What’s the Big Idea?
Photographer Paul Strand once said that he liked the concept of putting a big idea into a small picture. That has resonated with me, and for many reasons, I, too, have come to embrace the beauty of the small print. I feel that the intimacy of a small print draws the viewer in. It invites them to come near and gaze closely at the picture, noticing the details and nuances in a more deliberate way. It presents the artist’s “big idea” in an elegant, concise way that is manageable for the viewer.
Of course, the popular thing in galleries right now is super large prints. Digital photography lends itself to large prints, making the manipulation and printing of these much easier. Most galleries are showing oversized prints both in color and black & white. These can have a powerful presence, and fill the room with their “big idea” in a very overt way. Though I sometimes feel alone in my love for small prints, I feel that this big, showy photography often tends to put off the viewer, making them feel overwhelmed by and separate from the image presented.
Another, more practical reason to make small prints is that it uses a whole lot fewer materials, and in this era of conservation, we need to consider this, for both ecological and financial reasons. Materials have become scarcer and can sometimes be toxic to the environment, and I feel that making small prints is my contribution to ‘going green’ in my work.
Mostly, though, I love the way a small print looks and feels. Small prints get my big ideas across very nicely.
I think the issue of size is a factor that has played to the art market, (i.e Andreas Gursky, Peter Lik, etc.) on the very large end, and it has received much publicity. However, there are many fine art photographers who are still presenting new work as they have for the last forty or fifty years and their work is much sought after. Certainly Michael Keena as mentioned above and also David Plowden from the same generation but also newer photographers like Masao Yamamoto whose miniature silver prints, many smaller than a post card are fabulous little jewels and are often gallery hung unframed so the viewer can appreciate up close. Truly amazing.
Small prints are often challenging to place and enjoy on walls (in homes). I enjoy being in bed or seated across the room from an image and admiring it, this is hard with small prints.
especially since I tend to include many details in my images. But where someone can spend time in close proximity, I much prefer the natural, intimate, conversation of a small print and viewer over the close examination of a large print. I find large prints fall apart as one gets closer. A small print is more likely to draw someone in more and reveal more and more.
Mies Van Der Rohe famously said, “Less is more.” Later, Robert Venturi quipped, “Less is a bore.” Neither is inherently wrong. To me, what is interesting is one’s artistic deliberation and subsequent execution of intent. I like where you are going, Ray. It makes perfect sense and I know you’ll continue to make beautiful, intimate work of a very high standard.
I have to say that I agree with you to some extent and disagree as well. I feel that if an artist is dialed in to what they are doing size of the final is part of their thought process. Making large or small as part of an art gimmick is read as such by the sophisticated viewer. I’ve seen intimate drawings by Monet and normal sized paintings as well as paintings that took up an entire wall. And, they all worked as masterpieces of art. From the magnitude of photography I have had the pleasure of seeing in some very fine venues I personally do not believe that most of the artists at these venues who present their photography large are doing so just for “show”. Now on the other hand, I have seen frequently at a local gallery too often photographers who thumb tack large prints to the wall which are heavily pixelated with obvious printer or scanner lines….. I don’t even know what that’s about. And it doesn’t work unless somehow that is supposed to be a component of the final piece. But 99% of the time that is not the case.
Boy, do I agree with Ray! I believe that Michael Kenna does go as big as 10×10 but still…. Several years ago Kenna and three other photographers did a program at the Tacoma Art Museum. Kenna went first. The unfortunate guy who followed kind of ruefully started with “Those are the biggest little prints I’ve ever seen.” Mitch Dobrowner photographs thunderstorms on the great plains — he photographs huge objects and his huge prints are stunning. Apart from all the other points Ray makes there is also the issue: if you don’t have a ready market for them, what the heck do you do with 30×40 matted prints?
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