Visit ‘Proof: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet’

The Cleveland Museum of Art has opened an exhibition dedicated to a photographic working process which has previously remained out of public view – the contact sheet. PROOF: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet offers visitors the rare opportunity to view an extension collection of contact sheets from influential photographers working in the second half of the 20th century and earlier, including Cecil Beaton, Harry Callahan, Elliott Erwitt, Arnold Newman and Eadweard Muybridge.

The popularity and affordability of roll film historically encouraged photographers to capture as many exposures as possible, from which the best frames would be selected later. The photographer first saw positive images on a contact sheet (also known as a proof sheet), which was marked up for printing and served as a lasting reference. Digital photography has in many ways rendered the contact sheet purposeless in contemporary editorial strategy; photographers now see their images instantly as systems of storage, retrieval, and editing have become increasingly sophisticated.

William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, has said that ‘contact sheets offer a glimpse into the working mind of a photographer’; a sentiment echoed by Elliott Erwitt when he insisted that contact sheets should be ‘as private as a toothbrush […] guarded as jealously as a mistress.’ This intimacy — affording a unique insight into a photographer’s working practice — is precisely why these working prints are now being re-evaluated in the history of photography.

PROOF: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet will run through 12 April 2020 at The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio. Find out more here.

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