Although many believe that large photographic prints are a recent phenomenon in photography, this exhibition reveals otherwise. In fact, the drive to create ever larger images has intrigued and motivated photographers from the medium’s earliest years. It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, that prints began to increase in size. Photographers like William Henry Jackson (1843–1942) used mammoth glass-plate negatives to capture images of the grand landscapes of the American West—a subject that called for large-scale depiction.
In the twentieth century, with the advent of photographic enlargers, the size of photographic prints grew bigger still. Photographers like Ansel Adams (1902–1984) and Margaret Bourke White (1904 1971) understood that larger photographs resulted in a distinctive shift for the viewer. Such photographs, they realized, allowed for close examination of details while simultaneously compelling viewers to engage with the work’s expansive physical presence.
Today, photographers continue to use ever larger prints to increasingly draw the viewer into the image, creating a unique and powerful personal experience. The 40 works in Big Pictures, drawn largely from the museum’s extensive holdings, date from 1867 to photographs made in recent years by artists such as Richard Misrach (b. 1949) and Abelardo Morell (b. 1948). Together, the works in this exhibition reveal a decades-long movement to make dramatic enlargements that sharply influence viewer interaction and interpretation.
This exhibition is supported in part by an anonymous donor.