Displaying Your Photographs 101: What Is Archival Framing?

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This is the first in a new series of journal posts where we will explore the art of displaying your photographs.  

If you have ever bought a frame the chances are that you’ve seen the term “archival” or “conservation” framing on the packaging.  These two terms can pretty much be used interchangeably.  But what does it actually mean?  Here are two key things to know about archival framing.

1.  Materials:  

In order for framing to be considered archival, the materials used in framing the artwork should be acid free.  From the matting to the adhesives used in mounting the photograph (basically anything coming into contact with the print) must be acid free and therefore make no impact on the print.  If you want your artwork to be truly archival, pay particular attention to all the materials coming in direct contact with your artwork and ensure that they are all acid free.

2.  Be a Steward:

In order to be considered archival framing the artwork should be able to be removed from the frame with no impact to the original.  Museums have to adhere to this strict standard as they are the stewards of the artwork.  They must be able to return the work to the owner in its original condition.  Imagine working with multimillion dollar masterpieces.  Very serious business.

In relation to framing photographs, how do we become stewards of our own photographs?  One thing is to consider the paper that your work is being printed on and the ink used.  These two components will directly impact the longevity of the artwork.  

Additionally, many photographic printers offer the option of mounting your work onto a foam backing.  While this does make for a nice, cheap alternative to traditional framing, this is not considered archival due to the fact that the original has been altered.  Furthermore, attaching any type of tape to the art to secure it to the mat board is also considered non-archival as the tape will eventually impact the photographic paper.  I used to be very guilty of this.  Check out this previous journal post for some tips to get around this issue using archival materials.

This is important to keep in mind if you a purchasing a print from an artist.  While it may or may not have a lot of monetary worth at present, you never know what that prints value will be 50 to 100 years down the road.  Make sure that you have the print in its original condition.  I have seen printing and mounting options made available by very well known photographers, which will ultimately reduce the value of the work in the long-term.  As an example, I was recently watching an episode of “American Pickers” where they found some old photographs by the early American photographer, William Henry Jackson, that would have held significantly greater value had they not been altered from the original state.  

[Shameless plug]  At Saw & MItre we adhere to the standards of all our framing materials and processes.  We use the highest quality mat boards available and mount your prints so that they will not be harmed or touched by any non-archival materials.  Additionally, the process we use for mounting photographs and building our frames allows you the ability to change out the photograph should you so choose.  Making our framing completely archival while also giving you the freedom to place many photographs in the frame.  No longer do you have one photograph for one frame.  We want lots of art to live in our frames.  XLike us on Facebook HERE.

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