Maybe it's a projection of a personal bias, but I believe I detect a trend: A mini-revival of large-format film photography.
It may have started at PMA last month, but has probably been going on for longer. First came the news right before the show that Kodak was introducing large-format versions of its popular Ektar 100 print film, an emulsion that Kodak claimed was the finest grained color print film in the world. Could you imagine the print quality an 8x10 sheet of this stuff could produce?
Then came PMA itself. Shen Hao, (see cameras that they had on display at PMA, below) which has apparently been making these cameras for a while, made its first appearance at PMA, sharing booth space with its distributor, Seagul. These all-wood, hand-crafted field cameras were gorgeous and looked to be practical marvels. Just about half a football field away from Shen Hao was Arca Swiss, which introduced its RL3d 4x5 technical camera, a finely crafted model with a modular design that can accomodate any film format from medium format up to 4x5, as well as digital backs of all flavors.
There it is: A mini-revival of large-format film and cameras! Is there any market for this stuff any more? Didn't the digital revolution kill it?
Is anybody using this stuff?
I know of at least one area where large format film is still welcome, and that is in the area of fine-art photography.
Starting this Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, AIPAD, will stage its 30th annual show, where more than 70 fine-art photography galleries will show museum-quality work, from contemporary photography through 20th and 19th century classic (can we call photography classic yet?) photography. Monica Cipnic, who runs Workshops@Adorama and who makes it her business to have her finger on the pulse of the world of photography, is an AIPAD regular.
One of the observations Monica has made to me in recent years is that the size of exhibit prints is growing, to the point where they rival paintings in size. They've busted out of the 8x10, 11x14 or even 16x20-inch frame and now can be measured in feet. For fine-art photography dealers and buyers, it seems, size matters.
I asked Monica for her thoughts on this matter, and here's what she says:
“Large scale photographic prints--sometimes the size of billboards-- have been on the fine art scene for well over the past decade. With the advent of new technologies that allowed the large scale printing (some of which had originally been developed for billboards and such) contemporary photographers have been able to produce prints that their creative imagination envisioned. Most of us have seen these large scale prints in museums and gallery settings, where space is not an issue, and collectors have definitely been interested in these large prints.
“With this month's annual AIPAD Show in New York arriving next week, it will be very interesting to see how many galleries show large scale prints--the setting in the Park Avenue Armory may determine how big a print they can display in their booths.
“I always look forward to attending the AIPAD Show and have been to probably all of them. I specifically go to see what the trends are, discover what new photographers are being shown, and see the classic and vintage prints on display. Last year's show had a strong complement of both contemporary and vintage work, and in speaking with many of the gallery directors at the show, it was a successful show for them, and I expect the same will be true this year.”
Take the work of Alberado Morell, whose work (see sample at right) was featured last year. He turns rooms into huge Cameras Obscura, with the image of what's outside projected onto its walls, then photographing those projected images in those rooms and making huge prints. 50x60-inch prints are typical; large format film and cameras are necessary to get the clarity needed. Barry Fryldlender prints his wide panoramic street photos on 26x108-inch paper.
That's just a two examples. All of these artists were shown at last year's show and were represented by well-known galleries. If a photo is being shown at a gallery, they expect that it will sell, and for prices that rival those of paintings.
If large prints are selling well (and commanding high prices), then it would make sense that the photographers creating the works would have a need for finer-grain film from which they could make the highest quality prints.
If you're a creative photographer pondering your next project, and are in New York, I believe it would be in your interest to go to AIPAD and see what the dealers are selling and what collectors are buying. Yeah, I know. You'd rather starve and be true to your creative principles. Good luck with that. But if you are serious about finding the balance between personal creativity and commercial success in the fine-art world, go to the show and check out what the competition. AIPAD is a perfect opportunity to do that.
And, perhaps, you will decide that it makes sense to invest in a large-format camera and fine-grained color film.