Magnum Contact Sheets. A visual demystification of History

Magnum Contact Sheets presents an overview of historical moments purely presented as they have been captured – and somehow stolen – to become unforgettable icons.

If displaying contact sheets is a taboo for photography, in this overall exhibition it introduces an essential temporal depth, a dynamic dimension to the viewing of still images. This way, the elusive dynamism of history  – rather than of images – is a continuous paradox/reminder for a settled present, and appears to be the main paradigm of this exhibition.


Josef Koudelka, Foam, Magnum Contact Sheets

Josef Koudelka, Prague Invasion Czeschoslovakia Augus 1968, Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam, Amsterdam

Josef Koudelka, Foam, Magnum Contact Sheets

Josef Koudelka, Prague Invasion Czeschoslovakia Augus 1968 Contact Sheet, Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam, Amsterdam


Revealing secrets and don’ts, as contact sheets do, could be nothing more then the latest curatorial trend, of course; but falling into all the different stories and sheets of the many historical fact on show, the viewer gets a chance to catch another glimpse on some representations of 20th-to-21st-century history, especially through the ambivalence of image production and the issue of what may the other options be. Plus, you can read through the relationships the photographers experienced in order to produce those images, as their images are also combined with words.

Let’s dive into this perspective. At first, you walk through the exhibition and see images from the past century, in which you can still feel the photographers waiting or looking for the right shot, and engaging with the world around them. You can appreciate the arbitrariness of this process and how the final choice arose. Gradually, but definitely after 2000, visual narratives of people and facts change, they slip in the digital spotlight of abstraction and tendentious representations that engage both sides of the camera. You can find them stimulating, as they evoke subjective expanded situations. Visual interpretations of history are aesthetically directed.


Peter Parlow, Foam, Magnum Contact Sheets

Peter Parlow, Margaret Thatcher Blackpool England 1981 Contact Sheet, Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam, Amsterdam

Thomas Hoepker, Foam, Magnum Contact Sheets

Thomas Hoepker, 911 New York USA 2001, Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam, Amsterdam


Like it or not, rather than feeling emphatically engaged by staring at the world’s tragedies, the allurement to audiences is the exploration of this dynamic space and time of representation through their intellect: the gap between past history and present time freezes in a mirror, where contact sheets – naturally fragmented and undefined – reveal their fascinating cracks. Back here again, the vision of our closest time now emerges as moving and turning, highlighting and smashing intimate narratives of society. The underlaying feeling is still foggy, and that’s truly the most honest gift to the viewer.
Nevertheless, the magic box does not appear as a stuck mechanism to induce emotions, nor as an aesthetic abstraction of reality. As a whole, the camera comes back to its basic will to show the world as it is when orchestrated by people, from the inside core and for a conceptual audience.
Magnum Contact Sheets is in the end a meta-exhibition, a visual synthesis of the making of “histories”, a dialogue between the immaterial nature of – possibly – permanent images, and the impermanence of material history. The question would be in which of these frames we do act as real protagonists.

Nonetheless, if you’re simply curious to browse through great photographers’ contact sheets, or would like to understand the usage of wonderful images from which history produces its myths, you may do so by passing all these small magic corners, and see how they came to us through time and from around the world.

Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, through 9th December 2015


Thomas Hoepker, Foam, Magnum Contact Sheets

Thomas Hoepker, 911 New York USA 2001 Contact Sheet, Magnum Contact Sheets, Foam, Amsterdam

Leave a Reply

by Mara Bertoni
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory