Little Jewels

Some years back, I was fortunate enough to take in an André Kertész exhibition here in Los Angeles (I can hear a few readers saying “who in the heck is André Kertész?” Photographers: Please do yourself a favor and learn about him and his work). Beyond the brilliance of his photographs, what struck me most about the exhibition was just how small the prints were. Kertész worked with mostly hand-held small(er) format cameras, and either contact printed his negatives (contact prints are the same size as the original negative) or made very small enlargements (what we might today call “tiny”). What I learned from that experience was that by their very nature, small prints command the viewer to move in, get close, and enjoy a very personal experience with the print (I again experienced a similar sensation a few years later at an Edward Weston exhibition; his, too, were mostly 8×10″ contact prints). On the contrary, large prints have the unintended consequence of moving the viewer away from the image, both physically and possibly emotionally. Indeed, some images can be printed massively and will still dominate the viewers emotions and attention, but I’d suggest that this is more the exception than the norm.

Little JewelsTry this experiment with your own photographs. Printed small, every one of them becomes like a little jewel. I recently made an 11-print sale (all framed); six large, five small. Very small! These five were custom sized to fit very specific bookshelf spaces. Mind you, I make small proof prints all the time, but it’s a wholly different experience to make such small prints and then to frame them as the finished product! These five are finished with hand-oiled solid walnut frames, and I was taken with their tiny beauty (photo at left). Despite their diminutive size, one is commanded to move close, hold the frames, and carefully inspect all the details (right down to the framing). NO large print has ever moved me the same way. I learned this first from that Kertész exhibition, and I am reminded of it again today with my own small pieces.

I write all this as my largest-ever print (34×80″; yes, that’s 7 feet wide!) is currently at my finishing lab awaiting treatment!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.


10 thoughts on “Little Jewels

  1. Michael,

    congrats on the super-sized print! Which of your images, if I may ask?

    As I think back to the “old days” in the darkroom, 11×14 was big. I guess the increasingly large sizes are at least a result of the “because we can” factor of inkjets for the home/prosumer market.

    Glad to see your workshops are associated with Chamonix cameras as well.


  2. THANKS, Rick!

    Summer Monsoon, although it is being customized/cropped to fit a specific space and environment, and the print will be mounted on aluminum. I will feature a blog post about this piece when it is complete.

    No doubt, because we can. But it’s not just inkjet: the Lightjet printers have been around for a long time and capable of printing large silver halide, but at a much greater cost than inkjet.

    I’m happy to have Chamonix’s sponsorship; I believe that they are one of the best cameras currently available (especially for the money).

  3. Small prints are often highly sought after by collectors, particularly if they are silver prints over 30 years old and especially if they are contact prints. Printing small is another way to stand out. When I contacted the Monterey Museum of Art, I asked the staff the description of the prints they have by my father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde. I also asked them generally what size most of the prints in their collection are. The archivist wrote back that most of the prints in their collection are 16X20 and 20X24 or larger. Only Dad and Edward Weston had 4X5, 5X7 and 8X10 contact prints in the permanent collection. Small is beautiful too.

  4. Congrats on the sale, MG!

    I’ve recently gone to printing 8x10s from the 4×5, and I really like it. I used to be adamant about printing 11x14s, but find the smaller image much more accessible by hand.

    Not to start a war, but I recently had a workmate comment on how much more detail there was in a 4×5 enlarged to 8×10 vs her digital camera. I thought that was a hoot. She’s a beginning ‘tog, so maybe she hasn’t learned all the tricks yet (do we ever?) 🙂 So, it would seem LF shines in smaller prints too!


  5. Thanks for commenting, Laurent!

    Personal opinions run the gamut, of course, and I can clearly see the differences in formats at ALL print sizes. Regardless of how small I intend to print an image, the view camera is still the right choice for my work.

  6. Thank you for this post, Michael, excellent points. Small is definitely beautiful and I share the attraction of the close, personal connection you develop with the smaller print. Never even dreamt of printing as big as you mention above, but I have done my share of 20x24s and it surprised me how much positive feedback I got on a series of 8x8s I did last year.

    Obviously big prints do require quality input, but I find this propels the preconception that small prints are therefore ‘not in the same league’. Perhaps, apart from the points you mentioned, it stems also from the fact that the general public all used to have 4×6 and 6×8 etc prints in family albums (that is when folk actually printed their family snaps!) and big prints were the domain of a dedicated amateur or a professional?

    Whatever the case, hopefully your post might help change a few mindsets…


  7. I love the idea of small prints. I recently completed a series of photos that I printed at just 3″ square. The idea of framing them for placement in a bookcase is one I may just borrow from you. I can’t wait to find, or make, the perfect frames for them.

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