There are no office supply/stationery stores like Japanese ones, and even the most local shop will carry my contact sheet filing binder of choice, a King Jim brand B4 sized clear file. This format in the Japanese B-series variation of paper sizing is a little larger than 10×12 photo paper, but it does the job cheaper than dedicated film binders. I’m sure that outside of Japan one could find similar binder options for contact sheets.
All of my contact prints are done on 10×12 inch RC paper (usually from Fujifilm, but I’ll use whatever is available or cheapest). I print on 10×12 since it nicely fits both 6-frame-by-7-row negative sleeves and my Print File contact printer. For general shooting I keep my contact sheets in the clear files and the actual negative sheets filed separately in large D-ring binders. More on that later.
The numbering system is quite basic- the first two digits of a sheet tell the year the film was shot in while the following numbers designate which roll it was.
For example in the image above, #12-69 means that it was the 69th roll shot in 2012. Sometimes I’ll add rough notes on the estimated month of exposure and sometimes the location. (I’ve got a similar filing system for my medium format negatives, with the first digits being either 67 or 645 before the rest of it.)
The actual chronological order is approximate- Since I develop my film once forty or so rolls have built up I have a fairly good idea when things were shot but I have no problem with making use of all 7 rows in my negative sheets by splitting a roll up between a few different pages.
When editing the contact sheets I use a paint marker to tag frames to print like this:
△ Triangle = Possible candidate for printing
◯ Circle = Workprint worthy
◎ Double circle = Definitely print
What separates a frame with a double circle from a single one is that it has survived multiple edits. I print about 50+ contact sheets in a darkroom session and after the sheets are dry I make a quick and rough edit that same night. After I put them in chronolocial-ish order and label them with a marker I toss the sheets into a photo paper box and keep them with me for about a week. “Living” with them, that is, going through them a few times more in the train or wherever is important for later selection. After I have a feel for what there is to work with I make a final edit and if the previously single-circle frame still looks interesting to me I’ll add that second ring for emphasis. Sometimes there are other ways of reminding myself to print one in particular, with lines and all that but these are rare indeed.
In the meantime I take my stack of recently contact-printed and yet un-numbered negative files and sit down with my stack of numbered contact prints. After matching these up and labeling the negative sheets I file them in a B4 sized King Jim two-ring binder.
Finally, after all that the next step is to prepare for the upcoming darkroom session by writing up a print list in a small notebook. Since sometimes negative strips from different rolls of film may end up together in a single sheet- resulting in identical frame numbers- I note particular frames by the row they are in. So ” 3:25 ” isn’t some bible passage but rather frame #25 in negative row #3.
When printing I have next to my enlarger a binder of labeled negative sheets, my print list, and nearby for reference, my contact sheet files. This streamlined (over several years) workflow allows me to focus on the actual printing of photographs instead of screwing around in the dark looking for a particular frame out of eighty negative sheets.
I do use one other kind of negative filing binder for portfolio-worthy archives:
These dedicated Hakuba brand Photo System Files binders are wonderfully constructed and are what I keep negatives from completed series in. For example, if I need to print an image from my Nebraska or Gaijin Like Me portfolios, I have every frame filed and labeled in one convenient place. This filing system allows me to keep both the contact print and negative sheet together and therefore theoretically easier to grab in case of fire.
The Hakuba binders are a bit more expensive- here’s a breakdown compared to King Jim:
Contact sheets: B4 clearfile 80 pages 2000 yen
Negative sheets: Not King Jim but Fujifilm brand, 100 sheets for 1000 yen
B4 2-ring binder: 1500 (?) yen, holds 300 negative sheets
Archiving three hundred rolls of film (in Japan) with the sovereign King Jim puts me/you/us at about 12,500 yen / $160 US.
To go full Haukba for three hundred rolls of film it would cost…
Binders 8 x 2000 = 16,000 yen
Neg. sheets: 30 packs X 550 = 16,500
Contact sheet pages: 30 packs X 700 = 21,00
Total: 39,100 yen / $500 USD
King Jim it is.
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It should be noted that this system was implemented in 2011– I have nearly two thousand negative sheets of work shot since coming to Japan in August of 2004 which have not been contact printed. That’d be a lot of work and even more money. Since I’ve already harvested out the portfolio-entered negatives it’s best at this point to simply look forward.
Honestly by even the most generous of rubrics I can’t be considered an organized person- photographic or otherwise- but having a system for dealing with the creation of all this photography helps me stay on track.
All I know is that channeling one’s obsession and drive through a fixed workflow leaves more time and energy for the actual fun part- moving forward with the exploration of your art.