I’ve been getting ready to print the images for the exhibition at the Center for Photographic Art that opens in March.
The first thing to do was to nail down the sizes of all the images. The curators sent me a list of seventeen picks. They wanted all but one matted to 26 inches wide, with the height pretty much up to me. They also identified three pairs of images that they intended to hang together, and requested compatible matting for those pairs.
Because the Staccato series is very much on the fly photography, the aspect ratios are all over the map. My first task was to figure out how many mat sizes I needed, and to pair images with their mat sizes. From and intellectual perspective, the simplest thing to do seemed to be to establish some rule like “Mat top and sides 3 inches, mat bottom 4 inches, half an inch of reveal top and sides, and five-eighths on the bottom” and print the images to suit.
I decided not to go that route. It would have resulted in every mat having unique dimensions, which would have meant that every plex cover (the curators decided to go with plex and mirror clips rather than frames) would be a different size. That would have complicated hanging the show, and would have meant that there was no practical way to have spare plex in case one came with a bubble or got scratched during hanging.
I opened Lightroom, picked the collection containing the images selected for the show, and asked the program to sort by aspect ratio. I looked for natural groupings, and ended up with four mat sizes that I thought would work for the sixteen smaller images.
With the preliminaries done, I next tried to simulate what each photograph would look like matted to the mats I’d selected. My favorite tool for this is a program called Visio. The company that created the software started out as an independent, but Microsoft, knowing a good thing when it saw one, bought them a number of years ago. The big advantage that Visio has over other program you could use for this task is that you can specify the scaling from the real-world objects to the document size. Once you’ve done this, you can forget about the dimensions in document space, and concentrate only on the physical dimensions of your work. I’ve used Visio to lay out entire exhibitions, and it’s great for that. You can look at each wall, move things around until they’re just right, and then send a dimensioned drawing to the people who are hanging the show with a high degree of confidence that you’ll walk into the opening and it’ll look like you imagined.
I brought each photograph into Visio and scaled them to their actual sizes (one of the flaws in Visio is that it doesn’t respect the document sizing embedded in the metadata). Then I created mats of the four sizes and dropped each photograph onto the mat I’d chosen earlier. The results weren’t perfect, but they were good. Then I looked at the images that were to be hung in pairs. Naturally, each of the pairs was on a different size mat.
If you’re going to show a picture on a mat that isn’t quite the right aspect ratio, and the photographs are strongly horizontal like the Staccato series, you’re better off having excess mat top and bottom than on the sides. Using that heuristic, I bumped up the mat size of two paired images one size. The third pair had one image that already had too much mat top and bottom combined with one that was right on the edge, so I moved both of them to an intermediate size.
That just left the big picture. It was close to a 4:5 aspect ratio. I had the choice of matting it conventionally, on a horizontal mat, or vertically. I liked the look of the vertical mat. The curators agreed. I’m printing all the other images for the show on Exhibition Fiber with the 4900, but the big image is too wide for that. I could print it on the same paper on my 9800 if I wanted to set it up for glossy paper, but I checked with the other photographer in the show, and he’s printing (to be more exact, having Nash Editions print) his big image on matte paper. I don’t need the Dmax of glossy paper for this particular image, so I’ll go with matte paper and the two will look good together.