When we start in photography we believe that bigger is better. We want to print our work as massive pictures, something that really draws the attention of the viewer. The bigger the better. I printed some massive pictures, some good some very poor. As I progressed in my photography I discovered the power of small.
This power is hard to grasp at first. Much like negative space, it is something that is plainly obvious in its presence but hard to describe. My discovery of the power of a small print came from an exhibit of Joseph Sudek in Paris. I went to see my favorite photographer's work and was shocked to find that the prints that he made were tiny. I am talking the size of a medium format contact print.
As I sat there taking in the small print I realized something completely unexpected. I had taken a step forward, closer to the image. I was interacting with the image in a completely different way, and it moved me. I sat, looking at the work of this one-armed master, and felt as if he had printed it just for me.
I walked out of the exhibit mad. Mad that every book I have seen of his work made his prints so very large. They had detracted from the power of his work. They had made it somehow more industrial and less artistic. It was still magnificent photography, but the intimacy had been torn from the image.
For those who have not tried making a small print to send a bit message, you are missing out on true power. Last weekend I took this concept into the darkroom with me. I went in and made smaller prints than I have ever made before. The end result was smoother tonality, less grain and sharper overall prints. Placed in a large frame with a large mat the eye naturally pulls the image in, detail jumps out and you have an intimate moment with the viewer.
The power of the small print is very real. As an added bonus it takes less paper, chemical and indeed time to get it right. I do not suggest that all your prints should be small, just the ones that you want to emphasize.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.