How big can a photograph be? From postcards to giant billboards, they are almost any dimension, but what happens when they are the very same scale as their subject matter? A photo of a bus the size of a bus? An actual-size image of Muhammad Ali’s fist? Actual Size! Photography at Life Scale is a playful yet philosophical exhibition that offers viewers a diverse group of images that all share the same dimension as life itself. Conceived especially for ICP’s unique double-height gallery, it is a rethinking of the fundamental qualities of this perplexing and elastic medium.

Image makers of every kind, from fine artists to advertisers, have explored the strange magic that happens when the photograph becomes an uncanny double for the world it depicts. Works by Jeff Wall, Ace Lehner, Laura Letinsky, Kija Lucas, Aspen Mays, Tanya Marcuse, and others share the walls with anonymous posters, magazine spreads, and book covers.

In 1946, the renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges described a society that wanted a map of its land so detailed that it eventually covered the land itself. Of course, the map was useless, and the inhabitants took to living on it as it disintegrated. Actual Size! is an homage to Borges’s wild but serious idea, showing us new ways to consider what a photograph is, and what it can be.


Exhibitions Highlights

Click here to view select images from the exhibition

About the Curator

David Campany is a curator, writer, and managing director of programs at the International Center of Photography, New York. His books include On Photographs (2020), A Handful of Dust (2015), Art and Photography (2003), Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (2011), Walker Evans: The Magazine Work (2014), and Photography and Cinema (2008).


Image: Tanya Marcuse, Woven Nº 30, 2018, 62 x 160 inches. © Tanya Marcuse




Picture of a grass floor. Tanya Marcuse Woven Nº 30, 2018. © Tanya Marcuse
A disorganized and dirty shelf covered with knick knacks. Manuel Franquelo, Things in a Room (25 yrs), 2013. © Manuel Franquelo, Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
Tennis ball sized hail. Schindly Photo, HAIL STORM, Sunbury PA., June 18, 1910, 1910.
A collection of somebody's possessions including a US passport, Captain America action figure, and picture of Malcolm X.  Kija Lucas Objects to Remember You By: An Index of Sentiment, Vitrine No. 11, 2014-2021. © Kija Lucas
Rows of white balls attached to their respective piece of string, the balls getting progressively smaller. Aspen Mays, Dodging Tools, 2013. © Aspen Mays, Courtesy the artist and Higher Pictures Generation

Special Thanks

Exhibitions at ICP are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.