Close Up: Contemporary contact prints

Athol McCredie / Fiona Pardington / Haruhiko Sameshima / Joyce Campbell / Mark Adams / Wayne Barrar

  • 4 Aug - 22 Aug, 2008

One of the joys of the contact print is that it soaks up so much detail of the world."

Justin Paton


Although generally considered a historic technique, especially prominent in the 19th century, many photographers are now using qualities of the contact print as an important part of their practice. Part of a return to traditional processes, contact prints reflect very particular and individualistic concerns, including those which necessitate contemplation and a belief in the unity of technique and expression.

In comparison to the more common process of enlargement, contact prints are made by placing the printing paper directly in contact with the negative. The result is an impressively sharp image, but it is only the same size as the negative so unwieldy cameras that can take a large negative are required.

Until photography found its way into mainstream gallery practice, books were its principal medium, so vintage works up to the 1960s were often the size of book plates. After that, photographs have become larger and increasingly cinematic as they began to address the real space of the gallery. So, as scale has increasingly became an issue in contemporary photography, contact prints have to some extent fallen out of favor. But rapid changes in photographic technology and the acceleration towards digital media have caused a decline in the availability of some analog papers, cameras and other necessities, and this is influencing current practice.

A number of the artists in this exhibition use the contact print as their method of expression, though Mark Adams, Wayne Barrar, Joyce Campbell, Fiona Pardington & Haruhiko Sameshima also exhibit prints enlarged from large-format negatives.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue introduced by Athol McCredie, curator of photography at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.