You can't hold the wall with less than 2 m x 2 m
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.
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!
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.
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.
Last edited by 2F/2F; 03-08-2010 at 04:52 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
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...