Hanging with the Best: Photo Framing Tips from Six Professionals

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First impressions matter as much in the art world as they do in everyday life. Presentation goes a long way in establishing how a photograph will be received by its audience. Artists, curators, and gallery owners know this and put considerable thought into mounting, framing, and hanging photographs for exhibition. Tossing a print into a pre-made frame might suffice for a vacation photo at home but an artwork destined for public display requires more nuanced handling. To better understand the art and craft of photo presentation, I picked the brains of six veteran framers from four local shops who work closely with museums, galleries, and collectors in New York: Charlie Griffin and Gary Tedder at Griffin Editions; Daniel Beauchemin at Chelsea Frames; Jonathan Doyle at Steven Amedee Fine Art Framing; and Peter Wallach and Michael Killfoile at 14th Street Framing Gallery.

Where to Begin

Michael Killfoile: There are two ends of the framing spectrum: one side prioritizes interior design and the other side prioritizes artwork visibility. Do you want to look at the art or the frame? Each has its place, depending upon the type of photograph and where it will be displayed.

Charlie Griffin: The most important place to start is by asking “Where is this going to go?” Is the photograph going to be handled in a traditional way or does the subject matter require a more conceptual approach? Does the work require us to ask “What is a frame?” before making any other decisions?

Daniel Beauchemin: It is important to not start a whole new dialogue when framing. A photograph is an expression of a photographer’s point of view just like any piece of art. The frame should not try to tell a whole new story. The photograph should be respected for what it is.

Daniel Beauchemin, of Chelsea Frames

On the Perils of DIY Framing

Gary Tedder: Many people shoot themselves in the foot by taking shortcuts to get the job done as quickly as possible. Then, if the work needs to be reframed later, they end up having to send the piece to a conservator to have the effects of some of their previous steps reversed. In the long run, they end up spending a lot more money than they would have initially, so I always try to advise people to go ahead and take care of everything properly the first time around.

Framing for Archival Preservation

DB: Choose a glazing that offers 99% UV protection; be aware that 90% UV protection is as good as no UV protection. It is either 99% protection or nothing because the higher spectrum of light is what damages the artwork. Never display the photograph in the sun or a direct source of light. Choose matboard that is acid-free, rag material. This is a time-proven material. Everything that you do has to be reversible. Avoid using any kind of tapes on photographs. Use Mylar corners or acid-free tape that has no moisture. You cannot use Japanese hinging with most photographic papers because the moisture will cause swelling. Anything that has moisture will cause this to happen because photographs are glazed on the surface and porous on the back. The glazing can’t move but the bottom can.

Supporting Large-Scale Photographs

Jonathan Doyle: Working with superior substrates is key, and there are many that can work well, depending on the size and needs of the project. If the piece is being mounted, Sintra (lightweight PVC material) is a great, cost-effective substrate. For smoother surfaced papers, Dibond (two sheets of thin aluminum bonded to a polyethylene core) are my preferred choices. While 3mm substrates often work, oversized pieces may require 6mm thickness for maximum rigidity. If the photograph is not being mounted, I back larger pieces on a panel that I make myself. It consists of 4-ply rag mat board on the surface and is backed with foam board or Coroplast and wood strainer (or brace) with crossbars. Affixing all of the components with staples, archival glue, and 465 adhesive supplies a tight, lasting bond, ensuring the panel won't warp.

Jonathan Doyle, of Steven Amedee Fine Art Framing

Keeping Dust off Acrylic

All the framers I interviewed noted that anti-static acrylic exists and is the best option for winning the war on dust. However, if this is not doable, Doyle recommends using an anti-static spray to combat the problem. To clean residue or streaks, Wallach recommends 70% isopropyl alcohol and a soft rag to avoid scratching the surface.

Retaining Shadow Detail in Dark Prints

DB: Shadows get lost because of light reflecting all over the place. Using anti-reflective glass or acrylic will reduce this problem. Also, the farther the distance between the photograph and the glazing, the harder it is to preserve detail. Face-mounting a print so that the glazing is attached to the photograph is another option.

Before Framing

JD: Leave some extra paper border for handling on your print. Not only does this help to prevent any damage that might occur in transport, but it also helps to provide options for matting or mounting. While photographs are often matted directly to the image edge, sometimes it is advantageous to mat 1/4" or so beyond the image—exposing 1/4" of the print border—making it evident that there is no cropping and showing the artist’s full composition. Additionally, matting beyond the image can provide some aesthetic “breathing room” for images that require it or that contain essential information around the perimeter edge. If the artist’s intent is to float the image with no mat, being sure the piece is squared properly is very helpful.

DB: I would prefer to see photographers bring their work already mounted if that is necessary for the presentation. They should be mounted on Dibond or Sintra. No framer wants to assume the liability of mounting. Things can go wrong when a photograph is being mounted. A printer can reprint; a framer does not have that luxury.

Gary Tedder (left) and Charlie Griffin (right) of Griffin Editions

Shipping Framed Photographs

All the framers I spoke to agreed that the best option is to hire a professional art handling company when transporting or shipping work.

CG: If you aren’t using an art handler, you must assume that once the frame leaves your hands it is going to be tossed. You should incorporate that knowledge into the engineering of your packaging.

DB: Acrylic ships better than glass. Attach your artwork to cardboard and create four negative spaces around it so that the corners of the frame cannot receive any shock. You want at least 3-4 inches of loose packing material between the edge of the art and the outside of the box.

Peter Wallach: If you are in a situation where you must ship a glass frame, there are low-tack adhesive sheets that stick to the glazing but peel off without leaving behind any residue. That way if the glass breaks it is less likely to damage the art. You should also attach something solid to the front such as a sheet of Masonite so that if something punctures the box, it won’t go through the frame.

JD: Masterpak is company that makes great boxes for shipping art, framed or unframed. You can order the boxes online, pack the piece yourself and then use any common carrier to ship. Be sure to use a service that offers insurance and insure for the full value.

Michael Killfoile (left) and Peter Wallach (right) of 14th Street Framing Gallery

Recent Trends

DB: I have noticed a resurgence in vintage photography. I think the “wow” factor of oversized digital photography is present and there is a market for that but, there is also a strong resurgence of vintage photography that appreciates the photographic skills, various processes, and different types of paper.

CG: Images mounted on panels with the idea of floating them within a frame so that the photograph is appreciated as an object. I think, over the past twenty years, people have begun treating photographs a little bit more like art on paper.

JD: Minimalism. Thin, streamlined frames that let the artwork speak for itself.

PW: There is a trend towards the “stark” look: white mat and white frame. It results in a very simple, clean design.

Have any tips of your own for presenting photographs? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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