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April 18, 2004

Big Prints, the Art-Making Impulse, and Time-Motion Panoramas

One unmistakable aspect of photographs in most contemporary venues these days is their size: they seem to be getting bigger (and bigger and bigger), if my experience with AIPAD and especially the Armory show recently are any indication. You know things are getting out of hand when you see a 40x50 Sarah Moon toned print (as I did at AIPAD) and it actually feels small. The New York Times has an article on this phenomenon, "Why Photography Has Supersized Itself" (registration required). Here's one representative excerpt regarding Joel Sternfeld, whose landmark book "American Prospects" has just been reissued:

Joel Sternfeld first exhibited his series "American Prospects" at the Daniel Wolf Gallery in New York in 1980. The prints were 16 by 20 inches and 20 by 24 inches. This same body of work was shown last fall at the Luhring Augustine Gallery in prints that were 45 by 52 inches. Several years ago, Mr. Sternfeld had the original 8-by-10 negatives electronically scanned as a way to preserve them; the process also enabled him to make the larger prints on finer paper with better control over tone, sharpness and clarity. "We're at a tipping point," he said recently. "The digital print is becoming the look of our time, and it makes the C-print start to look like a tintype."


"Pumpkins" Joel Sternfeld image -- here's a classic shot that actually deserves to be blown up as big as possible

Because I've been out of commission the last few days, I've been delinquent in thanking everyone who's emailed me or commented here or linked to this blog. Thanks a ton to everyone (and I am just starting to catch up with email)...thanks especially to Marja-Leena and Rachael (whose blog has become one of my favorite working artist journals...it's no small trick to make others *feel* your passion as you work through your art, as Rachael does). Both women have chimed in thoughtfully on the question of "why make art?" on their own blogs, as well as commenting on the art-making impulse (along with a score of other artists) on Danny Gregory's blog "Everyday Matters".

Finally, I just got the new issue of Ag Magazine (probably only accessible to UK readers, since I have never seen this magazine anywhere in the US, unless you subscribed through Amazon like I did). The latest issue is just as enjoyable as the first one, which I wrote about in my blog a while back -- combination of fine art photography coverage, criticism, and darkroom and digital technique, with all of it being well-written and comprehensive. It includes yet another article on Daido Moriyama (as with the Modern Painters article, written in anticipation of the Moriyama retrospective at the Shine Gallery). It appears Ag really liked his recent exhibition in Paris last November. An excerpt:

"'One of the best photography shows I've ever seen.' Several people at Paris Photo last November were heard to say this about the...exhibition...including, incidentally the man who largely inspired Moriyama, William Klein. Depending on who said it, this remark was possibly a reaction to the show's presentation, which was exemplary, or to a body of work they were faced with for the first time -- one of the major bodies of photographic work in our time (and I don't say that lightly)."

Ag seems to feature at least one lesser-known photographer in every issue that catches my attention -- last issue it was Laurence Demaison, this issue it's Ansen Seale. Seale uses a chronoscope, a rotating digital vertical slit camera he designed originally for the production of 360 degree panoramas, except he's disabled the turning motor...and as a result, he's created surrealistic images that depict a series of moments in time through a distorted sequence of representations across the frame. The images are playful, artful, and oddly tranquil, and according to Seale, there's no post-processing or Photoshop trickery...all the effects are in the camera. The neatest paradox about Seale's time-motion images is that only moving objects register distinctly and clearly...static objects render as repeated lines and tend to smear.

Best of all, he has reasonably large images on his website, though I can't find an explanation of his technique on the site, oddly enough. Go check them out. (UPDATE: the explanation of his technique can be found at one of his galleries here. Thanks to the folks who went out of their way to actively point me to this information).


"Interference Pattern Detail", Anson Seale image

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Coincidences posted an interesting article about "Big Prints, the Art-Making Impulse, and Time-Motion Panoramas" that has prompted me to add some comments on his blog and here. The extra large digitally printed photographs that we now see in galleries ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2004 1:42:07 PM


Thank you for the mention!

A couple of comments:

These extra large digital prints that we now see have become possible with the growth of very large, high quality archival inkjet printers at a more reasonable price ( but still not cheap) than the original giclee printers of a few years ago. It has really opened up the possibilities for artists as well as the photographers you have mentioned.

As a photo-based printmaker, I find I am more interested in the photographers that have a unique way of "making" (not quite the word I want) their images, whether it's with an unusual camera technique or with PhotoShop. It's like the hand of the artist at work, beyond what the camera does.

Thanks again for your interesting blog!

Posted by: Marja-Leena at Apr 18, 2004 12:10:27 PM

PS. Conscientous mentions Seale (via your site) and also has Seale's artist statement at: http://www.photographyasartgallery.net/artists/seale/

Very interesting technique!

Posted by: Marja-Leena at Apr 18, 2004 10:40:00 PM

About the square meter photography:

It is interesting how the outside world influences us. Not only we expect BIG photos, but we want to do it, also. (and it is so expensive...)

Posted by: António at Apr 19, 2004 5:22:58 AM

Hi Antonio and Marja-Leena,

Thanks for commenting. The phenomenon of big and bigger prints is obviously not new, but it's really reached new heights (and widths) with digital printing...and you're right, Antonio, it makes us all curious to try it too. But how do so many artists with limited means afford this? I was under the impression that most galleries still prefer smaller books or CDs when they review portfolios, but do they now expect 30x40 or 50x60 prints as part of the review? Do artists now show up at those portfolio review seminars with massive portfolios? It doesn't seem convenient, and it's certainly not cheap, even with the falling prices of inkjet printers.

Posted by: Robert at Apr 19, 2004 11:12:39 AM

whoa, that is so original.. i like that

Posted by: pat at Apr 21, 2004 12:51:48 PM

About the Big Print i think that we are seing a boom, because wile it is still expensive, it is at the reach of more and more people.

We should do it, but only if the work asks for it.
It should have an extra value in our perception, not just the size.

Posted by: Mário at Apr 30, 2004 1:41:43 PM