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Under the Loupe: Contact Sheets and the Creative Process

Thursday 26 November at 18:30 in EV-1.615
Concordia University

David Harris
Ryerson University

Since the 1930s, photographers using small and medium camera formats have fully integrated the "contact sheet" into their working process. After the roll film is developed, it is cut into strips of 3-6 frames and "contact" printed onto a single sheet of photographic paper, thereby allowing photographers and others to review the work and to select and crop images for enlargement. This is an aspect of the photographic process that has never been systematically studied for its value in understanding the editorial process, in the case of photojournalism, and for its potential insights into how documentary, artistic, and amateur photographers have investigated an event, a person, or an idea. This lecture will focus on the work of the Hungarian-born, Canadian photographer Gabor Szilasi, and will use his contact sheets as the principal examples. The lecture will explore the nature and evidential value of these overlooked, often heavily annotated, sheets of tiny photographs.

David Harris is a curator and photographic historian, specialising in nineteenth-century and contemporary architectural and landscape photography.  From 1989-1996, he was Associate Curator of Photography at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, and is now Associate Professor, School of Image Arts, Ryerson University.  In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Eadweard Muybridge and the Photographic Panorama of San Francisco, 1850-1880 (1993), Gabor Szilasi: Photographs, 1954-1996 (1997), Eugène Atget: Itinéraires Parisiens (1999; English translation, Eugène Atget: Unknown Paris, 2003), Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China in 1860 (1999) and, most recently, Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday (2009).

Image: Gabor Szilasi, Detail of Contact Sheet Showing Barn along Highway 155, Mauricie, Quebec,August 1976, Gelatin silver print.