How big is this photograph?

January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

This Kodak camera from the turn of the last century produced negatives that measured five inches by seven inches. These negatives were placed in contact with pieces of photographic paper to produce prints. Since this was before enlarging equipment, pretty much all you could make with this camera was 5×7 prints. Later, cameras produced negatives that could be “blown up” in an enlarger to make prints of various sizes, up to several feet on a side. But no matter what camera or film you used, the size of the resulting print was always an important decision, one that was affected by where the photo was going to appear . . . family album, newspaper, magazine, art gallery, etc.

These are still important decisions, even though many photographers now make their images electronically. The ultimate use for photographs still dictates electronic file sizes. But since virtually all of my photographs appear on the Web, it recently occurred to me that I don’t know any more what “size” my pictures are. The decision about whether to make 4×5 or 8×10 or 11×14 or 16×20 inch prints used to be a constant juggle between end-use, cost, and aesthetics. Now, however, these pictures appear as roughly 3×5 on my small laptop screen, much smaller on my iPhone, bigger (possibly) on some of your desktop monitors, and in fact they could be huge if one of you chooses to view them on a big, wall-mounted plasma unit.

Having come of photographic age in the print era, it’s a little disorienting to suddenly have to set aside these considerations. But in the end, I’m much more interested in participating in this incredible electronic distribution system where my photographs can be seen all over the world, no matter how big they are.




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