In December 2007, three boxes filled with rolls of film containing 4,500 35mm negatives of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) taken by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour (aka “Chim”)—which had been considered lost since 1939—arrived at the International Center of Photography. These three photographers, who lived in Paris, worked in Spain, and published internationally, laid the foundation for modern war photography. Their work has long been considered some of the most innovative and passionate coverage of the Spanish Civil War. An exhibition of Mexican Suitcase images is on view at the ICP from Sept. 24, 2010, to Jan. 9, 2011.
Many of the contact sheets made from the negatives are on view as part of the exhibition, which looks closely at some of the major stories covered by Capa, Taro, and Chim, as interpreted through the individual frames. These images can be seen alongside the magazines of the period in which they were published and with the photographers’ own contact notebooks.
The complete story is available on the ICP site.
Two full size prints from the El Morocco contact sheet, shot by Garry Winogrand sometime in 1955.
A couple of details from the contact sheet:
Caption from Life Magazine:
A puppet show of St. George slaying the dragon evokes deep (and ranging!) emotions among French children in 1963. Clearly they share their country’s passion for the arts, Jan 01, 1963.
Snippet from the proof sheet:
Anthony Lane writes in the article:
It had been a year, more or less, since he embarked, and there was much to reflect upon. Luckily, he’d taken a few photographs along the way.
In fact, he took around twenty-seven thousand. There were more than seven hundred and sixty rolls of film to develop: an impressive tally, even to snap-happy profligates of the digital age. Then there were contact sheets to print and mark up; from those, he made a thousand work prints, which were tacked to the walls of his apartment on Third Avenue, near Tenth Street, or laid flat on the floor for closer inspection, before being whittled down to a hundred. The final count, from all those months on the road, was eighty-three pictures: enough for a slim book, which was published in November, 1958, in Paris, as “Les Américains,” and here, in January, 1960, as “The Americans.” For his pains, Frank was paid two hundred dollars in advance, a sum that rose to just over eight hundred and seventeen dollars by the end of the year. By then, the book was out of print.
The original book from 1959:
Additional contact sheets from the hardcover edition of “Looking In”:
September 22, 2009 through January 3, 2010, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be hosting the exhibit, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans. Organized by the National Gallery of Art, the exhibit has traveled from DC to San Francisco, ending in New York. The new exhibit and book are a celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Americans, one of the most influential single series of photographs ever published. The exhibit will feature all 83 photos from the book that were made on his cross-country road trip from 1955-56.
On Friday, October 9th, Robert Frank will be appearing in conversation with the curators and organizers of this presentation at the Met. Do not miss this, as Frank does not make many public appearances these days. Purchase tickets here. I already have mine and am sure it will sell out soon.
Whether you attend or not, purchase the book right now. The expanded hardcover features 83 pages of contact sheets which are a treasure unto themselves (the softcover is an abridged version and does not offer all of the contact sheets.) I have had the book for two weeks and have barely made a dent in it because of the richness offered and the lessons to be learned. The Americans and Robert Frank’s body of work were already inestimable contributions and as familiar as I am with those 83 images, I am stunned by how little I understood the skill and remarkable taste Frank had in his choices, the sequencing of the images, cropping and yes, even grant writing (the original letters are included.)
It is truly an eye-opening experience into how complete his talents are and how the mix of of them achieved a perfect balance with The Americans.
The one thing I will share is the tiniest snippet of a lesson I am absorbing. The shot of the elevator girl in Miami Beach has always been a favorite of mine. Below is an excerpt from the contact sheet with that image on it. You can see Frank working the situation and the idea over 14 frames.
Cartier-Bresson once said of contact sheets:
My contact sheets may be compared to the way you drive a nail in a plank. First you give several light taps to build up a rhythm and align the nail with the wood. Then, much more quickly, and with as few strokes as possible, you hit the nail forcefully on the head and drive it in.
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