Tag Archives: large format equipment

Is there a large format aesthetic?

Reading the odd commentary I have come across the term large format or even 8×10 aesthetic. Is there really such a thing?

The answer seems yes and no. Similar to perhaps Leica [35mm] aesthetic there are photographs that exhibit a certain common characteristic. However, it seems implausible that this can be attributed alone to the choice of format or camera used, although there is an undeniable influence simply due to the practicalities involved.

Obviously, certain cameras, format or technology lends itself to a certain kind of picture-taking because it practically facilitates the capture to take place with the properties desired by the photographer. For large format this could be fine detail or extended gradation of grays, the lack of converging verticals or an arbitrary positioning of the plane of sharpness that only a view camera can do. In the case of a small format handheld camera, again the properties could be use in locations where the use of a tripod would be impractical or a generally “looser” style of picture taking.

But it seems wrong to then reconnect the result with the method of how the image was produced. While you may certainly find a lot of large format photographs that look like they have been taken with such a camera, it is not necessarily the case that they look the way they do because they were taken using large format equipment. It just may be the case that a lot of practitioners happen to arrive at the same end result, either by intention or by having seen other large format works subscribing to such an aesthetic and then trodding down the same path and producing derivatives assuming that this is what such work is supposed to look like.

Technical constraints or obvious artefacts aside, there is nothing imperative about a format or method of capture defining the end result. This connection is made afterwards resulting in what is in my view an undesirable self-affirming feedback loop. A lot of images made with a particular camera or format could also be created with another format and the viewer would never know the difference, neither should that be obvious from the photograph at the first place. Then again, is it desirable to pursue images that could be made with any tool rather than making the most of a format’s inherent advantages?

These influences and properties are not limited to technical factors. Imagine the time and effort needed to set up a large format portrait photograph where the photographer needs to perform many steps until the picture can be taken. This procedure or act in itself will impact the relationship between the parties involved and shape the appearance of subject in the photograph later on, simply by going through the process and time passing until the shutter is fired. While this could of course be replicated with, say, a digital camera, it seems a strange objective to do so and I for one would certainly feel a little silly to disappear under a darkcloth when using a Canon DSLR.

The overall lesson here is that we need to be aware of an established aesthetic, no matter how tighly or loosely it may be bound to the properties of the equipment we use, and manoeuvre our way through the conventions and images that have come before us to express our work in our own personal way rather than paraphrasing others.