I was recently talking to a friend, who is also a fine-art photographer, about print sizes. His prints are quite small (in the 5 x 7in range) and he expressed his annoyance at how the market value of photographic prints, paintings as well I’m sure, is so closely tied to their size (larger works cost exponentially more than smaller ones). This got me thinking about the unforeseen consequences of choosing your work’s size. Having printed large (50 x 40in) for the first time with my previous project, there were several unexpected surprises. Now that I’m working on a new show, there are many new factors I’m considering when deciding on print sizes, that weren’t on my radar before.
I have arranged the various factors at play from most to least important for when I decide the size of my work. However, it’s is almost a push and pull affect with many competing factors.
Production – Production encompasses a lot of aspects, but in essence it is everything required to produce the piece. Some of the things this includes are: cost, availability of materials, transportation, storage, etc. One thing that caught me completely off guard with my last project was that I couldn’t fit more than one or two prints in any regular car or van. This greatly raised the cost associated with the work as I had to rent trucks every time I wanted to move a piece somewhere. Production is the most important because it is the only point that has real constraints that will impact the size of work you can make.
Life Size – This is a bit more personal, but I feel that intuitively, a works printed size should somewhat relate to the subjects size in real life. For example; a photograph of a mountain should be bigger than a portrait of a person, and the portrait should be larger than a photo of an insect. There are countless examples to contradict this, but it seems to me that this is generally my desire when viewing work. Larger landscapes are contain more detail and thus, to see all the details that make it interesting, I wish the print to be larger.
Perception – Perception is how viewers react to the work as a result of it’s size. For example; I want viewers of my work to feel as if they’re themselves in the space. Having a large print, one that they can’t take in all at once, helps in this regard. I think this can very easily become a gimmick such as small prints feel precious, large prints are overpowering, or, to use different example, black and white prints feel nostalgic. For me it’s important not to fall into such trickery to the point that the print’s size is doing all of the communicating. The size of the work should add to the image, but not take the central role.
Environment – Another important aspect is what context the work will be shown in. Less wall space in a gallery might mean you print images smaller to fit in all the images you want in. On the other hand it might be beneficial to include several large images if you have the space.
Market Value – I’m a bit torn on market value. While it’s true that larger work garners larger price tags, if you’re making honest work you shouldn’t be concerning yourself with the market value until after it’s complete. I also think that the disparity in pricing is much more prevalent with younger artists. Once you’re name is established, value is assigned based more on your reputation rather than the size of your work. This can also be circumvented by releasing differently sized editions of your work.
I’d love to hear what goes into your decisions when choosing to print your work a certain size. In my last show all of the prints we’re of a uniform size but I think the next time around the sizes will vary print to print quite a bit. I feel that this will not only create a more dynamic experience for the viewers but will also make more sense to have the size based on the content of each image rather than a base default.
Please share your thoughts on this in the comments. How big do you print (or paint) your work? What made you print at that size? What are some of the issues / concerns associated with different sizes? Let us know.
Image: Installation view of Andreas Gursky’s Gagosian show.