Are the white sections in this photo defects in the photo or part of how the photographer framed the subject? Careful observation of this photo should guide how it could be best matted.

Larry Gottleib runs a photography website called Be-hold and photography auctions for serious collectors of photographs. He sends out an occasional newsletter like the one that appeared recently in my in-box entitled, “Without a Clue – what is it?”. He discusses the nuances of cropping a photograph and how greatly cropping a photo when matting it can alter the meaning of the photo. Matting may cut out contextual or historical detail inadvertently if not done carefully. In an effort to cover up damage or what appears to be a defect in the photograph, matting can destroy important elements of the image.


In this image, the photographer has already cropped the subject so tightly that it’s difficult to determine what exactly is going on and what the relationship is between the different people. Are the uniformed figures police officers? Are they helping or hindering this young guy? The grip of their hands is delicate, not forceful. Is that sand on the young man’s back and hair? Did he fall? There is so much ambiguity in this photo we have to start elaborating our own narrative to make meaning from this image. We can only guess at the photographer’s intentions. I think that to cover up the white sections of this photo with matting would destroy its documentary nature and dilute the power of the relationship between the people.

Check out Be-hold’s fascinating collection of historical and fine art photographs:

What are your thoughts on how this photo should be cropped? Do you struggle with cropping and/or matting your own images?