Magazine Article


Creative framing of canvas prints

Photo by John Conn

Photo by John Conn

Photo by John Conn

Canvas. There's something raw and expressive about a bare canvas, something timeless. Unlike most photographs taken in a fraction of a second, there's no exact reality to it. It's all at the mercy of the artist's hand, the artist's interpretation of what he sees, what he feels. Like a blank sheet of paper before a writer, a blank canvas has its own lore, and it's something only fulfilled with the strokes of a brush as the image makes its way across it. That is the beauty of canvas. The timelessness of it.

A Eureka Moment

Many photographers are taking their bits of reality and returning them to a painterly interpretation. What was once the domain of large and expensive labs, the palette is now the home computer and the programs available. The painterly "hand" belongs to affordable inkjet printers and their ability of laying down pointillist pixels of color. The canvas print, the giclée, has become the new paper that offers "texture" and a "feel" of art that was usually attributed to the application of paint.

Now, given a freer hand to expand on one's work, it's understood that certain images would work well, and others not. I was pleased with a number of my photographs that printed out on canvas. My "palette" was a combination of Hahnemühle Canvas and the Epson 3800 printer. The colors proved to be rich and true to life, with many viewers surprised that what I was selling weren't paintings at all but photographs. I take that as a compliment.

But even with the surfaces of my work sprayed to protect them from curious rubbings of fingertips to see if it actually was a painting, the canvas prints proved to be a little too delicate for my taste. Also, like any artist, I wanted to take my work a little further to distinguish it from the rest of the pack. What I needed was a little twist. Only problem was, I didn't have one--yet.

Now granted, a photograph, if it's any good, should speak for itself. But, on the other hand, if that was 100 percent correct, there wouldn't be so many framed pieces: just bare or matted photographs stuck to walls. The twist I needed was the presentation of my canvas pieces. I would like to say I pondered this dilemma for days on end--but not quite. The "eureka" came to me as I passed a framing store. There in the window was a photograph sandwiched between two pieces of glass, surrounded by a black frame. As I inquired within, the salesperson said it was a floating frame.

Back home, I placed one of my sharp-edged canvases between two pieces of glass and into a frame. Wasn't working. No "art" to it. Then I had a very slight "eureka." All of this time, I'd been trying to protect my canvases from damage. Why not show what the canvas was made of? Why not shred its edges, showcasing the marriage of these two mediums? This way, I could bring the texture, the makeup, of the canvas to the forefront, along with, I hope, a great image. Once framed and sandwiched between the pieces of glass, I had my little twist, my timelessness--for the moment.

John Conn ( trained as a combat still photographer in the Marine Corps and became a presidential photographer for the Marines. He holds a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts. His work has appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Time/Life Books, IMAX films, and various other publications. For more information on Hahnemühle, go to