Contact Sheets


Roll 1, contact #386 dated 7th September 2004

Roll 1, contact #385 dated 7th September 2004

Roll 2, contact #408 dated 24th September 2004.

After the success of the book Contact Sheets, it occurred to me that the very existence of this editing process of film photography, on the wane since many of us migrated to digital thereby side-lining the darkroom ghosts of one’s film, might entice the uninitiated to us non Magnum members. Within a very short period, the role, personality and purpose of the contact sheet is for many, quite unknown.

In the first of what may become a series of published contacts from my archive, I hope to explain what was happening to me en route from the tongue to the last frame.

The targets and accidents, the miseries and the triumphs!

The three sheets displayed above are actually from 2 rolls of 220 NPC. It is late summer in 2004 and I had been spending the best part of nine months with the Red Arrows from when they trained new crews and ground engineers over winter from the most basic levels, to eventually flying their elite aerobatic displays across the nation’s beaches and balconies.

By the time I had shot the first two contacts, I had only I think two flights under my belt so the cockpit environment was still as alien to me as might a trainee astronaut treading on Mars. Tied with very restrictive straps and in layers of RAF clobber, I was also encased in a vice-like helmet and with an oxygen mask pinching nose and mouth. The strapless Mamiya 7II was gaffer taped up so I had only 20 exposure to make during each 30 minute flight.

First attempts were hopeless as I struggled with their awkward equipment and the impossible g-forces but I’m using as an example one flight on the 7th September followed by another a few weeks later.

In the first two sheets (which one should read from bottom left to top right) you see what I was hoping for, though with limited success: From a chase plane, the iconic Diamond Nine Hawk jets are in formation set against England’s pastures, sometimes seduced by the extraordinary appearance of another jet within touch above. Thereafter is what I saw forwards through the plexiglass. I liked the idea of using the explosive zig-zags and rear mirrors as frames within frames along with any reflections of my own pilot’s helmet with its large red arrow on top. To the team, I was breaking all the rules for aviation photography. Something pleasing in that.

Back in London every other week to process I found that while they were sharp, the images weren’t telling my story from up there. By the 24th I was feeling more confident and the frame I liked best (which made a double-page spread in the eventual book) is the deepest blue shot during what’s called the 5/4 Split where we climb vertically and at the apex, the aircraft split into two groups. It feels like the outer atmosphere so deep is the blue but we are in fact only a few thousand feet high.

The thinking process viewed here is a way of displaying our successes and our failures too as we fight those minutes or hours, confronting our demons.

For some reason there isn’t much work on that second roll though I do remember feeling tired by the travelling and those g-forces that seemed to drain one’s reserves.

It is possible that by sheet #408, this was the flight on which I blanked out during a tight turn and 10 frames were all I managed.


5 Responses to “Contact Sheets”

  1. Great Images Richard, must have been a truly memorable experience as well.

  2. Thank you. It was truly a career high-point in all respects!

  3. Great shots!

  4. Thanks Douglas. I’m jealous of that Yashica of ours.

  1. 1 (Olympic) Contact Sheets « England’s Pleasant Pastures

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