Contemplating Format

Why Large Format?

Simple enough question. Asked often enough that there are a string of readymade answers.

  • forces me to slow down and become a better photographer
  • largeformat is a state of mind
  • i never choose easy things
  • for the image quality // lack of grain, more detail..
  • because anyone can take a photo with a …

Is it contemplative or contemptuous? how big to make it meaningful? Are they defenders or defensive? Maybe just format phonies riding EZ Bake answers to a very slow pace.

contemplation isn’t an emulsion

In the days of silver, training began with the view camera, progressing to the 35 & 120 rollfilm cameras. In this century, learning photography begins with a cellphone, or DSLR. Within the Fine Art Schools, those stand alone places not sharing a quad, courtyard, bookstore with a business or engineering school, photography often includes a darkroom section. If the school maintains a studio interest, then it will teach the view camera. The studio is the natural habitat of the view camera. Photography was born indoors, looking out a window.

size is mobility; flexibility; durability

Paint in Tubes

“Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism.”


The French impressionists worked directly, often without sketches. They favored bright color and strong texture. The range of color and immediacy of work would not have happened using the Renaissance mode of paint making; grind small amounts, putting excess into a ‘skin’ sealed by ‘spike.’ This method meant that the act of painting was slowed. Mix paint color by color. Even though industrial chemists had perfected more colors, they weren’t used widely, certainly not in the field.

John Rand provided the solution that set painting free. More colors that could be stored; even carried into the field for use by artists ready to explore topics beyond their studio window. Painting now is done using brighter colors, intermixed in the field; entire paintings being done using the entire surface and an enriched palette. Painting was changed when the painters used, and improved upon, the tools available.

Film in Rolls

Dickson, an employee of Edison, split 70mm film in two providing the movie industry more film for longer running scenes; and more takes. We got more accomplished directors and scripts. Stills got the 35 mm camera.

Oskar Barnack revising the exposure device from motion pictures into the 35mm still camera; first called the Ur-Leica. 1934, Kodak produces preloaded 35mm cassettes. Photography has its paint in tubes. We are now portable. Catching up to painters, once again.

Are we there yet?

Is there a Hierarchy of Formats which replace the Hierarchy of Genres? I hope not. There are certainly those who hold that big film deserves more respect. These are those with the belief that difficulty is the measure, maybe the only measure, of art, or at least valuable photographs. This isn’t a typical viewpoint of photographers trained in an art school. It seems the standard of those self trained “seekers of the light,” “adherents to long standing traditions.”

The format isn’t the Forum, where there is a persistent hierarchy of skill: harder is better; with the belief that the process is the hardest part. And the tradition they blindly follow has a source author who wrote:
Take my word for it, technique is not the difficult thing in art. Any reasonably capable youth can readily master all of the technical problems in existence in a few short months, but it requires many a long weary year to learn to see.” 1909