First Contact

I was 14 when I saw a contact sheet for the first time.

My interest in photography was already in high gear. Still, I hadn’t yet made the jump from drug store prints to doing the work myself in a darkroom.

A classmate of mine was also interested in photography but his knowledge and experience eclipsed mine. One day we passed in the hall and I noticed a black and white contact sheet in his hand.

It was such a novel sight that I didn’t even have the words to ask what this incredible 8×10 print was, other than a revelation.

Luckily, he understood. Later that day, we cut class and went to the school’s darkroom. That’s where he taught me how the process worked. In no time, I was churning out my own contacts.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve shot any film. Even before my transition to digital, the film I used was transparency, which meant I never needed a proof.

Today, a proof sheet is a unique creative expression rather than a way to select images. Viewing the bulk of a recent session as a monochromatic group gives me a chance to see this work in a new light.

About the author: I am Stephen Kennedy, an experienced photographer with more than 2500 completed sessions in all 50 US states.