|Thinking and Presenting...Small|
Photography is driven to a great extent by technology -- especially as contemporary photographers exploit the potentials and limitations of
digital photography. Better image quality -- whether in terms of
the total number of pixels available to render an image or the way that
processes inside and outside the camera manipulate those pixels -- is a
continuous quest. One of the informal ways we measure the output
quality of an imaging system or processing chain is by the ability to
produce large, aesthetically satisfying printed images -- typically in
the range of 11 x 14, 16 x 20, or 24 x 36 inches -- that rival the
quality obtained through traditional photographic processes. But
is that large-print-on-white-gallery-wall always going to address the
larger macro-aesthetic? Perhaps not.
The Inspiration: In 2005 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC mounted an exhibition of photographs by Hungarian André Kertécz (1894-1985). I had seem some of his early photographs in books and on the web, but I was surprised when I saw them in person. They were so small! Many, contact prints from small glass plates, were less than 2 x 3 inches. Even in that gallery-wall situation, you could not help but be physically drawn closer to the image. That experience got me thinking about ways to present small images -- images that would subtly shift the relationship between image and viewer. And so this project was born.
The Project: The goal of this project was to develop a methodology that will enable the photographer to produce and mount a series of small images in a portable format...Something the viewer holds in his/her hand. Looking at small images, held in the hand and at a very close viewing distance, changes the relationship we typically encounter in photographic and other visual arts. You're not standing in front of a white wall. You're not leaning over a coffee table book. Everything is in the palm of your hand...Or, in this case, you can expand the book on a surface to make a mini-gallery. We can probably agree that this is not a particularly effective means for delivering highly detailed or technically oriented photographs. But it is surprising how many photographs "survive" being printed and presented in a small format.
|One way to do it...
The book: The book I am using is a "Moleskine Japanese Album". It is a bound book with black oilskin cover material, secured by an elastic loop. The overall dimensions are about 3 5/8 x 5 5/8 inches. Inside the book are sixty (60) 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 zigzag folded pages of heavy acid-free paper. There is an expandable inner pocket inside the back cover. Expect to pay between $11 to $13 per book.
Printing: I use a Hi-Touch (or HiTi) 730 dye sublimation printer. This yields durable water- and fade- resistant prints. Of particular interest to bookmakers is the Hi-Touch sticker media, available in 4x6, 5x7, and 6x8 sizes (specify the "1x1" sticker, since others, such as "4x4" are die cut to make multiple images on little stickers). The sticker media has the advantage of already having adhesive. But more important, the actual plastic material that carries the image is very, very thin. Most photo paper and photo-quality paper for printers is at least as thick as the pages of this Moleskine album. This is important because the thicker the photo material, the more it will bulge out your book, and you will then need to delete some blank pages from the album to keep your album looking nice. If you don't have access to thin print media, then use what you have on hand, but consider temporarily attaching "dummy" prints to the album pages to get an idea how it will bulk out.
You should be able to fit four or five small photos onto a 6x8 inch master print. I usually make a new file in Photoshop, set the size and resolution to match my media and printer, and then copy appropriately resized photos into the new file, arranging them to fit. The individual prints are trimmed out of the master print by hand with knife and straight edge. You may want to consider coloring the background of this master print, especially if you are using black and white photos -- it makes lining up the straight edge for cutting easier.
Picture Size and Mounting: I started out with a few rules: (1) The longest dimension of any photo is 3 inches; (2) all photos are centered on the page left-right; and (3) all photos are mounted 1 inch below the top edge of a page. That said, you can make any "rules" you want for your book...The whole point of using this small medium is to explore ways of changing the communication between artist and viewer. (The reason I decided to limit the longest dimension to 3 inches is to make the visual mass more uniform from page to page.)
To help me mount the photos I used a small miter box to trim the ends from a 6-inch C-THRU B-50 ruler. The ruler is now 3 1/2 inches long -- 1 3/4 inches each way from the center. To align the photo onto the paper you can hold the ruler to the top edge of the page and draw a faint pencil line, or clamp the ruler to the page and use the ruler itself as an alignment tool.
You can also attach one of your photos to the cover of the book, but the adhesive used with the Hi-Touch media is not super-effective on the Moleskine oil cloth. This is an area for further experimenting.
Other Options: I welcome you to break the "rules" I've used with my projects. A series of portraits, vertically oriented, could certainly be larger than my prints. Or turn the book sideways and display a series of landscapes. Or figure something else out. (A friend suggested running panoramic photos across two pages. I'm not sure how to deal with the fold, but...)
If you like the idea of photo books, but the small size doesn't appeal to you, take a look at Innova Digital Art's Opus Albums. They utilize high quality pre-hinged and punched papers that combine with sturdy covers and a slipcase.
13 December 2009