tackle it, through the use of flash, slow shutter speeds and some rain on the lens trying to capture the frequent dismal state of British weather, which becomes the subject matter.

With these elements as a core, the photojournalist strives after bringing about a special language in which the unpredictability of results will be another significant trait.

This way, the photographer stood on O´Connell and Ha´penny bridges in Dublin in 1981, using his camera with flash on and taking  pictures of people walking through them during the minutes of transition from day to night, in the middle of the rain, wearing umbrellas, boxes and newspapers on their heads.

It could be deemed as a daring approach, both in terms of the employed technique and the way of getting near people (most of the pictures are made from a very short distance), but it pays off in terms of perhaps finding new discoveries, within the realm of the unexpected, and some of  the photographs will manage to convey the compositional, psychological and mood elements working in interaction and defining the project.

It´s a kind of dark and grainy black and white sometimes resembling Moriyama´s works like Bus Wrapped in Mist (Belonging to Kariudo series 1972), the Taxis under the Rain (belonging to Another Country in New York, On the Road (Hunter) series 1969) or the Street Lamps Surrounded by Fog (belonging to the series Tomei Expressway : The Road the Drives People, 1969) or Tokyo: A Sequel to a Following Story: Autumn Trip (Omaezaki) 1984 and some pictures taken during his trip to Hokkaido in 1978.

Besides, in Martin Parr´s Bad Weather images appearing in Magnum Contact Sheets, there are people from every age: young pupils with their schoolbags on their backs, an old man wearing a hat, a mature housewife coming from market with big bags, a young mother taking her baby in a pram, an old man crossing the bridge with his bicycle, a woman with a black fur coat, two young women going down the stone bridge stairs while other persons climb them, some old men wearing berets, with a profusion of umbrellas in different sizes and shapes.

All social classes and ages are depicted in the thirty six frames of the 35 mm contact sheet reproduced on 280 and 281 double pages with each image enlarged to 37 x 54 mm instead of the original 24 x 36 mm, enabling the reader an easier visualization of the photographs and their sequential order.

Inevitably, because of the very essence of the method used to get the pictures, some of the images appear with washed out faces (mainly corresponding to persons who were very near the camera when being shot with flash), whose countenances are impossible to discern and add mystery.

On the other hand, this is a good example of the notion that you don´t know how the photographs will look until the development of the film roll and the making of the contact sheets, whose study can be highly enlightening, and the photographer reaches new peaks of research in his sphere of excelling shooting people in the everyday and wrapped by the usual British bad weather, going beyond other iconic of his images in this domain like England . Epsom Station 1974; England. West Yorkshire. Calderdale. Elland. Jubilee Street Party. 1977; England. Elland, 1978; Ireland. Mass at the Summit of Sheermore, 1980; Ireland Manorhamilton Sheep Fair, 1980; England. Manchester. Arndale Center, 1981; Ireland. Roscommon Races, 1981; England Manchester 1981 and others.

A CONCEPT BOOK
This is evidently a first-string book offering an indispensable insight into the minds of a number of the greatest photographers of all time, belonging to Magnum Agency.

But its significance goes even far beyond, since it is a unique and very special work in a wide variety of sides, featuring:


435 illustrations, 3600 frames and 139 contact sheets, including an assortment of analog film formats (35 mm black and white negatives and colour slides, 2 1/4 x 21/4 medium format both b& w and slides, large format and panoramic).

There´s a painstaking effort to show both the contact sheet and the key image finally chosen that most times became an icon.

Editorial decisions had to be carefully taken on which images to be enlarged to accurately offer the reader a of the book a glimpse on the different stages leading to those defining moments captured by the photographers.

The quality level of these often king size reproductions is really stunning, both in full page and double full page, and this deserves accolades, because there were a lot of technical difficulties to tackle, among them to preserve the special aesthetic appearance of such representative photojournalistic black and white 35 mm films like Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic cinematographic, Kodak Plus X, Kodak Tri-X Pan 400, Ilford HP5, Ilford HP3, Ansco Super Hypan, Orwo, Ilford HP4, Kodak Safety Film TX 5063, Ilford FP4, Kodak TMZ 5054, Kodak 5053 TMY, medium format 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ b & w film like Fuji NP400PR, Kodak 400TX or colour films like Kodachrome, Fujichrome 50, Fujichrome DX 400, Kodak VPH 6028, Kodak 160VC, Fuji S-400 and Fuji HG 1600.


The digitization of both contacts and analog negatives of such a comprehensive array of emulsions, each one having its own traits, keeping their distinctive image features, is not an easy task and requires a highly experienced person, specially when making frequent top quality very big enlargements like the ones included in this book, particularly with the oldest nitrate panchromatic monochrome 35 mm chemical emulsions containing high quantities of silver and generating abundant grain.

In this regard, the double page 20 and 21 huge 31.5 x 46 cm enlargement of the Children Playing in Seville frame chosen for enlargement (in which thirteen boys can be seen on the debris of some houses) from the sixteen ones making up Henri Cartier-Bresson´s contact sheet of the original nitrate 24 x 36 mm b & w negatives exposed in Seville in 1933, the page 23 six enlarged up to 6.7 x 10 cm contacts from David Seymour Chim´s Woman in the Crowd reportage made with Leica III and original Agfa nitrate 35 mm roll film exposed in a village near Badajoz in May 1936 with gorgeous level of detail for such a grainy film and a superb acutance originally attained with Agfa Rodinal developer in symbiosis with Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens, the page 28 Capa´s four contacts sheets of his essay The Battle of Río Segre enlarged up to 8 x 11.7 cm chosen from the contact sheet of one of the Kodak Super-X nitrate panchromatic b & w 35 mm roll films exposed near Fraga (Aragón Front) in November 1938 and specially the exceedingly difficult to get double page 30 and 31 enlargement of the number 141 contact depicting a Republican soldier advancing in the middle of Francoist shells exploding, with the ground trembling very much and a dense smoke wrapping everything while Capa takes the picture risking his life and another Republican soldier watches the action under the shelter of a big rock outcrop.

On the other hand, a further remarkable accomplishment of the book is the high level of digitization attained with the always difficult to accurately scan Kodachrome slides (which unlike other films don´t  include the dye couplers in the emulsion, but are added during the development, getting a thinner transparency minimizing the amount of light scattered during the image capture, getting stunning sharpness), featuring a higher D-max than vast majority of slide films.

The results obtained in the book digitizing the original Kodachrome slides before making the printed enlargements approach to the ones which would have been obtained with a specialized Kodachrome calibrated HR-500 plus scanner, including the tones and details in dark areas (a rather difficult sphere) and the eradication of the typical reddish blue cast when scanning this superb transparency. 

Therefore, the book features top quality KR reproductions like the page 112 19,9 x 13,2 cm and page 115 22 x 32 cm enlargements of Inge Morath´s story Refugee Camps made in Gaza in 1960; the pages 171 12 x 17,7 cm, 172 16,6 x 24, 7 cm, 173 16,6 x 24,7 cm and the double page 174 and 175 32 x 45 cm enlargements of Paul Fusco´s essay Robert Kennedy Funeral Train made in USA in 1968 and the page 287 12,5 x 19 cm and the double page 288 and 289 enlargements of Kodachrome slides exposed by Steve McCurry in Rajasthan (India) in June 1993 and belonging to his reportage Dust Storm.

And there are also other wonderful reproductions made from different colour slides like the double page 250 and 251 32 x 45 amazing enlargement of the chosen Fujichrome 50 slide of Hiroji Kubota´s reportage The Golden Rock made in Kyaiktiyo (Burma) in 1978, the 11,9 x 17, 5 cm enlargement reproduced from the chosen Fuji Velvia 50 slide shot by David Alan Harvey in Salvador de Bahía with minimal gear: a Leica M6 with a 35 mm lens and a little Vivitar 2800 flash with orange warming filter ( balancing the distance and intensity of the flash with the aperture controls and the amount of ambient light with the shutter controls) in Spring 2001 and belonging to his reportage Carnival in which he managed to get an astounding level of involvement with the dancers moving following the beat of Afro-Brazilian music in the middle of the night, becoming part of the scene and striving after being unnoticed while getting the pictures, being in the place for around an hour.
  

Needless to say that this is a book in which a highly comprehensive number of decisions were thoroughly taken as to papers to be selected, schedules to be schemed, proofs and tests to be implemented, specific images and contact sheets to be enlarged in different sizes, covers and pages of magazines and newspapers between mid thirties and late Twenty Century to be reproduced (pages of Picture Post magazine from December 3, 1938 and Life magazine of December 12, 1938 with some photographs taken by Capa during the Battle of Río Segre; Life magazine from June 19, 1944 including 10 of the images captured by Capa during the first landing wave on Omaha beach during D-Day; The Life magazine from May 14, 1945 depicting Capa´s series of a very young American soldier killed by a German sniper in Leipzig, Life magazine page from number of December 2, 1957 showing Inge Morath´s pictures of A Llama in the Middle of New York, the pages 4 and 5 of the Sunday Times number of February 6, 1972 showing some pictures of the reportage made by Gilles Peress in Derry during the Bloody Sunday Massacre, the spread in Time magazine from June 19, 1989 featuring Stuart Franklin famous image of A Demonstrator in Tian Ammen Square of Beijing Facing Four Tanks; the page of the French newspaper Ouest-France from December 28, 1989 including pictures of The Artichoke Harvest taken by Guy Le Querrec near Saint-Pol-de Léon; the spread Out of the Jungle of New York Times magazine of 9 February 1992 with pictures of young guerrillas taken by Larry Towell in Morazán, El Salvador; the spread from the Times magazine of November 2000 with Martine Frank´s images of Buddhist monks; the cover of New York Times magazine of 18 June 2000 with a picture of Haitian Immigrants by Christopher Anderson), manually and typewritten numbered captions, press passes (like the very interesting ones of Elliott Erwitt signed by Robert Capa or Jean Gaumy´s one during his stay in Iran in 1986).

Many iconic images included in the book epitomize that within the sphere of photojournalism the technical perfection of images is not the key factor, being far more important to be at the adequate place at the right moment, the eye for his trade and experience of the photographer, to be thinking about what you are doing and why your are doing it, to be saying something with your work.

Pictures created in fractions of a second, which stand enshrined in time and whose key factor was not the cameras or lenses used, but the persons behind them, who enhanced the halcyon days of photojournalism, bringing about a new and deeper understanding of the historical context.

This happens for example in the famous series ´ The Tank Man ´ made by Stuart Franklin from the balcony of his hotel room on Chang´an Avenue in Beijing (China), about 150 meters from Tinanmen Square, where a Chinese protester was standing challenging the advance of a Chinese army tank with great risk of being run over. You can see the man wearing white shirt and black trousers jeopadizing his life in front of the very big armoured vehicle, charred areas of the surrounding floor because of the street fight of the day before (even a destroyed small bulldozer is visible in four of the pictures (from a total of 20 images contained in the contact sheet of slides reproduced on page 327) and a completely burnt bus in the background. Since the photographs were made with a long lens and high sensitivity Fujichrome DX 400 colour slide, grain is rather apparent in the two 12 x 17,8 cm enlargements on page 329, but it doesn´t matter at all, because the important thing is to capture the significance of the moment and the stress wrapping it. This is a highly informative and meaningful image defining what is happening.

The book also includes absolutely staggering images created at point blank range, like the 24A contact of Bruce Gilden´s reportage made in 1984 during San Gennaro Street Festival with a Leica M camera, a 28 mm wideangle lens and a flash with cable that he holds on his left shoulder and has proved to be highly useful to bring the shots alive in his style of getting pictures. The ability of the photographer to mostly remain unnoticed at such an incredible short distance from the subjects of his pictures is truly amazing, and it was a very wise decision to enlarge this iconic snapshot of the street photography genre conveying tons of simultaneous anxiety, energy and unawareness about the surroundings up to 32 x 46 cm size in 294 and 295 double page. Whether you may like his approach or not, it is apparent that Bruce Gilden is uniquely outstanding at what he accomplishes, steadily managing to obtain great essays in every assignment he tackles and capturing the real mood and personality of his subjects, doing what he needs to do to get the images he is looking for.


There are also exotic items like the reproduction of the box of a vynil LP including the Inaugural Address of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on January 20, 1961 with a sleeve photograph made by Cornell Capa, Chien-Chi Chang sketchbook showing drawings of his single frames series, the reproduction of photographic books covers and pages featuring pictures taken by the photographers themselves like Desert Journey by George Rodger published in 1944, the cover of the book Bring Forth the Children with photographs by Inge Morath and Yul Brynner and published in 1960, the Life magazine page from number of December 2, 1957 showing Inge Morath pictures of a llama in the middle of New York, A Greek Portfolio by Constantin Manos published in early sixties, The English by Ian Berry published in 1978 and others, the handwritten notes by subjects of the pictures like the one made by Lena, one of the carnival strippers photographed by Susan Meiselas between 1973 and 1975, the postcard written in 1990 by Henri Cartier-Bresson to Patrick Zachmann wishing him a quick recover from the wounds he suffered on being shot by a white policeman in Cape Town (South Africa) in February 1990 the day Nelson Mandela was freed and many more.

Regarding the black and white photographs of the book, this is one of its most significant chamrs, since the duotone pictures are very lively and work wonders both with the photojournalists featuring very vivid deep blacks in their monochrome images (for example on page 262 and 263 Abba´s amazing double page spread of Iranian armed militants outside the U.S Embassy made in November 1979 or Bruno Barbey´s page 167 dramatic images of French policemen in the street during the Paris Riots in May 1968) and those more biased to highlight detailed ones (for instance Marilyn Silverstone´s pages 102 and double spread 104 and 105 images of her essay The Dalai Lama made in Siliguri, India, in April 1959, or Dennis Stock´s page 182 image corresponding to his series California Rock Concert made in Venice Beach, United States, in 1968).

In Magnum Contact Sheets upbuilding there has been a devotion for maximum feasible quality level of images reproduction, a well-thought-out selection of the paper used as a support and a fairly discerning supervision of every step of the production, from layout to printing, conceptually related to Gigi Gianuzzi´s outstanding breakthroughs in the book publishing sphere, with his tremendous passion and love for the photographers pictures, craving for their presentation in a special way instilling them tons of life through publications in a class by themselves, and Gerhard Steid´s keynote of a book as an object of art to be created, accomplishment that have utterly been achieved by Thames & Hudson.



The development of this once in a lifetime book yielding elegance and content to spare was a conundrum requiring tons of effort, love for the trade, expertise and constant supervision by the Thames and Hudson designing team directed by Johanna Neurath, who made a praiseworthy work in collaboration with Stuart Smith and Victoria Forrest, from Smith Design, two highly experienced professionals in the domain, whose concepts were instrumental for the development of the final layout of the book, along with a strenuous stint made by four persons: Andrew Sanigar (Commissioning Editor of Thames and Hudson, who has previously commisioned Magnum Magnum - first published in 2007 and edited by Brigitte Lardinois - Eve Arnold's People - published in 2009 - and Mary McCartney: From Where I Stand - published in 2010 -), Kristen Lubben (Associate Curator of ICP New York), Sophie Wright (Cultural and Print Room Director for Magnum Photos and a driving force developing thriving creative projects and business concepts, having also proved her talent to successfully work with different partners and often limited resources) and Martin Parr (the Magnum photographer representing all the Magnum photojournalists taking part in the project Magnum Contact Sheets and an authority on photography books), who held very long and exhausting meetings in Paris gathering material, supervising a myriad of important details, making manifold key choices and implementing the editing down of the exceedingly comprehensive range of work.

It must be also highlighted the labor implemented by controlling production pundit Sadie Butler to solve with high marks the transfer from computer to printed form, specially in the scope of digital images and layout files subjected to steady proofs in which the paper used was the same as with the definitive book, id est, the white matt art paper, because getting the best feasible appearance of the photographs was one of the key factors for success.

On the other hand, to 100% control in advance the colour precision departing from small samples is not often easy, and highly exacting methods had to be used to get as much light consistency as possible. Working under a controlled light while watching and checking the colour and tone proofs became something of paramount importance.

The difficulties were great and manifold, specially with the black and white images whose CMYK balance adjustment often needed a global correction and with the pages requiring accurate tones for high key or low key areas.

Besides, the book features a further bonus: Sadie Butler made the wise decision to preserve the dust spots, hairs and worn edges of the contact sheets, so keeping their genuine character.

Therefore, to get that the proofs depicted what was desired to achieve on press was both a very complex work and a really strenuous toil with frequent stages on the brink of exhaustion.

But it clearly paid off, and the results finally obtained on printing Magnum Contact Sheets with a Heidelberg press in Seoul (Korea) departing from the approved plotter proofs were excellent after a great work was made by the Korean press operators who managed to create individual printing plates for each color on the sheet (that´s to say, cyan, magenta, yellow, black and Pantone red) and to get accurate matching of the images which had been divided into two sections, it all before the binding stage.


Therefore, Magnum Contact Sheets is a milestone in the scope of photographic books, a real masterpiece putting a golden brooch to an exceedingly brilliant period in the History of Photojournalism at a moment in which digital photography has arrived to stay for a long time as a further way to get pictures.

Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza