By Paul ButziThe recent discussion on the relative merits of large and small prints has had me thinking. Although I tend to print pretty large, one of my favorite photographic books is Michael Kenna’s wonderful gem, Monique's Kindergarten. I hadn’t held the book in my hands since before my last move three years ago, so I dug through the bookshelves and found the book, just to take another look.
It’s a larger book that I remembered (10x10 inches), but the photos are just as I remember them—65 warm-toned prints, printed exactly 4x5 inches. Kenna made the negatives with a 4x5 camera and the prints are, in essence, contact prints complete with the shadow of the film rails. These are small photographs, but they’re not blurry or lacking in detail—they’re exquisitely crisp and full of texture and detail, in that way that large format photographers love. Beyond the print size, though, Kenna’s wonderful small photographs are also photographs in the small—capturing little scenes that match a child’s ability to relate to the world from up close. Many of the scenes captured must be close to the prints in size.
There are a lot of things that make this book so incredibly delightful. The photos are beautifully printed and show Kenna at his best, and he’s very good indeed. The quality of the book is outstanding—fabulous reproduction quality, a beautiful binding—everything I’ve come to expect from Nazraeli Press. The book is perfectly sized to be held in your lap, and the paper is just right—it feels good in your hand, and the surface is just shy of glossy, so it doesn’t interfere with viewing.
Still, I have lots of books that are as well made as this one, and they don’t enchant in quite the same way. There’s just something about the fusion of the print size, the scene size, the subject matter, and Kenna’s reverent approach to it that makes me think this book is as close to perfection as I’m ever likely to see.
So there you go. Sometimes small is just right.
Posted by PAUL BUTZI