William Klein discusses some of his contact sheets. Listen and see.
What I find fascinating about his narrative is how he refers to some images as “non-photographs.” Other photographers might call those same shots “misses.” He almost disregards them entirely. The only acknowledgement he gives them are as an arrow that points to the ultimate moment or vision of what he intended to show us in the first place.
This kind of discussion about the contact sheet is invaluable to anyone wanting to improve how they see, rather than just look. The process of sharing our photography with other photographers through the contact sheet is mostly lost. A relic of a dying process. Digital needs to find a way to communicate at this level. I fear it is already too late, however. A whole generation of “photographers” has arisen, not trained, not seeing, only looking. They don’t understand what a contact sheet is, or what one would do with it. They certainly wouldn’t show their “misses” to anyone, even another photographer. And this video shows exactly what we miss by taking this approach.
I have experimented with a few ways to create a digital contact sheet. However, it has been difficult to find an easy way to “transport” these images to someone else. There are a few problems I am running in to…
- With digital, we take a lot more photographs. Not all of them very good, mind you, but we are willing to go after the “risky” shot more often than not. After all, there is really no cost to doing so. This means the contact sheet went from 36 images, to 360.
- Uploading an entire session worth of shots (perhaps thousands of images) to a photo sharing site for the sole purpose of having a few photographers view them is simply impractical. Perhaps someday we will all have ultra-high-speed Internet connections and storage services to get over this hurdle. Let’s see where we are to in 2022.
- Reviewing the images is best done together, in a conversation. We certainly have ways to deal with this, but this is the digital age. We want to post an image to a location and allow our fellow photographer to view the images when they have the time. We prefer fewer real-time conversations in favor of large-scale communication.
- Most of us shoot RAW. That means we have to consider the storage costs of storing unused, uninteresting, or unusable frames. Some photographers I know dump all their RAW files to JPGs, then keep only RAWs for those shots they mark as “keepers.” This still seems a less elegant solution than the contact sheet and a filing cabinet full of negatives. The reason why is that when you dump those JPGs, you lose the context in which they were placed. When you go back to your JPG archive, how do you know which ones you selected as “keepers?” We need a way to record the relationship between selected photographs and “non-photographs” in the digital archive. On William Klein’s contact sheet he used a grease pencil. Amazing how we still don’t have solutions to consistently useful low-tech options.
If any of you out there are aware of a technology that would solve some of these issues, and bring back the benefit of the contact sheet, please drop a comment.