I am of the belief that a photograph isn’t truly a photograph until it is a print. Perhaps I am “stuck in the past.” Nonetheless, to me, making a print is the final step in the photography workflow without which the image cannot becomes the object it is meant to be. When trying to produce the best rendering of the picture – a true surrogate of the world I photographed – I find that looking at the print, rather than viewing it on a screen, best shows me what needs tweaking. I can then re-process and re-print.
If you’ve read my blog you know that I have been taking photos at the Salton Sea, in California, for nearly three years now. After the first two trips, I began making 4″x6″ prints so that I could easily pin them on my wall and move them around – to live with them, if you will. Over time, I experimented with various printing paper to get the right “feel of place” that worked with the image, colour palette, and light. Paper choice was critical and I ended up producing 5″x7″ proofs on bright, matte paper. Through this process I also realised that intimacy was key to viewing the work and decided that I would make most of my prints no larger than this.
The point of a small picture is the sense of privacy it affords the viewer. Only one person at a time can move in close to see it. The picture becomes a metaphor for an interior space. Small photos feel more personal; they remind us of old family albums, where we can touch and hold the pictures so that our senses are filled with memory.
However, for numerous reasons, I recently experimented with printing this body of work larger. Though it should have come as no surprise I was struck by how much more detail I could see with the bigger print. This inevitably led me to experiment with larger and still larger prints, until the photos felt as though I could almost walk into them. Despite their intimacy, small prints simply could not create that feeling.
Scale clearly affects how the image is viewed, the degree of depth that can be seen, and the emotional impact it elicits. The physicality of larger prints seems to place the images into the physical world and allow them breathing room – encouraging the viewer to both move further back and closer in. Yet, much as too-small pictures may actually become lost, too-large prints run the risk of being dominant.
Thus, a next step for me is to print bigger again and play with various sizes of sequenced photos – to see how the body and mind react to and perceive their placement together.
It has been a gradual learning process for me. Finding the appropriate scale for the pictures , along with the tools I use as a photographer (from camera to computer to printing paper), helps create the photograph as an artifact and contributes to the tangible experience of viewing the final print.