I recently watched the film biography Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye for the second time. I enjoyed viewing the film again, and got to wondering what other interesting films about photography I hadn’t seen. War Photographer, which profiles photojournalist James Nachtwey, is absolutely stunning. Somehow I missed the three part Contacts series, which was released on DVD last year.
Contacts Vol 1.: The Great Tradition of Photojournalism is a series of short films where great photographers talk about their contact sheets. The segments with William Klein, Josef Koudelka, and Elliot Erwitt were the highlights — not only are the photographs great, but the narration on these segments was fantastic. Erwitt is a riot. The remaining segments are a mix of street photography and photojournalism. While a few segments suffer from uneven narration, this film is definitely worth watching both for the great images, and the insight into the creative process.
Contacts left me wondering what the modern day equivalent of this process is for digital shooters. Of course you can make an automated contact sheet in Photoshop, but do you?
My modern day contact sheet is the cataloging software iView Media Pro. I have the thumbnail view setup much like a contact sheet. I can go through the images to see how I arrived at a particular shot, compare various images, and select which ones I’d like to work on by assigning ratings and labels. I can quickly pull up an image full screen on the lightbox to check critical focus. The list view allows me to look at the shooting time, camera and lens data, and other metadata I’ve assigned. (Again, if you haven’t read The DAM Book, put it on your holiday wishlist).
While these digital tools are very powerful, I wonder if something is being lost. Most photographers work really hard on editing in order to only show their best work. Having a fixed number of exposures per roll in a fixed order staring back at you on a single page is simple, pure and honest. Showing your best work can be nerve racking, showing your outtakes and mistakes takes guts. Are we holding our cards too close to our chests in the digital age?