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Intimacy of Space with Small Pictures

There is a certain WOW factor with large photographs on a gallery or museum wall. But the older I get the more I’m drawn to the way small pictures (8″ x 10″ prints and often half that size) draw me into that intimate space where the experience of the photograph seems to be heightened.

Yes, a landscape can make your jaw drop when it spawns from the bowels of a large format camera and spread as a vista in its own right across a gallery wall. And so can a portrait where every pore of the subject’s face gets bared for the viewer. But sometimes, many times, I’m left with a feeling that if size is needed to awe me into submission then perhaps the photographer has missed the point. The simple beauty of that landscape as a contact print, for me, is usually enough.

Everybody else might be happy. I just have a sneaking suspicion large photographs make us go WOW because we don’t see them often.

An example jumps to mind… A few years ago I was a jury picked finalist in a mixed media art award (not something I’m normally interested in doing) and the winning image from a room of wonderful paintings, jewellery, sculpture and etching just happened to be a deadpan perfect digital print of a photograph – a top view of a clean kitchen sink. Had the photograph been smaller, would it have got the time of day; let alone $10,000 prize money for a professional studio? Did it impress because it took nearly half an end wall in that limited space?

And I see this quite a bit at galleries and art school exhibitions. Girl sitting on the side of a single bed, sullen, twenty feet across the image. WOW. But as time goes on I’m quietly thinking “And so bloody what!?” Surely there’s more to photography than being able to afford $1000+ printing costs.

I’ve grown fond of the idea that anything can be used to photograph anything as long as the photographer is intuitive enough to play to the strength of the technology in hand.

But mostly I’m fascinated by how a well crafted small photograph can draw me into its space on a gallery wall and talk to me as an individual. This is akin to the intimacy of a kiss. For just a little time I’m the only one. Yes, I know how corny and crappy that sounds; but, in contrast, many of those super-sized gallery prints seem to be only average photographs – gratuitous masturbation of wall space to impress the WOW-crowd. If it’s big, it’s awesome.

Occasionally I see big and awesome. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s a rare photograph. And when I’m walking the boards around a gallery with a red wine in hand I’m after a sweet kiss, not a strip joint neon sign overselling their value proposition.

Although, perhaps I’m just getting old, cynical and grumpy. That happens, too.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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