For a photography aficionado, there is nothing quite so thrilling as looking at contact sheets. It is like reading a diary, delving into private realms that were not meant for public consumption. Like the old drafts of a novel or the prior recordings before the master tape, the contact sheet tells the story of how it happened—how we got to this place. It is a narrative all its own, one that few will ever know, unless the photographer blesses us with a view.
Then, what we see is magical: that heart-stopping, breathtaking moment like in the theater when an actor breaks the fourth wall. It is an acknowledgement of the very construction of it all: the recognition that everything we see has a history and a reality that we rarely ever know. The contact sheet seduces with what it reveals—all that has been hidden from our sight now appears.
Fahey/Klein, Los Angeles, understands this and has curated CONTACT, a new group show that brings together seminal images of the twentieth century alongside the contact sheets from which they were born, currently on view through January 28, 2017. Featuring works by Harry Benson, William Claxton, Arthur Elgort, Roxanne Lowit, Christopher Makos, Herb Ritts, Lawrence Schiller, Norman Seeff, Stephen Somerstein, Phil Stern, Julian Wasser, and Bob Willoughby, among others CONTACT offers a glimpse into the practices of the masters.
Consider Stephen Somerstein’s famous photograph of the back of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s head, which was taken at the completion of the 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965. Dr. King stands before a crowd 25,000 deep on the steps of the capitol building who have gathered to fight for their right to vote, and here he speaks: “There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes.”