View Full Version : You can't hold the wall with less than 2 m x 2 m

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03-08-2010, 12:18 PM
I've been to a couple "contemporary photography" shows in the last couple months and the HUGE PRINT trend seems to be getting bigger, huger, more entrenched than ever. It would seem that, if the print is being shown in a big white museum with big white walls, it has to be at least 3 m on the short side to "hold the wall". I've asked a couple museum curators, knowledgeable art critics etc. and they've said that a) the photographers are intimidated by the huge modern paintings and feel they have to join the size race, and b) those white walls really are big, the museums really are big, and "small" prints just disappear. It really is about "holding the wall". All sorts of art babble has been written to deal with this. A while ago I read an involved explanation about how, when a photographic portrait is sized 1:1 with the subject, then the viewer is given direct psychological access to the subject via the size relationship. (Or something like that.) I have nothing against big prints, they can be lovely. It depends on where they are shown, naturally. But one could take the Mona Lisa, put her in a museum made by giants for giants, on a white wall measuring 100 km high by 1000 km wide, and she would draw those giants like moths to a flame with her enigmatic smile and inner glow. What do you think? Is big always better?

03-08-2010, 01:10 PM
I'm suspicious of trendiness in the art world, and massively oversized photographs are part of that trendiness. I say that realizing that landscape photos sometimes benefit from a larger presentation than would be appropriate for portraits.

03-08-2010, 02:30 PM
The size of the photograph that you want to display is in part determined by how close you will to the photo. For a photo to mimic real life properly, the viewer must be at a distance where the photograph subtends the same angle as "reality" did when the photo was taken, bearing in mind the focal length of the lens. For example, if a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera subtends a horizontal angle of 46 degrees, a photo taken with that lens and printed full size will only be viewed properly if the viewer stands at a distance such that the photo itself subtends 46 degrees of the viewer's vision. Therefore, a very large photograph may be appropriate if the viewer is going to be standing far enough away that the subtended angle is correct. Or a small print may be appropriate if you expect the viewer to be quite close.

Of course, that's a rather rigid set of rules about viewing photographs. No one can deny that having a large photograph may permit the viewer to see details that would not be perceived in a smaller print, and the sheer size may drive home a particular vision of the object -- as in large prints I've seen by Avedon. Alternatively, printing small may be desirable if you wish the viewer to be able to grasp the entire image in one view, without having to shift the eyes and piece together the image as you process it mentally. There are rules, and there are artistic objectives.

Steve Smith
03-08-2010, 02:43 PM
I went to a photographic exhibition a few years ago with 2 metre wide prints. They were awful, un-interesting snapshots of mundane subjects which would have looked bad at 6" x 4" and someone had added a note to that effect in the visitors book.

I like a good quality large print but a bad photograph made bigger is still a bad photograph in the same way that if I played my guitar badly, it would be just as bad through a bigger amplifier!


Joe Lipka
03-08-2010, 03:51 PM
I too, dislike the idea of incredibly large prints. I would like to think that very large prints suggest a real lack of imagination on the part of the photographer. Consider the 2 meter square print. How many "normal" size prints would you be able to show in the same running feet of wall space? It would require more talent and skill to create a series of smaller prints that would more clearly and completely state the photographers ideas about the subject. Which is more difficult? One big print, or several smaller prints.

Another issue that bother me with very large prints is viewing distance. You must be far away from a large print to see it. Where is the connection between the art and the viewer? My preference is to be close to the artwork to see the details and craft of the image. I can't see that if I am thirty feet away from a picture.

03-08-2010, 04:43 PM
Big is in, clearly. Unfortunately, as I see it, it is because of two factors: 1) Technology allows for huge prints much more readily than 10 or 15 years ago; and 2) People are willing to pay more for a bigger print. Rich people have both big empty walls and big full wallets.

Regarding #1: Most of the huge prints are not good enough technically or aesthetically/artistically to hold up at the size they are being asked to support. Regardless of medium, there aren't a lot of Burtynsky's out there, fortunately for Burtynsky but not for the viewing public.

Regarding #2: I think economics (profit motive) has a regretable upsizing pressure on print sizes. I can only imagine there is a greater profit margin on a massive print than a 'small' one.

The digital age has made it too easy to scale up prints (I daresay most of these massive prints are digital, right?). But one thing hasn't changed in the digital photo age: A bad image is still bad, no matter the size... upsizing can even make a poor image worse.

03-08-2010, 05:34 PM
It will all come back to small again, we just have to make some nice small prints so we can show our work.

I have never seen a big print, but I do like the intimate nature of small paintings and prints it can really feel like it is you and it alone!

03-08-2010, 05:39 PM
I think part of the problem is that people see something like Jeff Wall's work and think they can do the same by just making their work larger.

IMHO, to make large prints work, you have to tailor your entire process for them, and that includes choice of subject.


03-08-2010, 05:45 PM
It is really quite easy. Choose the size that best expresses your concept.

All those reasons that the fellow gave you are minor surface reasons compared to the real one: People are largely printing big (and/or printing alternative processes) because everyone and their dog can take a technically sound picture with the highly-sophisticated equipment that is around for peanuts these days. They are pulling out all the stops to make themselves stand out as "real artists".

In short, it is an attempted and/or actual elitist thing...and I mean the word "elitist" without connotation.

03-08-2010, 06:02 PM
a good picture is a good picture no matter the size
i don't think smaller prints have a more intimacy effect than bigger ones, i can feel intimacy to 3x2m print if the photo gives me that. Big prints let the observer play more, you can move far far away and see the whole frame, you can move quite close and see details, to me it's like a game. Smaller prints doesn't give me that, two steps forward or two steps back that's all.
i don't think neither that huge prints are not good enough technically. i can recall big prints with gorgeous technique (dijkstra, jeff wall, even latest work from leibowitz,...). What i can't stand is ugly and stinky art in museums or galleries and it has nothing to do with print size. The trend now is big but those mundane objects were bad in the eghties also...

03-08-2010, 09:40 PM
The subject of scale in art has been well researched; most of the large prints I see are not scaled correctly. As in many other discpilines where supply exceeds demand by several orders of magnitude and aesthetic ignorance reigns supreme, size, a function of production cost, is taken to indicate the value of the work. In other words, "We can't tell a good picture from a bad one, but he invested three hundred dollars to make this print, so obviously he is confident of his skill, and since you can't have confidence in something that doesn't exist, he obviously does possess skill." Bigger is better alright--only better is not the game here, relevant is.


PS. Why do you think they insist on telling you how much each of the Oscar contenders cost? Same mechanism. Most people, including the jurors, can't tell an irrelevant movie from...

03-09-2010, 04:54 AM
Lots of good points made in the preceding posts. I guess I'm a contrarian by nature but "unthinkingness" always bothers me and that's what I detect in much of the huge print trend. An example... I'm a member of Finland's oldest kamera club and attend meetings somewhat regularly. Last year the group had a special treat, a presentation given by one of Finland's leading art photographers, a charismatic man who has been producing quite splendid pictures for many years. We had a critique session after his presentation, where he looked at prints we had brought and gave them interesting insight and commentary. At one point he asked us: "Why are they all so small?!" and followed this up with "Big, big, big! Make your prints as big as possible!" I bit my tongue. Really, how ridiculous. Did Verocchio, who trained da Vinci, ever exclaim to his young pupil: "Big, big, big! Make your paintings as big as possible!"

df cardwell
03-09-2010, 08:56 AM
Big Mongo prints are the natural outcome of folks building big houses. It has been a factor in portraiture for a long time, and the decision 30 years ago for the 'pro photofinishing' market to encourage photos to be sold as decor. It has become just-how-business is done for a portrait in 8x10 to be sold for a fraction of what it is worth, and a 30x40 to be sold for many, many times what it is worth. If you are sitting on a large room, and want to look up and see your kids' picture on the wall 20 feet away, a tasty 8x10 doesn't turn the trick. A 40" print is fine, and it makes a snappy looking room. The commercial pressure to sell images is real, and not to be ridiculed. We all should be able to work and eat, and if you think being a professional photographer is a bad thing, we can talk about the social value of writing software at another opportunity.

"The Market", the average, affluent person who could write off art purchases (remember those days ?) wants to cover the wall. Thank goodness for guys like Carnie who can MAKE lovely prints that are also friggin' huge, for those of use whose darkrooms are in basements, not former bowling alleys.

(me, I like to look at small prints at arms' length)

Alan Johnson
03-09-2010, 10:54 AM
Here,for the moment,are some prints from a David Bailey exhibition in London:
Some of the larger prints are generally around 42 in square.
The technical quality of some of the prints,which can IMO only be appreciated on larger prints,is quite something for the 1960's.
My point is that if they were printed small the artistic merits could be seen but printing them large shows their technical quality as well.

03-24-2010, 01:31 AM
Last summer I went to a Gursky exhibition in Vancouver. The use of scale was interesting there because unlike most of his showings, the majority of the prints were (I think) 16 X 20. These competed surprisingly well with the few wall size prints also on display. Still, a 10 foot print commands a certain respect. At the least, you pay much more attention to the details in it.

Brian Legge
03-24-2010, 01:49 AM
I totally agree with df cardwells rationale. I'd be curious if market preference is regional based on home size (and thus room size, wall size, viewing distance, etc)

03-24-2010, 05:07 AM
Rather than huge prints, why not just show a greater number of smaller prints? Oh that's right, they can't back it up with consistent quality images to support that theme. Better break out the mural roll.

03-24-2010, 07:24 PM
If you can't make it good, make it big. If big isn't possible, make it red.

Been the rule in sculpture for years.

03-24-2010, 08:20 PM
I've heard that small is the new big.

03-24-2010, 09:00 PM
I went to a talk on collecting photography, last week, in DC. On the panel was a well known gallery owner who addressed the issue of size. It came down to "real estate". While most people won't question a 16x20 painting for 3-4,000 dollars, they will question a similar sized photograph at 10% of that price. Larger prints command larger dollars. Galleries have finite wall space, and need to maximize the dollars per square foot. Between rent, staff, and publicity, large prints give them more bang for the buck. If they can sell a 16x20 for $250, a more limited print (of the same image) at 32x40 can go for $2500. This applies to contemporary photographers, not vintage prints by famous shooters.