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Wednesday, 23 November 2016


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Umm ... since when is photography one thing and art another?

Yes! I shoot many formats from 35mm up to and including 8x10 inch. I haven't printed bigger than 8x10 for years. 8x10 prints are easier to handle and store. My best way to enjoy them is to hold them in my hand.

I don't think giving art is a great idea unless you know the recipient really wants it. But you can give an 8x10 print to almost anybody. It can go in an album, framed for not much money, slipped into a book and forgotten. Event tossed if the recipient doesn't care for it. I don't expect to see an 8x10 I've given someone when I visit their house. But if I do see it on display, cool!

If you give a 16x20 print without knowing they really want it, you've given the recipient a problem. Where to put it. If you give it framed, where to hang it. Or where to hang it that won't offend me when I see it. If unframed, where does one keep an unframed 16x20 photo?

Photography's recent emphasis on big prints has two technological drivers. It's a lot easier to print big than it used to be, and a lot harder to print small. I haven't yet seen a digital printing technique that can hold its own for contact-sized prints.

I've noticed that many gallery photographers print one size too large. It looks like they keep upping print sizes until the image starts to fall apart. It's like raising the volume until you start to hear distortion. I find it visually grating, although no doubt some photographers do it consciously.

Though the size of photographs was, in the past, generally constrained by technical considerations that didn't apply to some other kinds of wall-hung art like painting and drawing, the sizes of those art forms *was* and still *is* constrained by human considerations involving wall sizes and viewing distances. A hundred years ago, rooms even in the homes of the wealthy tended to be smaller than those in contemporary homes (I suspect because of heating problems in large rooms, and to some extent by limitations in building materials.) Since World War II, walls of the wealthy have grown much larger, and require larger art. (Here comes the rant.) In that same period, much contemporary painting has begun to fill the function of wallpaper -- it is decorative, dramatic, and drained of any obvious meaning. You really don't want narrative wallpaper -- it would drive you crazy after a while, having the same story imposed on you day after day, and not being able to avoid it because of its size. Modestly sized wall-hung art can be ignored, when you want to ignore it, and therefore (IMHO) can address lots of issues that larger art can't. Unlike wallpaper, it's meant to be contemplated, rather than to simply decorate. In that way, photography and certain kinds of painting have a common and valuable ground.

I think a print is the right size when you can get lost in it. That's why I eventually make all different sizes, and see what happens. I make all the test prints 6.5" wide, centered portrait on an 8.5 x 11" sheet. Sometimes more than one. From there, it might be "TEG REGGIB, TEG REGGIB..."

Uh Oh, I probably could catch flak from Yee Editor, from some photographers and from some "artists". I place quotes around "artists" just to say, as I do to certain visitors to a gallery I am a member of, that we photographers are artist too!

I like my landscapes to have color and contrast and such to be natural or at least as I perceived them. I normally get focus and depth of field just as I want. But, as most of us know, the camera doesn't hand over the "natural" our eye sees on a silver platter. And furthermore, when I take a 16MP X-Pro 1 and shoot at high ISO in fading light and then blow the results up (after Photoshopping of course) to 24 x 36 inches for a flush mounted wall display - many visitors ask me, "Is that a painting?"

My answer is obvious but I am not in the least bothered by the question. It is because (for some of my work) my total process - from in the field choices (not always completely of my choosing), to what I do on the computer, and finally to what size I choose to print - results in a print with a "painterly" look. I like them! And when viewed from a few feet away, they still offer the perception of great detail and sharpness.

Ah, I'm still a "photographer". :-) Happy Thanksgiving!

Collectors tend to have bigger spaces to fill, too. Compared to me, at least.

For most of my time in film photogaphy, doing my own printing, 8x10 was close to an upper limit. It was, at least, a limit on what I could do conveniently. I did a few 11x14s, but I didn't stock the range of papers for that that I did for 8x10 so I was limited in what I could print. I believe I did one 16x20 print in my whole darkroom career—sponge processing on the plastic-coated wet bench. And never bigger than 8x10 in color (except from labs, and big prints were expensive).

And 8x10s are really too small for wall display in my houses. I displayed a lot of them because they were what I have, but they never felt actually big enough (and I was also displaying paintings here and there,which were always bigger).

I don't quarrel with your thesis that size in both photo art and art art have been driven by competitive forces between them, roughly as you explained; but I was also dissatisfied with 8x10 as the max print size I could do without special effort.

Reminds me of the saying about photography, which was likely stolen from a similar saying about painting, "If you can't make it good, make it big. If you can't make it big, make it in color"

Recently had the pleasure of seeing Sugimoto's "Last Supper" and "The Music Teacher" in the style of Vermeer at Pier 24 and Ruff's fabuluous work in museums at SFMOMA, as well as Learoyd's "After Ingres" .......Vera Lutter comes to mind as well

Long story short, yes their work exceeds traditional print work and is no longer bound by technical definitions, like a 35mm negative was good for such and print size, medium format a bit better amd so ..........today our work can go beyond these classic size restrictions in various techniques.

When you stand in the halls of Pier 24 for example and view Kendrik's large size portraits in the dutch style........you do notice that photography, the age old step child of painters is growing up severely and full of new energy. Learoyd's work for example uses the camera obscura, former technical aid to painters to create work that makes paintings fall into the step child role...........while inventing photography from the ground up.

Perhaps these photographers are artists with cameras, the work certainly is revolutionary in many ways. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

PS. Then we went on to Scott Gallery in the Geary 49 building and marveled over some fine and small Wynn Bullock pieces.......and really it all has it's strenghts and weaknesses and it is all good in the end. This increased bandwidth of photography techniques and uses do make our days most interesting indeed!

In support of the small print. I've been shooting portraiture on 8x10 film, doing hi-res scans, and then printing digitally smaller than the negative size for several years. The reduced images on small prints generate their own power. The sheer tonal physicality coupled with the subjects expressions often reverberate inside the frame of the "quiet" sized prints. Big schmig.

Have no problem with large prints, but these days to truly "make it," seems you not only have to have gallery representation- you have to be able to fill said gallery with wall sized prints. As you well know, that whole trend started in the mid seventies when large format color took control and small format 35mm was consigned to the dust bins of photo history.

Personally, I like prints of various sizes. A couple of years ago, there was a wall sized color print by Mitch Epstein hanging in SFMOMA right before one entered the Henry Wessel exhibit. It blew you away with its color, size and sheer majesty. How on earth were Wessel's "tiny" B&W prints gonna compete after that. Very well. His meticulously crafted, human sized prints were a joy to behold.

If photography should not (never) try to be art, pray tell, what is 'art' in that statement. You've made the distinction before on TOP but I am not sure you have ever written for us some kind of definition, challenging as that may be.

Not all photography is art of course. But in my book some of the photography made in any year since near the beginning of photography is art (and many artists, let's narrow this down to painters, would agree I believe).

Also, there are other reasons than photography for the evolution of painting in the last say 170 years. For example, symbolist art arose in different countries around the same time for reasons to do with the times in the late 1800's (decadent art being one aspect of it). The beginnings of abstract art, Dada and some other art movements starting around 1918 were a more or less direct response to the cataclysm and brutality of WW I. I have a sense that conceptual art came about for a number of reasons and am not sure that photography played such a great role... the same artists seem also to be prone to work on making conceptual art in photography.

Not trying to be argumentative, but this is what I understand about art in paintings and in photography. I think that painting's range since around the 1880's has become very broad and its different kinds have little in common with each other, other than using paint, usually paint brushes, and more or less the same surfaces. Isn't this true of photography? The range is arguably even vaster and what is in common is the equipment and materials. Different types of abstraction have been part of photography since its inception (discussed in, e.g., The Edge of Vision, by Lyle Rexer).

I don't mean to offend but I don't know what it would mean for photography to be itself, to me that is no more clear than painting should be itself, or sculpture should be itself, or fiction writing should be itself.

Continuing to appreciate and enjoy TOP daily,


I was at the National Portrait Gallery in DC once and saw "The Black List: Photographs By Timothy Greenfield-Sanders". The photos were 4x5 feet and came from 8x10 negatives. I left the show concluding "I gotta print big!" Around the corner there were some other photos by another famous photographer mostly 4x6 inhes, some 8x10s and up to 11x17 inches or so. "Man I gotta print small!"

I came to the conclusion that I had to print...

Grayson Perry's advice to artists: "you'll never have a good art career unless your work fits into the elevator of a New York apartment block"

This is a more pithy version of Amy Cappellazzo's quote (she works at Christies) in Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art World: "Anything larger than the standard dimension of a Park Avenue elevator generally cuts out a certain sector of the market".

Grayson Perry also asked Martin Parr how you distinguished an art photo from an ordinary one and Parr told him you could tell it was art if it was 'bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures'.

So there's an upper bound and a lower bound on the size of a art photograph 😀

Image from Grayson Perry Playing to the Gallery, the book from his Reith Lectures.

There used to be a satirical comment about photographs you'd sometimes hear (back in another century): "If you can't make it good, make it big; if you can't make it big and good, make it big and red." I still think it's hard to beat an 8x10 photograph that you can hold in your own two hands under good light.

A turkey, on the other hand, should be big enough for a week's leftovers.

I think of prints of different dimensions as distinctly different art forms.

Small prints need to offer an arresting image that you can take in at a single glance. At their best, they encourage more extended study (think of a Vermeer painting), but they really have to grab you right away to work at all. Drama is a critical element in an excellent small print.

Large prints need to be interesting enough at first glance to draw you in. After that, you move in closer to examine the detail and the photographer's craftsmanship. Obviously, there should be something about the fundamental image to pique your interest, but bigness can command attention in itself.

Really huge prints—e.g., panoramas that fill an entire wall—can be fairly mundane images as a whole if the parts are interesting. They are like traditional Chinese scroll art, which the viewer unrolls to reveal segments that form a sequence of scenes. A large-scale image of a cityscape, construction site, or forest may be fascinating in detail without being compelling overall.

I remember going to the AIPAD show about seven years ago and being struck by the large number of very large prints. I couldn't help but think the photographers (or dealers) were compensating for something with these huge prints: the fact that the prints would otherwise go unnoticed because, invariably, there was nothing there to see.

When I worked in photography in the 1940s, most prints were 8x10. We only printed larger sizes when there was a specific purpose for them. Photography was then considered as a trade or craft.
When I returned to photography in the 1990s, I was surprised to find photography as a subject in university art departments.

My personal interest in large prints has increased in inverse proportion to the decrease in the quality of my eyesight.

My brother in law is an Artist, he paints. I am a photographer I craft images in paper with chemicals. We are not the same, I am a Photographer he is an Artist, I produce photographs, he produces art. Photography is not ART, Photography is Photography, we should be proud of our craft.

I have a feeling that digital printing is pushing us to bigger print sizes. Recent digital cameras give us files with the kind of detail that would have meant pulling out the 4x5 when I was a TriX shooter. But that 4x5 neg printed at around 8x10 would have given me a print that I could stick my nose on and see as much detail as I liked, without seeing any artefacts such as grain or noise or dots. Now if my modern super-detailed digital file is printed smallish I get no noise or pixelisation artefacts from the camera, but if I stick my nose up to the print I can't see the kind unlimited detail I used to get from the silver print. I can see a kind of artefact from the printer which seems to limit the fine details in a small print. So the tendency is to print a bit bigger and discourage the viewer from sticking their nose right into it.

An artist makes use of their tools and my tools are light, composition, color, texture, surface, and more. A finished project reflects the creative choices I have made. I print some work big when asked (30x40" and larger), but most of the time I enjoy small prints.

I enjoy printing on small paper. A4 or A5 and even with a large white border around the photo...just my taste...

Just felt inclined to say how sorry I felt to hear of the death of David Hamilton, one of the greatest stylists of the second half of the past century, along with the late Sam Haskins.

Also, both are amongst the most copied, if never equalled.

It seems that both are on the not-so-brief list of photographers who chose their own moment to draw the line under their life.

Guess it also underscores the fact that even at the top, the photographic life doesn't aways guarantee utter bliss.

I enjoyed my visit to the Elton John photo collection show at the Tate Modern: it's an impressive collection, and the better for being focused on a particular period (I'm not sure about his taste in frames, though; but I guess they make a change from a sea of white or black frames). I particularly liked the Imogen Cunninghams - I wasn't aware of her work previously, and I'd like to see a bit more.

In terms of sizing, getting up close to these often very small small prints really adds something to the experience (something I was first conscious of when the Take Modern did a small show of tiny Harry Callahan prints - just exquisite). It made for an interesting contrast with the Abstract Expressionist show currently on at the Royal Academy in London, which I visited a few days before the Elton John and which I'd recommend highly. Some of those pictures (hello Clyfford Still, hello Jackson Pollock) are *enormous*... It's made me think a lot more about the arms race of photo print size (though I'm not convinced the prints from my new Instax are necessarily the answer to everything...).

Interesting indeed.

This is just a very tangential comment on a comment, so I will understand if you don't publish it. But reading 01af's spot on response to one aspect of your post, I was reminded of a pre-digital age text by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. What follows is a so-so translation of the "Preamble to the Instructions on How to Wind a Watch" that I found on the internet: "Think of this: When they present you with a watch they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren't simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it's a good brand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren't just giving you this minute stonecutter which will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you—they don't know it, it's terrible that they don't know it—they are gifting you with a new, fragile, and precarious piece of yourself, something that's yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of some­thing hanging onto your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it goes on being a watch; they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, some­one will steal it from you, it'll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of your trademark and the assurance that it's a trademark better than the others, they gift you with the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren't giving you a watch, you are the gift, they're giving you yourself for the watch's birthday."

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