Thursday, February 16, 2012

Proof positive

For a time in the mid-1980s we arranged with Peter Peryer to get a copy of each of his photographic contact sheets. In those non-digital days photographers passed light through the negatives to produce a same-size positive print to help select images. We've always loved to see the ones that didn’t quite make the cut for the insight they give into what a photographer is aiming for. 

Could anything have been more fascinating than the release of so many Diane Arbus proof sheets in the book Diana Arbus: Revelations? Not for us. For a start who'd have guessed that the famous shot of the young boy clutching the toy hand grenades was selected from a full sheet of the same kid hamming it up for the camera?

Peter Peryer’s proof sheets are just as intriguing. This contact sheet was made in preparation for his October 1985 picture Octopus. The image Peter chose is top right. You can see how he abstracted the image by removing the context of scale, a device he has often used over his 38-year career. You can also see a few clues as to how the photo was shot. In the second image from top right you can spot a peek of Peryer’s shoe and it becomes obvious that the octopus has been placed on a sheet of paper on the ground. To achieve the final version of Octopus Peter would have leant right over his model. A bird's-eye-view of a creature from the bottom of the sea.

Image: Contact sheet Octopus by Peter Peryer (click on image to enlarge). You can see how the final image worked out here in Te Papa's collection