What distinguishes a fine art photo?

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  • I am thinking of seeking out a gallery to display some of my works and I have been struggling with what distinguishes a fine art print from a photographic print or poster?

    I put a border around my <a href=http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/photo750257.htm">Le Landeron, 2007</a> photo thinking it gave it a more professional / polished look; not to mention the vanity quality of having my name prominately displayed :-).

    But as I have been looking at some gallery sites I have beeen unable to find any bordered prints. Borders seem to be reserved for poster prints. I also saw that about half the "professional fine art prints" seem to be out of focus, blurred, over-saturated, low-contrast, and featurless skies. <a href=www.parisphoto.fr>for example, the upcoming Paris photo show</a>.

    So I want to know what others think. What constituets a fine art print and how should it be presented? This is really part of why I joined TrekEarth.

  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    This is an interesting discussion on the subject.

    To be honest with you, a lot of what I've seen labelled as "art" I'd have filed with the delete key, fuzzy, blurry, or otherwise significantly flawed images. Yet they seem to sell; it's a funny old world ;) At the end of the day it's all subjective anyway, if someone likes your images, they'll buy them, if they don't, they won't.

    I do know one thing though: I have it on good authority that a fine art print should have a black frame, and a white matte. Anything else is apparently "poster territory".
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    Hi Charlie.
    I've been thinking the same thing myself lately. I had some some prints made the other day for a friend at a digital printing lab and they printed them on what they tell me is photographic quality paper and archivally rated at 200 years! Who am I to argue. they looked o.k. Adrian's link is interesting but I think it still doesn't address the issue of the print itself. Most of us intend to shoot for the sake of art in one way or another, but I also want to know what constitutes a fine art 'print', not just a fine art image. I see it advertised on so many photographers websites 'fine art prints'. My question, and I think Charlies question, is more about the physical print itself, not so much the intent.
    Regards, Steve.
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    actually charles,
    fine art gallery prints have nothing to do with borders and all that.
    a print is considered an original if it belongs to a limited edition.
    there is a difference in the european and american art market.

    the european art scene looks at prints of all sizes belonging to the same edition.

    for example if you take out an edition of 15 prints then it has to be a total of 15 prints irrespective of all prints.

    on the other hand many american photographers (and ofcourse some in europe and others elsewhere too) have for the same photograph, edition of 15 for the size 20" x 24", edition of 20 for the size 16" x 20" and so on. in the states they're considered to be separate editions while in many galleries of europe they are one edition of 35 (15+20) and so on...

    irving penn had upto 71 prints in an edition , even henri cartier bresson had upto 70s in an edition.
    on the other hand other magnum photographers like trent parke (www.stillsgallery.com.au/artists/parke/) and critina garcia rodero have editions of 5.
    raghu rai keeps editions of 10.
    apparently sebastiao salgado's exhibition is coming to india next year. i dont' know what editions he will be keeping.
    you have artist's proof prints (p.a.) to keep with you.

    oh most importantly, these prints have to be archival in nature.
    that means as far as film is concerned you print on fibre paper
    in case you're a digital photographer you print on something like hahnemule fine art paper or the epson ultra smooth fine art paper.

    unfortunately the prices are goverened by market forces.
    and this "market value" is dependant on many many factors...

    the photographer himself (though not entirely), vintage prints (vintage prints in a strict sense are prints made within the first eyar in which the negative was exposed. at this very moment, digital doesn't fall within this concept), the process used to print... carbon,tin type, lith, platinum/palledium, silver or digital.
    it also matters if the photograph belonged to any photographic movement or if belongs to a significant body of work in photographic history or anything like that.

    then ofcourse how rare the print is.

    unfortunately no matter how much all of us hate it, the "market value" of a print is not dependant on how "good" a photographer is.


    here is a list of the 10 most expensive photographs. if you have the time do a search for the photographs individually. i doubt many of you will be satisfied with what you see except a few.

    an example of the rarity factor..

    only 3 prints exist of richar prince's cowboy photograph which was a part of the malboro man ad series. 1 is an artist proof, another with a museum and the third was auctioned off.

    also you should know that just because you have a limited edition doesn't mean that the prints can't be used for publication etc. there is no limit on educational and communication usage. you can even have non archival prints used for exhibitions or show your artist's proof incase your edition is all sold out.

    there are some photographers who come out with second and third editions but this practise is not encouraged by most galleries.

    good luck with your FINE ART exhibition :)
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    Print i copy of each photo on archival paper. Don't worry at this stage about editioning (i.e., restricting the number of prints), as the potential buyers probably will neither know nor care that they're purchasing one of a limited number of prints - when you're famous you can worry about that. No borders - the matte will form the border. Fix in the matte with the proper type of tape (sold in artiists' supplies shops), then put all your photos (i.e., one copy of each photo that you intend to have in your exhibition) in a box, not in a binder (so that the gallery can take them out and stand them against walls etc). Phone the gallery and make an appointment, and ask them how they want your work presented - they may have ideas other than those I've outlined here. Size of the prints should be about A4 size unless you have good reasons for another. This information comes from research I did for an article on this question for an Australian photogrpahy magazine, so maybe it might be worthwhile doing your own research for Swiss outlests. Good luck.
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    i should also mention that many of the photographs have borders especially when you're printing analogally.

    photographic papers come in various sizes so depending on which format you're shooting on (35mm, 6x6 and so on) you'll get a different border for a different format on a different paper size.

    don't worry about the border.

    1 minute factor canbe the paper size. sometimes but only rarely if the photograph size is unusual, it can make a difference.
    and ofcourse is it believed that at a lower level, the larger the photograph it makes some difference.

    though andreas gursky's 99 cent II wasn't the biggest photograph that you'd find and yet it's the most expensive.

    and don't worry abhout the photographic prints being blurry and all that. that's the style of the photographer. it's not what a "fine art print" is still..

    i told you what fine art prints with respect to galleries mean.

    i have no idea what fine art photography that people all over talk about means. so sorry if that's what you wanted.

    take care :)
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?

    <b>Here or there:</b>
    The discussion at luminous-landscape.com is worth reading but I was really hoping to stimulate the discussion of what constituets a fine art image here on TrekEarth. For one thing I think the user base here is much broader and much more international. There seems to be a large group of french and swiss photographers and since I am living in Switzerland, this is the market I would be trying to reach.

    <b>What's in a frame</b>
    I do think that mostly you are right about black frame / white mat. There are some exceptions on the black frame but it still must be more than "just a frame". For example Art Wolfe, a well-known wildlife photographer, sells his "limited-edition fine art" prints in a "signature" maple frame.

    But even in a black frame/white mat what's right: single mat, double mat, equal spacing all around, slightly greater margin at the bottom, or a really large border at the bottom. I have seen all of these. And I think in a commercial environment the framing may be nearly as important as the print.

    <b>Blurry vision</b>
    I'd be willing to bet that on any given "art photograpy" museum site you'll find at least 10% of the images out-of-focus or blurry. For example, <a href=http://www.griffinmuseum.org"> Griffinn Museum of Photography</a>. Another trend I have seen is that pictures of fine art museums (architecture ?) and works of art also seem to constituets "fine art" photography.

    <b>So why try to make a distinction</b>
    As I said, I am thinking about approaching a gallery to do an exhibition. The distinction is I can buy a stock photo for 1€, 20€ for a poster, 100€ for a managed rights stock photo (Getty Images, Corbis, etc) and 800€ to 5000 € (or more) for a limited additon, numbered, signed "fine art" print.

    I guess the real proof is, "If you can get someone to pay 800€ for a photo print, it's a fine art."

    <b>Does printing matter?</b>
    I mean does it matter beyond accurately reproducing the image. The fine art museum ๎n Basel Switzerland has an online catalog of "fine art" photography and nearly all of the photos have been printed on archival quality paper using a <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LightJet"> Lightjet printer</a> (prints a "true" photo using red/blue/green lasers on photo paper at sizes up to 3 meters x the length of the roll).

  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    Thanks Sohrab,

    This is a great response (and so are the rest).

    Since I am working in digital, part of the problem is what size do I print at. I have the added problem that the images I am working on are mostly linear panoramas. I have posted my first here at TrekEarth but it is only a segment of the larger print which currently measures 30,000 x 5600 pixels w๎th no enlargement (approximately 2.5 meters x .5 meters). For those who don't get an immediate sense of scale, picture this: 29 screens wide by 7 screens high!

    This also creates the problem that I must either have a frame made of adjust the borders / mat to accomadate the unusual proportions. Some "gallery frames" come with a very large bottom border; sometimes taking up half of the total height. I am leaning toward this type of framing but perhaps I have put the cart before the horse. Or, as has been said, I need to see if I can find a gallery in this area that will do a photographic exposition and what they would like to see.

  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo?
    My solution to the framing/borders issue was to choose a company that can frame and matte at arbitrary sizes.


    OK, they have limitations; the largest dimension is 60", but that's large enough for most people.
  • Re: What distinguishes a fine art photo? Conclusions to date
    In reading the replies to my post and in following up on some web research I have come to the following conclusions:
    1. a "Fine Art" photo is mostly a marketing ploy used by galleries and photographers to market their images.
    2. This touches on the old debate as to whether any photography is art.
    3. If you put a digitally produced border around an image and add a signiture you turned it into a poster.
    4. If it's sufficiently blurry and you have the nerve to display it, it must be art.
    5. If you take a picture of an art museum or gallery, that is art.
    6. More seriously, most serious "art photography" exhibitions that I have tracked down on the web tastefully note that the images are printed on archival paper such as Fujifilm crystal x or Kodak endura.
    7. The "art" prints are printed using a LightJet 3 laser color process providing continous-tone printing.
    8. Archival quality glass.
    9. Nearly universally, angled black metal frame with single white mat.

    So it would seem that the primary disticntion beyond marketing is the materials used to print and frame the image.