Framing Photos Goes BEYOND BASIC BLACK

Framing Photos Goes BEYOND BASIC BLACK – Framing Fine Art Photography

Jennifer Wong

Framers Use a Variety of Mouldings and Special Care When Framing Fine Art Photography

The big news in the world of photography is its growing acceptance as a collectible, fine art form. Collectors who have been “in the know” are growing their collections while new generations of consumers are discovering this art form for the first time.

This is good news for framers who can expect to be framing more fine art photos. And the sheer diversity of subject matter lends itself to more creative ways of framing, freeing collectors and framers from the old standard of a thin, black metal frame and a white mat. The possibilities for creative framing have expanded as the art form grows in popularity.

Steve McKenzie, senior vice president of marketing for Larson-Juhl in Atlanta, noted the growing resurgence of popularity for photography, particularly for black and whites, and points out a few drivers to the phenomenon. “There is more consciousness of the high style of black and whites. There are galleries entirely dedicated to fine art photography. In publications, there are more articles dedicated to collecting the art and, in addition, there are advertisements aimed at Generation Xers using black-and-white photography.”

“For a beginning collector, it’s an affordable subject matter,” continued McKenzie. “People can buy high-quality black-and-white photography that is unique and truly a fine art piece.”

“People didn’t used to see photography as fine art,” said Diana Bisby, art consultant of the Artists Framing Warehouse in Portland, Ore. “Now they are taking it seriously and investing in the framing.” Bisby speaks from experience and said her company now devotes 60 percent of its business to framing photography.

Many other frame shop owners have noticed the increase over the last five years, saying their business in framing photos has increased from 10 to 50 percent.

Handle with Care

“A lot of people look at photography like it’s just a print, a second generation,” said David Vice, president and owner of Icon Blvd., a division of Animation USA Inc., of Seattle. “The reality is that a photograph is the end work of art for which the photographer has created the image. The negative can’t be viewed by a collector or even by the photographer in such a way as to appreciate the total aesthetics.”

“The print is the final result that the photographer is looking for. It is the work of art.” Vice, also a photographer, owns his gallery which is one of nine in the United States authorized to represent the Time Life Photography Archives.

To that end, Vice said the biggest consideration for framers is the care and handling of these valuable works of art, and many framers regularly use archival methodologies when framing photography–UV-filtered glass or plexiglass, acid-free mats, backing boards and acid-free photo corners.

“We will not frame fine art photography for someone if they don’t use the proper archival materials,” said Jeff Brown, owner of Metro Gallery in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s a tough line to draw, and sometimes we lose that frame job, but I won’t frame something of value that won’t stand the test of time. Most customers go with the archival treatments because the cost difference isn’t that much over the long run.”

However, there are some differences among framers in how they mount photos, whether it’s done permanently in an archival reversible manner using heat and archival wax or by just hinging the photo to a mat.

Approaches to Mounting

Fred Schneider of County Frame in Bohemia, N.Y., uses a heated vacuum press on foam core which is capable of mounting in a permanent or archival fashion which can be reversed. The archival mount is more expensive, about 25 to 50 percent more, but when you are talking about something of value, it’s probably the safest thing to do, he said.

“The fusion mount is extremely important,” said Schneider. “What I am concerned with is a solid bond. I’m protecting mostly against bubble, and in a spray mount situation that is done by hand, well, the human eye is going to miss a spot. You’ll develop a bubble over time and end up with a problem. You can’t peel the photograph back and remount it again.”

Schneider said buying the machine is an investment but a worthwhile one given the increase in interest of photography and the new business it brings into the shop. His shop has seen an increase over the last six years of 50 percent in framing photography. “You can’t afford to be buying new photographs because the mounting is done improperly. It’s embarrassing, and you lose customers that way,” he said.

For Bisby, the size of the photograph does matter. “Most photographers don’t want their art permanently adhered to a backing board” she said. “For a small photograph, no bigger than 11 by 14 inches, we use acid-free photo corners to hinge it to an acid-free backing” She noted that since many of her customers live in the damp Pacific Northwest, their prints absorb moisture and sometimes a slight waving will result in the frame. She educates her customers about this possibility and lets them know it’s natural.

However, for larger prints, the wrinkling in a damp or humid environment tends to stay in the piece more often. Bisby mounts it permanently so that it’s flat, using an acid-free foam core, mounting tissue and a vacuum press.

For the Time Life prints, Vice doesn’t mount his photographs to a board at all. He noted that this has been and continues to be a pretty common tradition. Instead, he fixes the photograph to a mat using archival plastic corners. “This way, we are not doing anything to the work of art itself. Should it have to come out of the frame at a later time, it can be removed with absolutely no damage or difficulty.”

Vice has mounted the art with linen tape to mats for clients who request it, because it tends to hold the art flatter. But he contends that if framers educate their clients on the nature of the art–that it should be suspended, in essence, free floating–they can protect the value of their art and keep their framing options open if they desire.

“The advantage is that in five years from now, if someone has remodeled their house and wants to replace the frame, there is no limitation as to how they want to reframe it,” said Vice.

White Glove Treatment

Watching out for waves, bubbles and wrinkles is one thing, but dimples are another matter when it come to photography. Dimpling comes from improper handling of the paper and usually occurs when a person lifts up a print and tries to hold it up flat. The proper way to pick up a print is to pull up from one corner so the weight is suspended solely from that corner. If the piece is larger, a framer can hold two corners and let it gracefully arc between two hands.

Photographs are also extremely susceptible to the oils and chemicals that are naturally found on fingers and hands. The use of archival, cotton, lint-free gloves is essential to the framer, because it is very difficult to clean a photograph once oils are deposited on the print.

The Aesthetics of Framing

Given the popularity of photography and the diversity of subject matter found in historical fine art, vintage family photos and contemporary and abstract photography, customers and framers have a wide range of framing styles to choose from.

“There used to be this old standard that you had to have a black metal frame and a white mat, and that was the end of the story for a fine art photograph,” said McKenzie of Larson-Juhl, who is a collector of fine art black-and-white photography. “Now collectors, just like in the rest of the business of framing for fine art, are trying to tie the images to the mouldings that are being used. We are seeing a real diversity of moulding styles used within someone’s collection.”

McKenzie noted that as collectors grow their collections, they become more interest in their framing. “They get tired of the same thing throughout their home. I have a broad diversity of styles, from a European burl product to very contemporary smooth black finishes.” McKenzie said that while the subject matter of each piece may lend itself to a particular style of frame, the whole collection hangs together beautifully because the theme of the whole is still black-and-white photography.

Framers concur, and many look to make the framing fit the photograph itself–considering the era, style and location of the photo. As in framing any fine art piece, each frame must speak to the style and mood of the photograph itself.

Many framers like to use rich woods like cherry, walnut and mahogany with color photography, particularly with landscapes. For old photos, burlwood frames are popular, and many try to style the frame to look like the era in which the picture was taken.

For black-and-white photography the issue of tone and mood and matching mats is extremely important. “Seventy percent of the photographs that are sold are black and white or toned black and white,” said Marita Holdaway, owner of Benham Studio in Seattle, a gallery that exclusively shows fine art photography. “It’s really important to match the mat and the frame to complement the most subtle tones of the print versus contrasting with it.”

“The tone of the matboard–antique white, off-white, brilliant white–each one of those next to a photograph can dramatically change the feeling of a photograph” said Holdaway who has a preference for a very simple framing style using a black metal or wooden frame.

Other framers use black or charcoal matboard to highlight a lighter subject matter in the print to create a dramatic statement with the framing.

As in any other framing job, the framer wants to enhance the art piece and not overwhelm it while also working with the styles and preferences of each client who walks in the door. Working with fine art photography, while it involves careful handling and more client education, provides additional opportunities for framers who love what they do–increasing their business while engaging in the profoundly creative act of framing.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group