Does a Photographer Need to be a Framer?

The following quote was the first comment I received by an observer after hanging Those Dark Winter Nights for display.

“Hey. Great job on the frames!”

I'm Great at Framing

I think he seemed a little disappointed when I informed him that all I did was order them from Documounts and only assembled the pre-made frames and matting. At the same time, I was also taken back slightly that I was being complimented on the framing, and not the content of the photographs.

This event got me thinking about things. What I came up with is simple—I hate framing.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I don’t hate frames. I love the way my prints look in good frames actually. The final presentation of a piece to be very important, and in most situations a good frame on the print is the most appropriate thing to do. I just hate the notion that a piece is somehow incomplete, or compromised in quality because the photographer wasn’t the one who cut the mat and did the mounting.

I also find the actual task of finding frames and assembling them myself if I want to save some money, or taking them to a framer and discussing all the options if I don’t want to save some money to be a necessary evil that doesn’t rate very highly on the Things Kip like to do. scale.

My friend the framing enthusiast.

A few years back I used to regularly hang out with a guy who worked in the framing department at the local Michaels Art Supply store. We’d go out to trashy bars and get a few drinks in us, and he’d start talking about framing. He’d talk about how he wanted to own his own framing shop; about the latest piece of framing equipment they just got in the shop; about how he loved to take a piece of art and try to put together an ideal matting & frame combination to really make the piece look great on the wall. His passion in art was doing the framing.

My passion isn’t framing—it is photography. What I realized by listening to him talk about framing, is that if I started framing my own work, and got serious about doing a good job of it, framing would become another deep pit for me to throw time and resources into. If I were to buy into the mentality that as the photographer, the photo finishing had to be completely done by my hand to make the finished piece be authentic, I feel that my actual image creation would suffer.

I’d rather invest the time into improving my photography.

Instead of spending hours cutting mats, and probably doing a piss-poor job at it, I’d rather just enter the dimensions I want into a web interface and wait for the professionally cut frames to arrive at my house a few days later. I then can use the time I’ve saved to improve the quality of the product I’ll be putting into those frames. Either by going out and shooting some new work to build experience, or by doing a proper post-process on something I’ve already shot, or browsing around eBay trying to research the next magic bullet piece of equipment that I’ve mentally tricked myself into believing will significantly improve my photography. I don’t want to invest too much time doing something I don’t have a passion for just to appease a few West Coast art critics.

I always felt that I was done a disservice by going through the photography courses that the art department offered when I was in college, and never once getting a lesson on basic Zone System principles. However, we did get plenty of time devoted to instructing us on how to cut mats and dry mount our prints.  I think that class time we spent learning those tasks would have been better served by making all of us go through Fred Picker’s Zone VI Workshop at least once.  A ragged edge mat cut with the photography department’s seemingly never-sharp razors doesn’t do much to enhance the presentation of a muddily printed photographic image. I happily would have rather learned the basics of making beautiful prints, and then put them into perfectly cut mats which I can acquire with the click of a mouse, or by a visit to the local framing stop.

I’m a photographer, not a framer. I think I’ll keep it that way.