INTIMACY AND HOW SIZE MATTERS (not X-rated)

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by David Lyga, Dec 13, 2011.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    Print presentation has, in its arsenal, many subjective qualities with which its author may, or may not, match the aesthetic needs of the viewing public. Indeed, those very needs just might not distill into a convenient generic paradigm which satisfies all. For example, I do not like 'titles' on prints (other than those that are purely and objectively descriptive) because one, then, seems to be robbed of the liberty of 'reading into' the print, as opposed to 'being told' what to see. I like to think for myself. I might not agree with the author and, thus, become at odds with him.

    Similarly, print size becomes another factor to deal with. Perusing an old copy of Shutterbug, the brilliant writer Roger Hicks had an article on this very subject: print size. He actually made quite a convincing argument for making smaller print sizes and used a word that immediately struck me as perfect prose and syntax: 'intimate'. I have always liked prints to be smaller than most have wanted (or thought would be wanted). They are more comfortable to view and force one to get closer. Of course, subject matter must come into play when deciding upon print size (ie, a large group's portrait or vast scenic will demand sufficient magnification, whereas a single face, or a picture of a single, small numismatic or philatelic item such as a coin or postage stamp, allows and encourages this 'intimacy' and might even benefit from lack of a larger, distance-forcing 'footprint').

    Of course, if distance from print to viewer must be an unavoidable factor (museums, art galleries), that factor will be an ultimate determinant here, as only then will a larger print 'regain' such sought after intimacy (if necessarily viewed from afar). The bottom line is that visual comfort and lack of physical efforts effects in order to attain an ideal vantage point indicates real success with the size choice. Prints must segue into our normal way of seeing things and must not become an undue burden when extra physical factors have to come into play, in order to achieve this vantage point.

    I guess what I would really like to stress is this: some printers feel that larger is always better and, thus, large size indicates a more profound, more 'professional' representation of one's artistic endeavor. However, 'generic' aesthetics, refined and measured through an amalgam of humanity, does not always see things that way. Sometimes subtleties become more potent than bombast, aggression, and an underlying inference that 'largeness' might make up for a decided lack of artistic focus. We live in a society which defines, at times, such subtleties as subordinate. Thoughts? - David Lyga.
     
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  2. MDR

    MDR Member

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    I prefer smaller prints as well, so do Sir Elton John, Michael Kenna and his wife, for over a hundred years prints were no larger than the negatives they were made from, and suddenly after the WWII prints became larger and larger and in my opionion some subjects look better as a small print and some as a large print. Simple graphical compositions usually work better in smaller sizes I don't know why. The grand canyon usually needs big then again a detail from the canyon might look better as a smaller print. Big prints are made for big offices or entrance halls not for collectors (usually smaller prints) or individuals. Most prints in museum collections are around 8x10 (19th century and early 20th century were rarely larger). Gursky mega size type of print only work in huge white cubes (Galleries or Corporate headquaters) imho. Once saw a Kertesz exhibition showing his 35mm contact prints, loved it. I believe that the main difference between big and small prints is they way we react to them and how much concentration we need. A huge print can draw one in (so does a good small print) but first you have the wow effect, a small prints requires more concentration and contemplation.

    Dominik
     
  3. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I'm lucky enough to own a few 8x10 contact prints by George Tice. They are framed to keep them safe, but I don't enjoy them as much that way. Holding one of those in my hands without glass over it, sitting in a chair and just looking at it, is so enjoyable. It's how I like to view prints. I guess that would explain why often I actually enjoy looking at high quality reproductions of my favourite photographs in books more than seeing the real prints in museums and galleries. I can really study them and enjoy them much more that way.

    Regarding titles, I'm in OP's camp on that. But there are many others who disagree. Some months ago in another thread Michael A. Smith stated he thought in many cases a photographer is doing himself or the photograph a disservice by not giving it an interesting or more descriptive title. I really think it depends on the type of photography. And then there's the marketing aspect.
     
  4. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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  5. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    I think 4x5 contact prints are wonderful. The public, unfortunately, does not. I once proffered a 11x14 platinum print to a client, and was asked to enlarge it. Another time, a traveling Nat Geo exhibit came to town. The feature image was a beautiful Kendrick tintype. I went to the exhibit expecting to see the tintype. Instead of the tintype that I went to see, I was treated to a great big greenish pixelated inkjet of the image on the tintype. I think the problem is that the public has been conditioned to the point that they do not view a photograph as an art artifact, but rather just an image, so the ideas present experiencing a photograph as an object of art purposely crafted in a specific manner are lost on them. I think the ability to really appreciate photography as art is more complex than some other things, and that people that insist on BIG as a criteria are really missing something. But if you look at the size of houses that are buit these days it comes as no surprise. Subtlety is a lost art, and as a photographer I am at a total loss as how to address that problem.
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    The only thing I can think of in terms of 'bigger is better' is that if someone is able to make a print that is six by eight feet large, then it is more difficult to do than one that is six by eight inches. It takes a more accomplished printer, and a totally different setup of a darkroom to do that.

    Other than that, I prefer prints that aren't extremely large either. My own pinhole series of waterfronts has evolved from little 6x6" prints, to 8x8" on 11x14" paper, and I have finally decided they need to be 13x13" on 16x20" paper. One at a time I'm slowly making my way to the whole portfolio being done that way.
    At the same time I have a slew of portraits that I just wouldn't want to print any larger than 6x8" on regular 8x10" paper. If I was offered money from a buyer to make them bigger I could (gotta eat too), but most of them I like best as small prints.

    My own summarized opinion is that the subject matter dictates the print size.

    The other side of it is to enjoy the pictures others have made, regardless of their size. I stand back to view very large prints, and I creep in closer to look at smaller works. All of them are equally enjoyable to me, as long as the photograph is one I enjoy to begin with.

    - Thomas
     
  7. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    I find that some of the images that I proofed on the computer screen need to be printed smaller while others want/need to be up to 16x20--the image indeed makes the decision.

    In regards to small photographs, the Andrew Smith Gallery here seems to get bigger and bigger prints everytime I go in there when they're old Weston and Adams miniature prints were, in my opinion, of the top most interest to me. So precise and intimate. Big prints sometimes feel soulless to me.
     
  8. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    I'm with J there and I'm at a loss as well on how I would address. It seems to me that there is so much out there, such constant bombardment of images from all directions, that the notion of simply go bigger to stand out has taken hold. Some people still enjoy subtle pleasures but many just need/want to be clobbered over their heads for something to register and that is a shame. I have printed on 16x20 paper but can't get into it most of the time. 8x8 or 10x10 for squares and 6x8 or 8x10 is where the love is for me.
     
  9. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    All the prints I make are either 8x10 or 11x14. That's just me!

    Jeff
     
  10. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    I while waiting for a 4x5 enlarger to come up on the local market, I tried a number of contact prints, but was definitely underwhelmed by the results... until I tried using my negs for cyanotypes. There is such a delicate intimacy in those prints - which is odd, because I often find a sense of heaviness in my larger cyanos.
     
  11. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    What moderator J Brunner said really is sad and even disgusting, but all too true.

    I did not wish to digress into politics and I really won't too much (for the board's benefit and integrity) but there is an (I will comfortably call) obsession in our USA culture that states that 'bigger is always better'. We have lost (or never had!) a more refined sense of subtlety like they have in Europe and Japan. We, as a culture are not able to see genuine refinement and understatedness (like the mightly Brits do!) and have to fall back into 'powerful' mechanisms that supplant, for worse. I live in Philadelphia and each and every bus stop has gigantic, airbrushed visages of 'idealism' (at least as crudely defined by consumerism). Go into a store and chances you will be met with 'muzak' that comes from no where and goes absolutely no where. Indeed, large imaging (replete with Photoshop idealism) dominates our culture to ill effect. Even listening to National Public Radio here demands our listening to continual 'sound effects' that are 'necessary' between each broadcasted item. What I am imparting here is that both objectively visual largeness and 'indirect' 'visual' largeness are musts in our sorry culture.

    What really gives me a bit or respite is the reaction that my post has obtained. You are all 'aboard' here and not mere clickers of shutters. All of you have actually responded in a way that I wanted to imagine that you would. Yes, there really IS something intimate and comforting about looking at an Atget or Kertesz print (that does seem to impart other than a forced indulgence). Yes moderator Brunner: "they do not view a photograph as an art artifact, but rather just an image". Sadly, but well said. - David Lyga
     
  12. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    In musical terms, it is called "drawing the audience in"... a whisper can make the most profound statements. Stevie Ray Vaughan played large... he really commanded a room with his power and dexterity. But if you've ever seen video of his "Texas Flood", you might notice how he had a habit of turning down the pickups on his guitar til eventually the only sound was the string noise picked up by his vocal mic. The audience would literally hold their breath to catch every note he played... and he made it worth their while. A small print can make a really powerful impact... especially in venues usually known for larger work. I've seen 6x6(cm) contact prints in 16" frames that really command attention. You have to step in and really study the photo, but the ones I've seen really reward your attention. I'm not that brave, nor (most likely) that accomplished, but I really like the look of a small print matted large.
     
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  13. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    Indeed, are there any more enchanting pop music selections than Stevie Wonder's 'I just called to say I love you' or the Singing Nun's 'Dominique'?
     
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  15. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Well, I don't think this is simply large vs. small. Yes there is a trend of printing large right now; that is to be expected with the introduction of the new wide-carriage inkjets. But I also see a lot of large expensive prints sitting unsold in galleries.

    Take heart: this is not small versus large. It is all a matter of how effectively you compose for the size that you print. I have seen marvelous 6x6cm contacts, and i have seen marvelous mural prints... but the subject matter was completely different.

    Yes, size grabs attention. But does it hold it?
     
  16. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    Bigger is not necessarily better. I am a firm believer that intimacy counts for more. I prefer to draw my viewers in, not make them stand at a distance that is so very impersonal. But then, I'm a self admitted huggy kinda guy. I prefer small group discourse over large halls filled with a noisy mob. I find myself more overwhelmed with massive prints, and can see and feel what the photographer is trying to convey with small prints. A great story teller uses a variety of ranges of the voice, and only occasionally gets loud, most often speaks in low tones. That is how I prefer to get my message across.
    Toffle, I love the SRV analogy, saw him live many a night at Antones in Austin, long live the blues, and SRV's legacy.
     
  17. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

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    It feels in certain ways that the prints since about the late 80's got bigger, while the ideas got smaller in the world of art photography. I don't know... it might look like shit, but it also looks like "art" when it's big!! All that said, I find I prefer 8"x10" or smaller for my work ~or~ 20"X24"!! Sometimes, I like to stand in front of a print on the wall that envelopes my eye a bit... and in point of fact, I think 16"x20" is a lovely print size. Well... I guess I like bigger prints, too. Ultimately, the image dictates the size it wants to be... that Kendrick tintype wants to be 8"x10", not some 5 foot inkjet mural!
     
  18. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    Don't assume that Rob Kendrick always shoots "small" - I know, I have his old 14x17. He certainly didn't shoot wet-plate in that camera though, just film.

    I love the 14x17 as an object in itself, and for the way it makes me work. But I would still only shoot less than 10% of my work with it because it's just so big. For a whole host of reasons, my favorite size is now 6.5 x 8.5 - it's a big-enough contact print that you can view it comfortably at arms' length, but intimate enough to hold it in your hands, instead of having to relate to it on a wall. The camera, from a user's perspective, is ALMOST as small as a 5x7, which makes it easier to travel with or just haul around town. I agree, intimacy in a photograph has become almost a lost art. I think in part it is up to us as artists to bring it back - go out there and MAKE interesting, compelling images on an intimate scale, and start showing them to people. They will react to them.
     
  19. semi-ambivalent

    semi-ambivalent Subscriber

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    We go there every time we visit, and I have noticed that as well. Perhaps, because many people have huge houses with huge empty walls (and because they (the gallery) has to eat too), the gallery concedes. Or agrees to what the artist produces. They're really caught in the middle at times, I would think. I'm glad that I am allowed to move around there and find a viewing distance the print and I can agree on, even though size alone can't save an image I just don't care for no matter how I look at it. I've pretty much settled on full (35mm) frame on 11x14 with 3/4" borders. I've done a few shots that look beautiful as 16x20. As for the rest, I wouldn't be fooling anybody by making them "big".

    s-a

    PS - Go to La Chosa for me, I've got that itch...:smile:
     
  20. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    Ha! I was there last Saturday--Chile Relleno FTW.

    It does seem quite silly to me that there are some prints up to 30-40" that are in a hallway. How in God's name are we supposed to view that!?

    One of my photographic friends here has an astonishing collection of art, including Weston, Adams, Tice, and Stieglitz originals and not to mention about 25 other masters, and the funniest thing as we're walking about his house one day during a BBQ, he brings me into his study to show me his favorite works--3 5x5" prints each from the Weston brothers. He held them as if they were delicate butterflies, and you could see the prize in his eyes. This, as a 20" print looms over the desk.

    Funny how things work.
     
  21. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I'm going to differ (a bit).

    There are certain images that need to be large, because of their content, and their intended audience.

    As an example from the world of painting, I refer you to the painting "Las Meninas", by Diego Velázquez. This is 318 × 276 cm (125.2 × 108.7 in) and in real life is absolutely stunning. It would not be as powerful if it was smaller.

    Here is a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Meninas,_by_Diego_Vel%C3%A1zquez,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth.jpg

    So I would say that the size of the photograph depends on the photograph, and where and how it is to be displayed.
     
  22. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    MattKing: as you quote Ansel: “Photography is a complex and fluid medium..." This is, of course, correct and confirms what I say below.

    About large size: Yes I did make that point whereby subject matter (vast scenics sometimes, or large group portraits) mandates a larger footprint. This is simply common sense. But there are those (multitudes) who START with the premise that size is the de facto king and the primary, if not sole, determinant of print quality. This premise is what is being disputed and no one on this board thinks that large prints are always exponents of misplaced aesthetics. - David Lyga
     
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  23. semi-ambivalent

    semi-ambivalent Subscriber

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    Not to blow my own horn, but I have some friends who have a lot of photographs in their house. No Adamses or anything like that; images from other friends. Mostly of a landscape nature. All very pretty and technically solid. Last year, out of gift-desperation I gave them a B&W 4x5 test print, spotted and framed with a floating matte and held to the backing with clear plastic corners. Threw it together in half an hour. They thanked me but I never asked them what they thought of it. A while ago I met him on the street and he said 'You know that print...' His voice just trailed off and he smiled and shook his head.

    My point is that yes, it is funny how things work, especially with art. If you really hit your mark it shouldn't be explainable why it is liked by someone; the why should be too deeply engendered to express casually. It was nice to think I might have approached that point, most of my stuff is completely forgettable.

    Good call, the rellenos.

    s-a
     
  24. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    So just for the sake of argument; I have been thinking about this 'size matters' thread.

    Suppose one takes a print that would normally look wonderful at 6x8" size. Say a portrait that you're very pleased with, something subtle and beautiful. If you made this print 5feet by 7feet instead, the relationship with the picture might change and that juxtaposition could be interesting.
    There was a thread here a while back about a very large print by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II at 81 x 140 inches in size. It made me wonder how my relationship to one of my own pictures would change if it were printed that large.

    While I don't care much for that print by Gursky, size can definitely have an impact on the viewing experience, so it is probably incorrect to state that size isn't an important decision. We can all just decide for ourselves what we like, and I think that perhaps some people are lazy in that regard, and just buy whatever they're supposed to be investing in, or just like what everybody else likes.

    I really do think that this discussion is founded in that we should think for ourselves and reach our own conclusions about what we like, and if we care enough it might be interesting to discover why that is too.

    Interesting discussion.
     
  25. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    I once had a conversation with an art dealer in New York who was good friends with Bonni Benrubi, the gallery owner. She sent me to go see a show that Bonni had up on the wall of platinum prints by Jed Devine. Jed's prints were anywhere from 6x17cm to 8x10 inch. Beautiful work. Bonni told her she had the show of Jed's work because it was beautiful and needed to be seen, but she was unlikely to make any sales off of it. The big "hedge fund wallpaper" color inkjet prints of deadpan ersatz snapshots, however, she could barely keep in stock. When it comes to galleries, they are as much slaves to the market as they are market-makers.
     
  26. MDR

    MDR Member

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    I once had an exhibition were I actually sold more small prints (12x12cm) than bigger prints. The small photos were in 70x50cm mat and the bigger prints in a little smaller mats. The small prints were all a little darker (lithprints) and the matting (off white) but the contrast seemed to have worked because people wanted to know what the small dark square in the middle of the white was furthermore it looked a lot like a modern painting (Malewitsch). The bigger is better philosophy is not necessaraly new one only has to look at Rubens paintings they are huge, funnily enough the most powerful Rubens I've ever seen was no larger than 5x7in (a gallow in front of storm clouds and hills).

    Dominik