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Size Matters - Scale and Measure in Photography

Size Matters - Scale and Measure in Photography

An online exhibition of the Kunsthistorisches Institut of Florence - Max Planck Institute

November 08, 2012

The photo library of the Kunsthistorisches Institut of Florence – Max Planck Institute presents an online exhibition featuring 70 pictures belonging to its collection. The exhibition is dedicated to the relationship of scale and question of size in photography and is online from November 5, 2012.
Bronze statue of Heraclius or “Colossus of Barletta” in Barletta, h. 450 cm, albumin print, 37.6 x 25.2 cm, before 1893, inv. no. 4210] Zoom Image
Bronze statue of Heraclius or “Colossus of Barletta” in Barletta, h. 450 cm, albumin print, 37.6 x 25.2 cm, before 1893, inv. no. 4210]

Scale and measure in the reproduction of depicted subjects are among the main issues of photography. A photographic image is like a window on the world, a fragment of reality that is captured by the photograph and reproduced on a paper print much smaller than reality. A single negative can produce different sized prints: this gives life to a potentially endless play of proportions between the real subject and the picture. This is a fundamental aspect in art history documentary photography, as it can crucially influence the viewer’s perception.

The exhibition approaches the relationship of scale and question of size in photography from different points of view. For instance, the section entitled “Measure” is dedicated to the inclusion of points of reference in photographs for a better understanding of proportions and sizes. Inserting graduated scales gives the possibility to imagine the actual size of the reproduced subject, which is impossible from the mere negative. Even before the era of photography, this technique was used in drawings and prints and showed a common, ambivalent interest in the metric system, which was developed in France at the end of the 18th century. Goethe firmly rejected the idea of measuring works of art as a basis for their comprehension – in the same period graduated scales disappeared from art books together with the interest in the matter. This led to a lack of development in terminology and standards in the field of dimensions. As from the 1830s this lack was compensated by photography as graduated scales were replaced by people, ladders or shadows, which were aimed at helping viewers to perceive the represented space and its dimension.

Other sections of the exhibition are dedicated to size in relationship with space, with series, or the correlation between size and labor. The relationship of scale and the various approaches to proportions are taken into account not only in photography, but also in artistic production in general. During the work of art creation process in fact, the production of a small-scale draft is often the basis for the final monumental work. On the other hand, it is the small-scale bronze copy of the Apollo Belvedere – located in the Bargello Museum in Florence – that revives the strong resonance caused by the retrieval of the ancient original sculpture at the end of the 15th century. However, these important differences in size are not often so evident in photography. For example, the A4 print of the small-scale model of Giambologna’s Appennin in Villa Demidoff’s park seems to be approximately as big as the original sculpture. This does not mean that photography fails to play with proportions: the exhibition includes also a view of the Fondaco dei Turchi in Venice in carte de visite size, which can be compared with a negative (19.2 x 26.4 cm) in the Archivio Naya.

The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the international conference “Size Matters: Questions of Scale in Art History” organized by Emanuele Lugli and Gerhard Wolf, takes place at the Kunsthistorisches Institut of Florence from 8 to 10 November 2012.

 
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