In photography, size seems to be an important issue.  The big photographic canvas is popular and gallery space is increasingly catering for the large photographic print.  And they often pack a punch.  I was struck with some of the images at the Power Finalists’ Exhibition (Prix Pictet, http://www.prixpictet.com/events/finalists-exhibition-saatchi/) at the Saatchi Gallery – an exhibition worth seeing, it finishes this Sunday – where many of the prints, probably the majority, are on a large and impressive scale.  Compare this with, say, Eyewitness:  Hungarian photography in the twentieth century – an exhibition held last year at the Royal Academy featuring photographs by Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy and Munkácsi – where the majority of prints were relatively small, often exquisite, compositions.  There is probably a strong market now, encouraged by the main galleries, in the larger print, influences which photographers in the earlier parts of the twentieth century were probably unaffected by.   My view is, certainly as a starting point, the classic 8×10 inch print is difficult to beat.

The choices we make for the size of negative, however, may determine certain parameters to a photographic project, so perhaps we need first to decide on what the best form of communication is for the particular ideas we have.  A large sized negative will of course mean a large camera, which can be heavy, bulky and difficult to move around with.  But what can be better than a larger negative for the big print, with all the wonderful detail displayed in dazzlingly crisp precision.  It can be frustrating when you want to go big on a 35mm negative, or crop and expand a particular part of it, only to find that there isn’t enough resolution to produce a print of quality.  And yet the 35mm camera is so versatile, and easy to handle:  I rediscovered mine recently travelling in France, having been using a medium format camera for some time, and am again in thrall to the compact ease and versatility of its use.   The other day I was asked what size negatives can be developed in the darkroom, and the answer is really anything between 35mm to 5×4 inches. Doing a little research, I  discovered that negatives can go a lot bigger than 5×4… to 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, 20×24, 36×36 and even to a whopping 48×48 inch.  At that point, the darkroom enlarger probably becomes a side issue and you’re just looking to do 1:1 contact prints!  I don’t think the darkroom could handle that at the moment, but we could always try!

 

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