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Display of Prints in Homes Increasing as Medium Gains Respect as an Art Form

June 03, 1989|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Traditionally, the photographs that adorn the home are a predictable lot--an assortment of portraits, prefabricated collages and family albums. But as photography gains more respect as an art, that's changing.

Works ranging from original Ansel Adams prints (price tag: about $10,000) to lesser but still excellent pieces for as low as $250 are finding their places in homes throughout the nation.

Even photographers such as George Tice, known for his urban landscapes and documentary work, or landscape photographer John Sexton (Ansel Adams' former assistant) sell their prints starting at about $350.

And, like all works of art, quality photographs can be good investments. The value of good work generally goes up with time. Nonetheless, Susan Spiritus, owner of the Susan Spiritus Gallery in Costa Mesa, cautions that the first prerequisite should be finding a photograph that you will like.

"Photographs are getting more and more expensive," Spiritus said. "An Edward Weston (photograph of a) shell that sold for $30,000 a few years ago just sold for $102,000. Also, the lower-price photographs are fewer and fewer and more difficult to come by."

She says care should be taken when the photograph leaves the gallery.

"It should be framed properly with the correct materials and matted with museum or archival boards," she said. "Once you get it home, you need to hang it in an area away from direct sun. You don't want to have direct sun on any piece of artwork."

Over the years she has found more people decorating with photographs.

"There is no question about it," Spiritus said. "I think it is because there is much more publicity . . . more exposure in the corporate area and museums. It's in the news a whole lot more. People are becoming more educated about photography."

Landscapes and flowers are the most popular sellers for the home, according to Spiritus. Photojournalism, documentary work and portraits are on the bottom of the list.

She says everyone wants an Ansel Adams print--until they hear the price. The best sellers at her gallery include Tice, Henry Gilpin, Clinton Smith and Jeffrey Becom. All are contemporary artists producing a lot of affordable ($250 to $500) work.

"Most interior decorators don't use photographs because there is a lack of education on their part and their clients' part," she said. Most don't use photographs "because they probably save that portion of their budget for last. They buy the furniture, drapes and the other items that the decorator and client feel are more important.

"They don't think in terms of original art. They think in terms of decorator art--inexpensive and colorful art (posters). When a decorator thinks about putting a piece of art on the wall it has to match everything in the room. That's not a criteria for buying a photograph and hanging it on the wall."

Interior decorator Abby Menhenett of Design Associates West in Corona del Mar finds her most enthusiastic clients are those who dabble in photography themselves and are buying with knowledge.

"Decorating with photographs really depends on the interior design style," she said. "In a real traditional home I can't see a lot of photography being used (while) in contemporary design, I see them used in all sorts of places."

According to Menhenett, the framing is less important with photography than with paintings, but the images are more important. The frame becomes a part of the art when you're talking about other art forms.

Menhenett has a few tips for hanging photographs:

Family groups of photographs should be chronological in order to tell a story.

Make sure you hang the photograph at the correct viewing level. Take into consideration whether the photograph will be viewed while standing or sitting. Most people hang their pictures too high.

If you plan to hang a group of photographs on one wall, predesign the layout on the floor first.

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