Tucked into a back room on ICP's lower level, a collection of Magnum contact sheets quietly overpowers the sensational Weegee crime exhibit one must traverse to get there. The contact sheet, not usually intended for the general public, is a unique method for a museum to display photographs. Iconic photos move us, but they stand alone; how can we fully digest their meaning, their historical context? The Magnum exhibit offers a creative solution.
The diverse collection at ICP, which spans the decades since Magnum Photos’ formation in the 1940s, provides intimacy with reading stations, but the best selections are enlarged and displayed on the walls. Outtakes from the famous “Dali Atomicus,” in which Philippe Halsman captures Salvador Dali jumping in midair among hanging objects, come complete with humorous handwritten notes pointing out badly thrown cats and a secretary in the background. Rene Burri’s shots of Che Guevera in conversation stun with their intimacy. Some gems in the collection are recent and lesser-known, such as Trent Parke’s “The Seventh Wave,” capturing the otherworldly beauty of underwater bathers in Australia. But perhaps beauty and history combine best in Leonard Freed’s “Police Work,” no longer a lone striking image of a bare torso and handcuffed arms, but a narrative of frenzied shots as police stuff the shirtless criminal into the back of a cruiser. By revealing each blurry, blown-out take on the roll of film, these contact sheets offer a fascinating peek both into historic events and each photographer’s mind.