I also agree with all of the previous posts, but I like
Aaron's the best.
I had an epiphany one day and since you asked I'll tell you about it. I have an A.A.S. degree in photofinishing, I worked in photolabs processing and printing B&W, E-6, and Ilfochrome. I did an internship at the photographic labs at the Smithsonian Institution(man, I saw a lot in the two months that I was there-including a large Arnold Newman exhibit!. Later I took a Classic Large format photo class at a university and had a couple of printing session with David Plowden. The Black and White image was what originally drew me to large format photography and I was always going to museums and art gallerys and any other place were I could see photographs. I had been working with a 4x5 for a number of years, but was never happy with my prints. Other people liked them and I sorta knew a little bit about it, but was never really happy with what I could do with the enlarger. Then one day I was in Columbus, OH and I was able to go to the art museum there. Its a great place! This was a few years ago and they may have changed things now, but at that time they had a display of about one hundred photos by just about every big name in photography. They had representative work from a lot of the people that I have always admired. Just to name a few; Adams, B.Weston, Cunningham, Porter, Callahan, Gilpin, Etc.Etc. There were some fantastic photographs there. The A. Adams print that they had was one of my all time favorite photos of his and this was the first time that I was able to look at a real print of this photo. But as I was looking around at all of these wonderful photos (and some uninteresting, ugly Postmodern stuff-sorry ya'll) I came to the one that was by far the most impressive. This little photo just knocked my socks off. It was a simple photo of an old wooden fence, about 8x10 in size and it was hanging right next to the Adams print. This was the most beautiful print that I had ever seen. It was rich with tonality and had a luminous quality that I had never really seen before. For the first time I saw a print glow and knew what people meant when they talked about prints like that. It took me a few minutes, but I realized how this print was made and that almost all of the other prints were not made this way.
It was a contact print by Edward Weston. I knew that for this photo he used a simple 8x10 camera and contact printing paper. At that moment I knew what my goals in photography were. I found out later that he also used ABC pyro and the simplest of darkroom equipment. It has taken a long time for me just get the equipment(Big cameras), but I am now trying to make prints in the way that Weston did, not because I'm a Weston wannabe, but because for me his methods(and others) are the only way to get the most beautiful prints possible. Over the past few years it seems that more and more people are returning to these traditional methods of printing, and for me the reasons are obvious.
I would like to thank M. Smith and P. Chamlee for their work with Kodak and Azo.
Since you have never seen a contact print I think that you should find a place where you can go and take a look. If you can't then maybe someone will send you one in exchange for one of your prints or something. If you ever do see a really good contact print you will understand! As far as 8x10 being big enough, it is. I however, now have 8x10, 11x14, and 12x20 and I find that the subject dictates which of these cameras is best to use. As for ease of handling, 8x10 and larger film is not hard. If you can handle print paper then you can handle big sheet film. The 12x20 takes a little more getting used to because of the long size, but it is not hard.
Thanks to Jorge for the brush information.