View Full Version : Gray or dark matt board.

Robert Brummitt
17-May-2008, 08:36
Recently at a Portland Photographers Forum we had Terry Thompson speaking and sharing his work. Terry's background includes an art education at the legendary School of Visual Arts in New York City, working with artists as diverse as Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Vido Acconci, Gary Winogrand, and Tad Yamashiro. Terry was a close friend to Imogen Cunningham.
During the lecture, Terry stated something that hit me as interesting and my memory kick in to another photographer I had met. Terry had said that he preferred to display his prints in an dark or even gray matt board. His reasons were that "White board creates a Backlight effect and takes away from the print." But, he said that museums and galleries only want white or off white boards because that is what is traditional and handed down from graphic arts. The other reason for White is that offers buyers a chance to change the window mat for their homes.
The other photographer I had met who said almost the same was Don Worth. I had seen a show of his in Palo Alto. His Black and white images were displayed in white but all is color work was matted in an 18% gray.
I took this information and looked into my photoshop program. As I'm sure you know you can change the working space from white to gray to black. I rotated one of my images and did see what both Terry and Don were aiming at.
As a color photographer, I'm thinking maybe I should start mounting images in Gray.
What do you think? Am I off my rocker or what?
I'm going to post this on several sites and cast a boarder net or thoughts.

Robert Brummitt
17-May-2008, 09:09
I made a simple jpeg using an image that has both light details and dark details. I digitally changed the matt color. I did noticed that my darks got more enhanced.

domenico Foschi
17-May-2008, 09:30
This need has been creeping in me as well.
Recently I have had the desire to matt my sepia work with 50% grey, 8 ply with a warm cast.
I have not made any research for availability yet.

Bruce Barlow
17-May-2008, 15:19
It's worth it to go to a craft store and get three cheap mats - white, gray, and black, and put identical prints in them just to see what they look like. I think ya gotta see your work in the different ones to know.

But it is a fascinating idea, given how long we've all been told that only white will do...

17-May-2008, 15:58
It's strange but I find my BW scans look best on black on a monitor but with white matting as prints.

Ken Lee
17-May-2008, 16:13
Paintings and prints are generally framed and matted on an individual basis. Why not treat photographs in the same way ? Robert's example is very telling.

17-May-2008, 16:30
Paintings and prints are generally framed and matted on an individual basis. Why not treat photographs in the same way ? Robert's example is very telling.

Exactly. We were doing this in the 70's. Matt for the print.

17-May-2008, 16:32
I chose a medium grey background for my website for much the same reasons. In the end, it's what appeals to you. Mats and html can be changed.

Michael Graves
17-May-2008, 17:43
I use both black and museum white....depending on the image. When I finally have an image I want to mount, I lay the print down on top of a board and see which one makes the image stand out better. White doesn't always win. No museum will ever be interested in me, so I don't care what they think.

17-May-2008, 19:18
display prints in an dark or even gray matt board.

Watercolor painters normally mat their work using a mat that sets off the color of the painting's focus point or background.

My attitude is that whatever works, works.

17-May-2008, 19:33
Museums and galleries only want white, but Edmund Teske mounted his b&ws on dark brown chocolate boards. His work is so brilliant that the museums accepted the images on the rebel board.

I am glad you brought this topic up. What looks best to you?

I think that the darkest mat you provide looks great with your print.

Ansel Adams liked a wall with 18% reflectance. This is what I use, with white mats. So I do think the wall is part of the equation, to the degree that you have any control over it.

Rob Vinnedge
17-May-2008, 20:53
I attended a 1979 AA Yosemite workshop where my B/W prints, matted in a dark gray, were first critiqued by Jim Alinder from the Friends of Photography Gallery in Carmel. His recommendation that they be mounted in white has stuck with me all this time - and, yes, I think the wall has a lot to do with the presentation.

Donald Miller
17-May-2008, 21:26
Question appears to be for whom are you matting your photographs? If for yourself, screw the lemmings...If you want to sell to lemmings than you probably ought to stay with white.

domenico Foschi
18-May-2008, 00:36
It is really silly in my opinion to keep photography the only medium who is subject to this "dogmas".
I have seen work of other photographers matted in very unconventional ways and sometime their choices was perfect.
We as photographers are still experiencing that inferiority complex toward other forms of visual arts and we are afraid of steering away from what is widely accepted, keeping the medium the most stale albeit being the most modern.
Mapplethorpe in the 80's framed his work in very unconventional ways with stunning results.

Doremus Scudder
18-May-2008, 02:42
Unfortunately, the real issue here is not aesthetics, it is permanence.

The reason for white mat board is that colors introduce dyes and other "contaminants" that can affect the print. That is why so many want white board. The refinement is: not just any white board will do.

With black-and-white materials, that can have a life expectancy of centuries, mounting on anything but the best museum-quality acid-free cotton-rag board can have a detrimental effect on the lifespan of the print.

The same concerns apply to color materials as well, and are maybe even more relevant.

This has led to a sort of "industry standard" that some mistake for aesthetic institutionalization.

Galleries and dealers want to be sure that the product (i.e. artworks) they sell will last as long as possible. Museums are even more concerned with permanence, since they are preserving records for posterity (hence the preference of most museums for unmounted prints).

Since I dry-mount, and the mounting board is an integral part of the finished work, I use the best boards I can get... and they are all one kind of white or another. (I do shop around for the best shade of white.)


Doremus Scudder

Jim Jones
18-May-2008, 06:55
Grey makes the print look good: white makes the gallery look good. However, standardizing on just one white in limited sizes has many advantages. The photographer doesn't have to stock a variety of matboard. Just one size of prints or frames are easier to transport, and they make a neat show. Repeat customers know the prints in a show will match those in their home. One can build a supply of window mats for instant use. Decades of shooting 35mm Kodachrome for projection taught me that most subjects can be shot in landscape orientation with the somewhat awkward 2:3 aspect ratio. These suggestions may not be appropriate in some markets, but are practical where customers can't afford extravagant presentations.

Brian Ellis
18-May-2008, 07:37
Camera Clubs are often big on the color of the mat board but if you plan to sell to art galleries or display your photographs in a "fine art" context I'd be surprised if you didn't encounter some opposition to a colored board there. White is pretty well ingrained in the fine art world. IMHO there's a good reason for that - a mat board shouldn't call attention to itself, it's there to keep the glass off the print while not distracting from the photograph. But if you don't care about selling to galleries or displaying anything in a "fine art" context why not just use whatever color you like? Or why even use just one color? If you want to use the mat to enhance the photograph then different colors would work better with different photographs.

Robert Brummitt
18-May-2008, 09:35
Wow, thank you for the many different responses! I'm kind of shocked that only on this site did I get such reaction. I thought that the APUG community would be right there but they seem to think White is is it and only it. End of statement.
As to the question of archival of color. I have moved away from dry mounting my prints to hinged as I know many other color photographers have. I was told that the new ink jet materials don't hold up as well from heat. I don't know if that true or not. But, I stopped dry mounting after seeing my prints get nicked.
I also wonder if the dyes in the color mats are a bit more archival these days? One would hope so but maybe I should look it to that as well.
I guess the final question of mat color comes to me. As I stopped chasing the ideal of gallery sales long ago. I enjoy photography for myself. But, I do wonder what I say to young photographers who show me their work in white board or color. Do I steer them one way or the other?
It's all interesting.

Stephen Willard
30-May-2008, 00:30
I have done some extensive marketing test on this issue and other issues and my findings were very surprising. First, I do color landscape photography, so my findings may not hold for other forms of photography. Please keep in mind that these findings are generalizations and there are exceptions.

1. 95% of all my sales are from women, and they want white matboard. It is very rare that I sell colored matted prints to women.

2. Men who buy my work almost always choose colored matt board to match the print, but they only make up 5-10% of my sales.

3. Women also tend to buy more expensive prints than men.

4. Both men a women who buy my work love my brilliant colors, but women do not like the overstated contrast from color slide film. Women prefer brilliant colors that are softer in contrast than men. So I shoot using color negative film and have developed methods for enhancing the colors without exaggerating the contrast. I use only traditional darkroom methods for developing both my film and prints. Men love the overstated contrast of color slide film, but they buy far fewer prints than women.

5. The size of the matt board is also important. It has taken me a long time to figure out a ratio of mat size to prints size that seems to be most agreeable to my customers. Too narrow or too wide of mat size can have a negative impact on sales.

6. Women like to buy big panoramic prints that fit over their couches. Men tend to buy rectangular prints for their dens or offices. However, this is a weaker generalization.

7. Both men and women LOVE the story of the artist's voice. Every print I sell includes a one page narrative of the experience about the creation of each photograph. If they buy the print framed, then the narrative is glued to the back of the frame. I cannot overstate how important story is to my customers.

I am currently investigating whether metal frames or wood frames sell better, but I do not have enough data at this time to draw any conclusions.

I am also investigating including maps and GPS waypoints that will allow my patrons to hike to the very spot where I took the photograph. So far my customers seem very excited about this, and I have received many letters noting how much fun it was to go the very place that the photograph hanging on their wall was taken.

I do have a prototype website that demonstrates many of these oberservations at www.stephenwillard.com

Hope this helps...