The philosophy behind image borders
beautiful agony - Loudias estuary, Greece
In many photography circles, there have been many talks and debates on the necessity of placing borders on a finished photo. Some say that they even seem to detract from the value of the artwork or even add a pseudo value to a mediocre photo. Other photographers find the use of borders/frames to be essential in the final presentation of a photo.
As many of you have already figured out, I'm a big supporter of placing frames/borders around a finished artwork. To me, this is the second attribute that I consider to be essential in a finished photo with the other one being the assorted title (upon which I've already made an in depth blog post).
The issue of borders is twofold. One thing to consider is the technical reasons behind it and why we need to relate them to the digital world and displays. The other thing to consider is the connection to viewing aesthetics and art philosophy.
Starting from the easy stuff, I will explain the technical reasons of why I choose to put borders around a photo. Every picture is now displayed on a digital display, be it a TV, a computer screen, a smartphone, a tablet etc. Usually, these photos are being displayed on colored backgrounds but also in black or white, so to me, making a separation between the background and the photo itself is essential to actually define the visual limits of the latter. Even more, when we are seeing a black and white photo, this necessity is even bigger as we need to avoid the tonal "bleeding" between the image and the background.
In framing photos, the main separation line is the type of photo to be framed. Adding borders is not essential or fitting to every type of photos out there. For example, placing borders around a sports photo, a typical street photo, a reportage shot or a food theme, rarely can be seen as a complimentary element. In fact, it will probably destroy the value of such photos. As I'm solely working with fine art and artistic themes, I find it essential to use them. It surely is a completely different universe in themes compared to eg street, travel or food photography.
The second and most important reason behind a framed photo is the hidden viewing philosophy, the aesthetics and even the psychological aspects of such a decision. Indeed, there are more than we can imagine behind a simple frame so let's dig deeper into this part of an image.
Through history, painters prepared their art for presentation by carefully selecting frames as an added art element. Needles to point out that back then, frames were considered a work of art by itself. Victorian and Edwardian-era photographers found it absolutely essential to "ornament" their artworks with frames, even by exaggerating a bit on their size and complexity.
In this regard, I think that a photo frame should just act complimentary to the photo and not undermine its meaning. In other words it should be almost ignored and unobtrusive yet at the same time perceived as a vital part of the presentation. This also has to do with the background upon which the photo is presented, so the frame should be sized and colored accordingly. Great attention is put to the frames if we can see their importance to art. Actually, almost all photo galleries and many highly regarded museums like Musée d'Orsay present their artworks within frames. Why so? Why such a passion for making a separation between the outer world and the artwork?
Part of the answer is actually the last phrase: it is an act of separating the artwork from the outer world, thus highlighting its importance to the viewer. In a way, the frame acts as a venue upon which the artwork is presented for appreciation (or even scrutiny...). So, since I consider my artworks as interior decoration elements, I designed the digital frame in such a way that the final presentation is as close as possible to the actual hanged print. Also, the frame makes a well defined borderline in a greater environment, be it an art gallery, a living room or a museum. It immediately gives presence and differentiates a given image from any other images or art elements around it.
Deeper than this, a frame speaks directly to the psychology of the viewer. It actually sends him a clear message that he now enters a different world, a new environment and eventually triggers a different aspect of visual perception. It forces the viewer to change his perceptual priorities, which is a common and vital part of how we interact with the world around us. So, it effortlessly allows the viewer to "wander" within the image and "feel" its atmosphere devoid of outer distractions. Sometimes, by doing so, framing has more to do with the primal sensations of seeing a photo in contrast to the outer world rather than actually understanding its meaning. Hard-core display rooms even place each photo in a separate chamber to be viewed. Yes, psychology and art can go that far together...