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Photography through the process files: reflections on the publication of the contact sheets

Camila Mangueira Soares and Fabrício Fava: Photography through the process files
Camila Mangueira Soares
Fabrício Fava
Photography through the process
les: reections on the publication
of the contact sheets.
Translated by Ana Carolina Azevedo and Bruno Declerque
Abstract: Based on the current recurrence of publications and
discussions related to the materials of photographic creation
process, this article presents an investigation on the contact
sheets as an information material pertinent to the complexity of
the making and, thus, thought in photography. Therefore, the
analysis focuses on the contact sheets published in the books
Magnum Contacts and Proof and the DVDs Contacts. The study
took place under the theoretical perspective of the process crit-
icism proposed by Cecilia Salles, which, based on Peircean
semiotics, presents itself as a mean of perception of photogra-
phy beyond the idea of product, enabling its understanding from
the relations of interconnection and interaction between thought
and materialities.
Keywords: Communication. Semiotics. Process Cristicism.
Photography. Contact sheets.
The invention and the constant reformulation of technologies,
tools and platforms of online sharing of information, puts us
in front of a process of production and diffusion of imaging
content increasingly diverse. More specifically, in regards to the
photographic production, we notice a tendency for the publishing
of different original and/or unknown materials of photographic
creation processes. Simultaneously, there is a recurrent
promotion of events and debates concerning them, carried out
by creators, curators, imaging agencies and also by those who
research and/or produce in the field of visual language. Fact
that can be verified in books and catalogs from exhibitions of
photographic nature; on websites and on the social networks of
artists and professionals who expose and discuss their creation
and production processes; exhibitions of works alongside
materials linked to the creative paths; in open to public events in
ateliers; in the form of workshops and/or courses given by artists
and professionals about their methods, etc.
Aware of the challenges of researching the diversity of
actions and processes involving creative materials, we offer
here an introductory reflection on the contact sheet. This will
be done, specifically, through cases that integrate the projects
from the books Magnum Contacts and Proof and the DVDs
The choice of the contact sheet is justified, mainly, by its
importance as an editorial decision making tool and, therefore,
what interests us, to register work methodologies. We believe
that the relational treatment of the indices provided by the mate-
rials allow us to bring to light the relations between the paths,
the gestures and the actions of what we understand to be the
photographic system.
Taking into account the importance of discussing photog-
raphy in the contemporary panorama of new exchanges and
situations of the image, this article is dedicated to some intro-
ductory considerations on the phenomenon of the publication of
previously confidential photographic archives. The idea is, from a
perspective of creation, to raise questions about the complexity
of the photographic language.
Before we turn to the process materials, it is crucial to
establish some implications derived from our proposal from
a relational perspective to photography. Beginning with the
expansion of the concept of photography from a mere object
of contemplation and/or product, to that which also involves
a greater environment of interconnections and interactivities
between thought and materiality.
From different perspectives, we can see that most of the
classical studies (BARTHES, 1984; BENJAMIN, 1994) and
current ones (SANTAELLA & NOTH, 2008; DUBOIS, 2009)
have theories about the photographic image that oppose the
act of taking¹, that is, from the idea of click2². Thus, taking it as
the central theme, they discuss on a good part of the imaging
analysis and critical conjectures such as: automatism, repro-
ducibility, truthfulness, record, real, etc. Being the act of taking
fundamentally one of the characteristics of photography and,
1. It refers to the act of capturing the image on a photosensitive apparatus
(whether analog or digital) caused by triggering the click button on the camera.
2. This term includes the push-button gesture of a machine making images.
Pagina 46 no word.
PORTO ARTE. Porto Alegre: PPGAV/UFRGS, v. 22, n. 36, janeiro - junho 2017
therefore, a fruitful point for debates in the field, we briefly set
out to the problematization of the logic attached to this idea.
At this point, it is worth pointing out that the emphasis
given to the act of taking in photography is not coincidental.
This notion has some of its roots in the last decades of the
19th century, when the idea of instantaneous appeared in the
photographic logic and became predominantly natural in its
experience. By instant we can understand as the least appre-
ciable space of time. This notion refers to a "time of exposure
in an inapprehensible duration, an abstract value in a strictly
quantitative time scale" (LISSOVSKY, 2008, p.35).
The act of taking as a static definition of the photographic
thought reflects a logic of simplification and linearity tied to its
process of creation. Bias that has a connection to a machinic
notion, where we can find, for example, expressed in the linear-
ity of the instruction manuals from devices, and whose inher-
itance is in the industrial era. Thus, under this perspective of
simplification, the photographic making seems to be understood
as a kind of clock which, in turn, operates in an ordered flow of
rectilinear steps and predetermined stages to generate visibility.
This thought, in general, has its roots in a Cartesian world
view, in which "it is postulated that all material bodies are
machines that operate by mechanical principles" (VIEIRA &
SANTAELLA, 2008, p.48). However, the situation we face in
the real world is more delicate. The high rates of production
and the variety of possibilities of this making quickly dissipate
over society in different forms and creations that indicate the
need for reflections that take into account aspects related to
its complexity.
In fact, as a specific practice, there are recurring, norma-
tive and characteristic moments of its making, like the clicking
gesture, but we emphasize that, given the diversity of possi-
ble procedures in the field, they are not single and isolated
points. The understanding of photography by the act of taking
approach leaves unexplored questions related to other steps
pertinent to its process of creation, and, above all, sublimated
a communicational context to which it connects.
It is important to emphasize that we are dealing here with a
perspective in the sphere of creation, a scenario that allows us
to ponder and add other processes inherent to the photographic
nature. Therefore, consideration is given not only to the work
or to the product delivered to the public itself, considered as
"concluded", but also to inclusion of a mobility look that involves
the environment and the processes that constitute the work in
the debates. That way, we turn to the theoretical bias of proce-
dural criticism (SALLES, 2006) that, based on the Peircean
semiotics, presents a relational approach as a way to perceive
the dynamics of the creative movement and its implications.
Going into the plurality of questions on photographic making,
we start from the contact sheets as one of the means of
material manifestation of the dynamicity inherent to the
photographic nature, especially linked to the act of taking
itself. The contact sheet, also known in the the photographic
medium as proof, is a material obtained in the analog method³
by the direct printing of plates, rolls (film), (or its sequence
of negatives/positives), on photosensitive surfaces, such as
photographic papers (fig. 01).
As a tool, the sheets present to the photographer and his
team a first look at what was captured by the film, serving as
the object of analysis; of selections in the form of screening; of
studies for further enlargements (such as the definition of new
framing and light studies); and as index for organization and
archiving of matrices. In the case of advertising and journal-
ism, these sheets represent a point of contact for discussions
among photographers, publishers, and agencies about the
resolution of publications.
3. Nevertheless, in the digital scope there is also the the elaboration of contact
sheets through softwares, and its use is given as an instrument of study, sorting
and filing in communication vehicles (magazines and newspapers), and it is also
done by photographers, artists and curators.
Figure 1. Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson examining his images on the
contact sheet and, on the right, one of the sheets with the photographer's selection
markings. Source: Magnum Contacts, 2012.
Camila Mangueira Soares and Fabrício Fava: Photography through the process files
In face of such importance in the construction of iconic
images that have circulated and permeated the media over
the years, it is worth noting, above all, its role as a denouncing
phenomenon of a photographic thought under construction.
In this article, we bring as a case study the reflection on the
contact sheets of three renowned photographers, whose works
are usually contemplated by critics for its precision of capture:
Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jim Marshall. The
materials selected for this research are published in the book
Magnum Contacts (2012), in the DVD Contacts (2005) and in
the book Proof (2004).
Published in 2012, the book Magnum Contacts pres-
ents for the first time files from 69 photographers, among
them Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, who inte-
grated Magnum Photos. This was an important cooperative
of photographers responsible for producing reportages for
renowned magazines, such as the North American Life and a
variety of newspapers. It is interesting to note that the photog-
raphers from Magnum decided the directions followed by the
works, as well as the people responsible for the orientation of
their productions.
Organized chronologically, following the historical bias
of the facts portrayed in the reports, Magnum Contacts curi-
ously exposes materials such as: contact sheets, selected
and enlarged negatives, selected photos, press credentials,
photographers' notebooks, some pages from publications
from the time of the photos, as well as reflective texts by the
photographers themselves about their works and by special-
ists and researchers. According to Kristen Lubben, responsi-
ble for editing the book, "the intention is to give the reader the
insight into how each photographer initially faces his or her
work, and the intimate process of editing and selection that
happens next" (2012, p. 9). Magnum Contacts represents 70
years of history that could still be archived inside Magnum's
bookshelves, but that are brought to the public in the height of
the age of imaging diffusion in face of the digital apparatuses.
4. French Cooperative founded in 1947, in France, initially by Robert Capa, David
Seymour, Georges Rodger and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Among the vast material and the 139 contact sheets,
with enlargements in black and white and in color presented
in the book, we selected for the debate those belonging to
the Hungarian photographer Robert Capa in the episode of
the battle of the river Segre in 1938, in the final period of the
Spanish Civil War. One of the reasons for this choice lies in
the interesting way the facts portrayed are organized and the
editing of the photos exposed in the cover material, as well as
the importance of the period (30’s/40’s) in which the proofs
entered the process of photographic creation and stood out as
an important communication tool of the photographer with his
work and with the media (magazine).
Capa had the custom of creating notebooks of his photo-
graphic plates to index the images for each report, which also
functioned as a sketchbook in which images were selected,
discarded, organized. A fact observed in Capa's custom
was thar he numbered the images in the notebook, creating
sequences for the presentation of the subject of the report
and of annotations next to those images often destined to the
editors of magazines and newspapers.
In Capa’s notebook of copies, the contacts in question
(figure 2) present the sequence of some of the plates used
by him in just one day covering the battle. In one of the pages
from the notebook (fig. 03), wee see images, numbered by
hand by Capa, ordered respecting the conception sequence
in the time of the coverage of the event, except for the last
two tracks of the notebook, which include plates belonging to
a distinct moment in the capture process, but that curiously
were included at the end as if they were sequential (figure 3).
5. Robert Capa was featured in the media as the "greatest war photographer in the
world", mention given by the English magazine Picture Post.
Figure 2 and Figure 3. The first image shows the original shooting sequence of the
film, the second one shows Capa’s notebook with the order of the images sent to the
editors without the last two plates of the sequence. Source: Magnum Contacts, 2012.
PORTO ARTE. Porto Alegre: PPGAV/UFRGS, v. 22, n. 36, janeiro - junho 2017
"Capa, who had been specializing in telling a story through
his photographs, may have wanted to close the narrative with
two plates of soldiers amidst clouds of dust, thus creating a
more intense ending to the page" (LUBBEN, 2012, p.27).
These images, moreover, were presented sequentially by
international magazines to emphasize the movement of prox-
imity of the photographer in the scene portrayed. Capa, inter-
estingly, made use of the logic of the irreversible sequence of
shots during an event, to construct, through the elaboration of
contact sheets, the presentation of a narrative more consistent
to the situation with which he lived in the midst of war.
In this creative context, to add to the critical examina-
tion other pertinent moments in the making (besides the act
of taking) entails the perception of the mobility of the photo-
graphic thought. The case of Capa’s notebook, here briefly
presented, suggests a break in linear, determinate and irre-
versible logic linked to the construction of meaning in photog-
raphy. Therefore, the notebook reveals itself as a space of
possibilities. Thus, the presentation and discussion about the
contact sheets indicate a complex context in which the photo-
graphic permeates the idea of a pre-determined and isolated
system, but it is shown as a space in which the establishments
of strategies and criteria become fundamental to the nature of
its conduction.
Adding to the analysis of the study of contact sheets
published in other materials, we came to the DVD collection
Contacts (2005). It brings, interestingly, comments from vari-
ous photographers about their creative processes. Contacts
includes three volumes: I. The Great Tradition of Photojournal-
ism, II. The Renewal of Contemporary Photography III. Concep-
tual Photography. In the first volume, we find some of Henri
Cartier-Bresson's negative proofs, and it is curious to note the
markings – usually in red (fig. 04) – in the same sequence of
negatives selected for future enlargement and publishing.
This material, presented through the contacts, provides,
on the process of Bresson's creation, the moment of selec-
tion of negatives, that is, the moment of the choice of the
photograph that, among the others, seemed to be closer to
what he sought to represent: a photograph (a visual moment)
6. Enlargement moment is to make positive copies, enlarged from a photographic
negative. This copy is made by projecting the negative image onto another
photosensitive medium, usually the photographic paper.
that met a certain aesthetic rigor and content with resonance.
Thus, in fact, there was the marking of the photograph that
best represented what Bresson called the decisive moment,
the photo that reflected his "desire to capture in one single
image the essence of a scene that arose" (BRESSON, 2004,
p.16), whose form is endowed with theme and beauty from
what is offered.
Looking more car efully at the text Decisive Moment
(2004, p.18), from Bresson, in Imaginarium According to
Nature, one notices that Bresson himself discusses the
stage of choosing the photographs when he says that during
the process there are two selections, and thus there are two
possible sorrows; one, when we are confronted with the real-
ity of the viewfinder, the other, once the images are fixed and
revealed, when we are forced to separate ourselves from
those that, although correct, would be less strong.
The shot, for him, was seen as a block of sketches that
reflected attempts, improvements, and findings. So, from
another no less interesting point of view, the photographer
Jim Marshall brings, with the book Proof (2004), a collec-
tion of proofs from some of his films taken with his Leica
cameras. According to Selvin (apud MARSHALL, 2004, p.4),
the contacts reveal "how he sees the world, how he evalu-
ates people's emotions – through a viewfinder."
With the published contact sheets (fig. 5), Marshall
exposed his criterion of choosing the images that bet repre-
sented (other than the composition and arrangement) the
spirit he was seeking to portray in a person or situation for a
particular publishing environment (magazines, newspapers,
etc). For us, these contacts serve as process documents
Figure 4. Detail of one of Bresson’s negative test and the selection in red of a
decisive moment among the "others". Source: DVD Contacts, vol. I.
Camila Mangueira Soares and Fabrício Fava: Photography through the process files
that, according to Salles (2012, p.17), are those that "always
contain the idea of registration", and which, therefore, relate
to the thought that the photographer retained, during his
creative process, some elements that may become possi-
ble (in this case, the previously unselected negatives) of the
work or elements that were auxiliary to that realization.
The analysis of the material published in Proof presents,
first and foremost, prospective and retrospective movements
of the photographer during its creation. The first can be
perceived by the critic, for example, in the appreciation of the
other photos (brought in the sheets) that surround the most
published ones in Marshall and that detonate its movement of
approximation with the camera, of tests of framing and of the
very friendliness in the environment (including light thinking)
in front of the artists, that is, an interactive dynamic provided
by the gestures of search for the photographic capture. The
second movement indicated by the sheets refers to the
artist's encounter with these images after the developing
of the photos, in which there are studies of re-frames and
selections of images in the contact sheet itself. In Marshall's
case, the markings – usually in yellow, made by the artist
himself – are proof of the process of choosing and establish-
ing criteria to represent "the emotion" he intended to provoke
with his images in future publications.
The opening of the contacts serves as an index for a
panorama of projects and works that use the most varied
creative paths, choices and multiplicity of fields and tech-
niques, which makes it increasingly difficult and inaccurate
to find definitions and analyzes of isolated images from this
compilation and interactivity of photographic frames.
We have seen that the act of making the existence of
these materials known indicate, in particular, a concern in
establishing a debate on imaging issues not dissociated from
the context of creation. So that a recurring interest is perceived
in regards to the plasticity of the movements between thought
and photographic materiality. Fact here presented through
the analysis of the publication of the contact sheets, which
curiously could be still kept in the drawers of artists and
photographers and/or archived in shelves in agencies,
but which, however, are brought to the public, revealing
an environment of interactive information and original
movements on the creation, such as: the modes of action,
the strategies and paths of the photographer, the supports
used in the production, the sources of research, etc. The act
of observing the contact sheets, therefore, shows itself as a
path of information about the photographic universe in a more
in-depth manner.
The publication of these materials reverberates in the
discussion of the relational procedures of these fragments, such
as the non-isolation of the gesture of the act of taking, which
can be contemplated both from the point of view of the one who
produces it, as well as the public. Thus, the cases of the sheets
mentioned in this article discuss the multiplicity of interactions,
emphasizing that the photographer and his materials do not
refer to a private sphere, but to communicative agents.
As a space of possibilities, the photographic material
expressed through the contact sheets indicates the possi-
ble and continuous movement of articulation and ordering
of visual elements according to the criteria of production of
meaning of each photographer and media. This fact reveals,
therefore, a scenario of interaction between process and work.
Reflecting on photography does not only mean consider-
ation of a certain kind of image, product or medium of symbolic
exchanges, but a diverse field in which materiality and thought
are inseparable. Therefore, usually thought through the
predominance of the result that it produces: the "fixed"; the
photography calls for less static definitions, that is, a critical
view of mobility whose challenge lies in the gradual inclusion
of different variants concerning its nature and its creative
Figure 5. One of the contact sheets reveals the selection (yellow markings) in the
proofs taken in a Beatles concert in 1966, in Candlestick Park and, next to it, the
photograph chosen by the photographer for publication. Source: Proof, 2004.
PORTO ARTE. Porto Alegre: PPGAV/UFRGS, v. 22, n. 36, janeiro - junho 2017
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segundo a natureza. Translated by Renato Aguiar. Barcelona:
Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2004.
CONTACTS, Vol. 1: the great tradition of photojournalism. Director:
Richard Copans & Stan Neumann. 2005. 1 DVD, color (156 min).
DUBOIS, Philippe. O ato fotográfico. Campinas: Papirus, 2009.
LISSOVSKY, Mauricio (2008). A máquina de esperar: origem e
estética da fotografia moderna. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad X.
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Dauster. São Paulo: Instituto Moreira Salles, 2012.
MARSHALL, Jim. Proof. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004.
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___. Redes de criação: construção da obra de arte. Vinhedo: Ed.
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semiótica e sistêmica. São Paulo: Editora Mérito, 2008.
Fabrício Fava: PhD in Communication and Semiotics at PUCSP,
Master in Technology Intelligence and Digital Design at PUCSP,
Specialist in Communication and Image Theories at UFC and
Graduate in Advertising at UNIFOR. Currently researches and
develops projects in the multidisciplinary context of creativity and
design thinking, design for games-based experiences (ludic design
and gamification) and motion design.
Camila Mangueira Soares: PhD in Communication and Semiotics
(PUC/SP, 2016), Master in Communication and Semiotics (PUC/
SP, 2010), Specialist in Communication and Image Theories (UFC,
2007). She has published articles and chapters in books, most
recently, in Novas Formas do Audiovisual (2016) and artworks
internationally exhibited, in places such as the London Pinhole
Festival (London-En, 2017) and #Art16 (Porto-Pt, 2017).
(*) This text was submitted in Novembre 2014 and updated in 2017 for
this publication.
Quote: SOARES, Camila Mangueira; FAVA, Fabrício. Photography
through the process files: reflections on the publication of the
contact sheets. Porto Arte: Revista de Artes Visuais. Porto Alegre:
PPGAV-UFRGS, v. 22, n. 36, p.43-48, jan.-jun. 2017. ISSN 0103-
7269 | e-ISSN 2179-8001
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
SALLES, Cecilia. Gesto inacabado: processo de criação artística
  • Jim Marshall
  • Proof
  • Francisco
MARSHALL, Jim. Proof. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004. SALLES, Cecilia. Gesto inacabado: processo de criação artística. São Paulo: Annablume, 2012.
Metaciência: uma proposta semiótica e sistêmica. São Paulo: Editora Mérito
  • J A Vieira
  • L Santaella
VIEIRA, J. A. & SANTAELLA, L. Metaciência: uma proposta semiótica e sistêmica. São Paulo: Editora Mérito, 2008.
She has published articles and chapters in books, most recently
SP, 2010), Specialist in Communication and Image Theories (UFC, 2007). She has published articles and chapters in books, most recently, in Novas Formas do Audiovisual (2016) and artworks internationally exhibited, in places such as the London Pinhole Festival (London-En, 2017) and #Art16 (Porto-Pt, 2017).