In the digital world the use of thumbnails as a standard UI visual shortcut is taken for granted… but its precursor is one of the many beautiful aspects of shooting film: the contact sheet. I can still clearly remember the nervy thrill of opening the first roll of film back from the lab – Ektar 100 on my Contax T2 – one glance at the contact sheet and my worries were gone!
Ever since I’ve become addicted to that thrill, the only downside I discovered was that when you order scans of your developed film they don’t scan the contact sheet or maybe they will if you ask? I’d like to have it, purely as a quick overview of what was on the roll… But it also prompted me to do a little research on the subject…
You can order prints of the original contact sheet from some of Magnums most iconic photos, for example have a look at this gorgeous contact sheet – “Audrey Hepburn behind the scenes during the filming of American musical comedy ‘Funny Face’, a film released 1957. Photographed by David ‘Chim’ Seymour for Coronet Magazine while in rehearsal in 1956….
Reproducing the original without alteration and enlarged to a 16″x20″ paper size, these Magnum Contacts offer a unique insight into the methods by which our photographers produced some of their best known images, by clearly showing the sequence of frames and the marks of the editing process on each sheet.”
If you do a Google image search for “film contact sheet’ there are many, many contact sheets from famous shoots, as well as some very clever uses of the contact shoot…
Ditto for this Pinterest collection – I love seeing them marked up by the photographer eg this one of Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz, 1967
When I was in Japan last November I went to an exhibition by Rinko Kawauchi and bought a 2013 book of hers called SHEETS which “attempts to retrace Rinko Kawauchi’s steps in this world through a reassembly and re-editing of her filmstrips as a reinvented whole. Cinematographic at heart, the sequences of randomly selected contact sheets offer a real-life time lapse, a resurrection of moments in the personal history of the artist and immortalised in some of her more significant publications.”
Another use of contact sheets has been as the primary image itself, such as this LP I bought the other day in a junk store… I thought it was such a great cover I didn’t actually mind if the music was terrible/contained no sample gems..
Photography by Jim Shea
Some artists have made such clever use of contact sheets their primary work, creating composite images – check out the works of English artist Martin Wilson or German artist Thomas Kellner
There is a quick guide to making a contact sheet here but what about a digital contact sheet? Apart from taking a screenshot in LightRoom or Adobe Bridge or any other app that displays your images as thumbnails, there is a handy Photoshop Action that can automate creating a contact sheet from a folder of photos… if you’ve never looked you may not even know this handy script exists:
Just set up the parameters, point it at the source folder of images, hit go and watch it build your contact sheet for you…