Framing photographs

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As photographs are becoming a larger proportion of the work coming through the door, I thought it might be useful to look at some of the ways of approaching their framing. These might be ones that you have taken yourself or part of the growing market of high quality vintage prints.


I will admit that my early attempts at getting away from the black and white frame were not altogether successful but they did teach me some invaluable lessons. The first of these was that you cannot frame a photograph in the same way you frame a drawing or watercolour. The reality of a photograph will not accept the same treatment as even a photo-realistic picture.


Reality must be matched by reality, that is: no lines or washes on mounts, no matching of colours in the mountboard and no consciously hand-finished frames.

Photographs carry a sense of period in a way that artwork does not. The nature of the image itself has a time code, as does the subject matter.


There are nowadays some very fine re-prints from original negatives and these can be treated as you would the original. Sepia photographs obtained by pre- or post-shot twiddling do not carry the same codes. They are too perfect and are happiest when given a modern look, with or without a touch of irony.


When printing images for framing, may I enter a couple of pleas on behalf of the framer. The first is to print them with a matt finish. A gloss finish will reflect the light when on the wall as will the glass in the frame.


It is possible to use a reflection control glazing but why spend the extra money to have only one reflection instead of two.


Secondly, allow a white margin around the image. This gives the mount something to grip on without hiding 5mm all round of the photo, a total loss of image of 10mm  or 3/8” in both dimensions. A margin can work to good effect on occasions, for instance if there is detail right at the edge of the image or if a strong contrast is needed in the display.

Having learnt my first lessons the hard way, my next lessons, if that is what they can be called, came from working with a master of his craft, Norman Parkinson. “Parks” asked if I would frame a print of one of his shots from the 1950s for an exhibition. He said from the start that he heartily disliked the black and white frames that his gallery used on everything and wanted something very different which didn’t necessarily need to be square.


The image was predominantly brown and he supplied a cocoa-coloured length of silk and a length of richly woven tweed which he thought would look good. From this start, I designed an asymmetric frame inspired by the angles in the image. There are no rules for this sort of thing, just the application of aesthetics. It either works or it doesn’t. From this beginning, we went on to produce a series of frames which broke most of the rules of framing. Sadly we were about to start work on the frame for his official 90th birthday portrait of the Queen Mother, the shot and the frame were to be designed together, when Parks died on a shoot in the far east.

What did I learn from this collaboration?


             Look. Look long and hard and see.


The environment and history of a photograph are as important as the image itself.


Perfection is always the aim of a photograph frame. People don’t notice perfection, appreciating perfection is too much work, but it is easily spotted if it’s not there


You might ask “What is perfection?” If framers could define that, their life would be a lot less stressful. I have seen copies of some of my frames in books. While the originals were as close to perfection as I could manage, with a different image inside they looked merely pretentious. The whole point of custom framing is that it is custom-made for a particular image. After all, would you buy a custom-made item of clothing that was intended for someone else?

Wenda with Rolls Royce

© Norman Parkinson Ltd/courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive