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.
Try 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!
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