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NYCB Vol. 4 No. 15 - Raymonda Variations

In the Martha Swope collection at the library, there are hundreds (thousands?) of contact sheets. (About 24 small photos all printed on one page which provides an overview of a photoshoot). Each photo is about an inch by an inch and a half. I literally have to use a magnifying glass to look at them.

What is fascinating about these sheets is that they have Martha's handwritten notes ALL over them! Lots of photos are crossed out with a "X", sometimes with a big "NO" if she found the technique in the photo particularly offensive. Some have a "?", others say "yes" and every so often one says "YES YES YES". It is so interesting to see her thought process and her comments on her own work.

A lot of times I'm looking at a contact sheet from a shoot where one iconic image came out of it. (Say Apollo, or Diamonds.) We all know THE photo that came out of it because it was either printed on a poster or a program and circulated over the years. But there's still hundreds of amazing shots from each of these shoots that where never printed, never chosen, never got to be appreciated!

This post features Patricia McBride in a shoot for Raymonda Variations.

This photo is objectively lovely. Right? Martha wrote "yes" next to it.

Further down the contact sheet we come to the middle photo that shows Martha's very excited notes, stars, and circling. She thought she had already found THE shot, so now she had to amp up her notes for emphasis on this new find.

The cover photo on this post is the shot Martha loved, however I edited out her notes so that we could get an idea of how it might have look published.

I've spent time considering the ethics of photoshopping another photographers work. Here is how I think of it in this context: As far as I have found, this photo isn't published anywhere—in books, or online. The ideal scenario would be to present Martha's published work how she intended it. But since it isn't available (that I'm aware of), I want to share it so it can be appreciated. I think her notes are special and important to see, but truthfully that middle photo is a draft and she wouldn't have printed it that way. In my editing I aim to be respectful to the original intent of the image and honor the dancer and photographer. The cover photo is a "what if" and gives you an idea of what Martha's final image could have looked like printed on a program cover.

Photographer friends, feel free to chime in: How would you feel knowing your unedited shots may be shown after you're gone? Indifferent? Offended? Honored that people find your work worth looking back at and studying? I am curious!

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