A procedure has been developed to obtain microscope images of regions of contact between roughened surfaces of transparent materials, while the surfaces are subjected to static loads or undergoing frictional slip. Static loading experiments with quartz, calcite, soda-lime glass and acrylic plastic at normal stresses to 30 MPa yield power law distributions of contact areas from the smallest contacts that can be resolved (3.5 ??m2) up to a limiting size that correlates with the grain size of the abrasive grit used to roughen the surfaces. In each material, increasing normal stress results in a roughly linear increase of the real area of contact. Mechanisms of contact area increase are by growth of existing contacts, coalescence of contacts and appearance of new contacts. Mean contacts stresses are consistent with the indentation strength of each material. Contact size distributions are insensitive to normal stress indicating that the increase of contact area is approximately self-similar. The contact images and contact distributions are modeled using simulations of surfaces with random fractal topographies. The contact process for model fractal surfaces is represented by the simple expedient of removing material at regions where surface irregularities overlap. Synthetic contact images created by this approach reproduce observed characteristics of the contacts and demonstrate that the exponent in the power law distributions depends on the scaling exponent used to generate the surface topography.