OK to show the negative border on contact prints?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Apparently there are different views on this. A recent post said "It works fine if I want to have the neg in black with that 'I'm artsy' edge of the negative showing.

I asked Michael Smith, one of the leading contact printers, why he always trims his borders, and he said "It's stupid" to show them and that only Avedon, with his white backgrounds, can get away with it. (I hope I'm paraphrasing accurately.)

My own view, though not strongly held, is that showing the border is a statement that the image has not been cropped or enlarged, which gives it a certain honesty that it wouldn't otherwise have.

People who do Polaroid transfers almost always show the edges as some kind of artistic statement. Isn't this essentially the same thing?

I'm open to other opinions on this issue.

-- Stewart Ethier (s_ethier@parkcity.net), August 20, 2000


Hard and fast rules in photography, especially regarding composition, change from time to time. If you like them on your work, fine. If not, fine. They're your pictures. Just don't be a snob about it.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), August 20, 2000.

Stewart, My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that it is your personal opinion that matters with your work. If you are happy with the look of a black film edge, go for it.

Now for my opinion on black edges. I do not care for it. I really think it was a fad that has run its course. I don't like it for several reasons, which you have every right to disagree with. First, it looks sloppy, and gives the impression that you rushed through the process and don't care enough about your images to present them properly. Second, black borders on B&W prints tend to supress the tonal values at the edges of the print. Also, with dark backgrounds, it makes it difficult to judge where the image stops and the edge begins. I frankly don't think an "uncropped and unenlarged" print is a damn bit more "honest" than one which is properly cropped. What is "honest" about the angle of view of the lens used? Would it still be "honest" if the image was made with a longer or shorter lens? Photography is not an "honest" medium. It can be made to show or leave out whatever you want. I cannot take a photographer or photograph too seriously if the photographer does not care enough to make his prints look as good as possible. I have seen some 4x5 contact prints framed and properly matted in 14x18 frame size that were absolutely stunning. It said to me, "look, here is a print worth looking at". It looked a lot more "artsy" to me than an untrimmed print. A good image does not need tricks or fads or gadgets to make it art.

Strictly my own opinion. Feel free to disagree and disregard.

Good shooting, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), August 21, 2000.

Hmm, I don't know...Somehow, I feel that printing the rebate of the negative brings to bear the process of photography. It is a frame within a frame, and thus it removes the viewer one step away from image; the viewer is twice removed, so to speak, and is reminded about the artificiality of the process. Less immediate but no less powerful.

As to it being more 'honest' a process, all I can say is that where I am concerned, I have oftentimes liked to know what creative decisions the photographer made when making his picture. How he framed, lit, directed (if it was a studio shot), composed the elements, and set up the shot. Printing the rebate tells me about the process. However, I am unbashedly of the 'crop in the viewfinder, find possibilities on the easel' school of thought.

As Bill said, don't be a snob about it. And I concur with Doug that 'A good image does not need tricks or fads or gadgets to make it art'. It may be a fad but if it works for you, heh, gopher it!

-- Erik (xx@xx.com), August 21, 2000.

What's the big deal? I printed some with and some without, depending on what looked better for the particualr picture!?

-- shaman (andreas@physio.unr.edu), August 22, 2000.

IMO, the back edge can be interesting, but is almost always taken too far. It has a tendency to be a crutch. It "holds in" the corners of those shots where the tone in the sky is near, or even a pure white, thereby "saving" the shot. I do use the black edge when doing enlargements bigger than the ruby-lith masks I have available which provide a clean edge, but I also know that when the shot is mounted, matted and framed, the matt will be cut to hide the black boarder.

-- William Levitt (light-zone@operamail.com), August 25, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ