INTIMACY AND HOW SIZE MATTERS (not X-rated)
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.
Last edited by David Lyga; 12-13-2011 at 08:41 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
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.
Should it interest you, I had an APUG blog post on this topic about a year and a half ago:
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.
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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.
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera".
- Yousuf Karsh
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".
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.
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.
All the prints I make are either 8x10 or 11x14. That's just me!
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.
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points
system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...