March 13, 2017

The problem of taking a square photograph — Does it now mean Instagram?

There's a lot going on in "Catherine Opie, All-American Subversive/Her photographs range from the marginal to the mainstream, capturing things that are invisible to the rest of us" by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker — including some photographs with nudity — but I was interested in this brief snippet describing the conversation at an art-school critique:
One student presented a moody, grainy image of sprinkler droplets whirling through the sky above blades of grass. “They look like they’re disrupting the environment—even the paper itself,” a young man in an orange sweatshirt said. “I think your images have a lot of phenomenological availability, and I am really in admiration.”

The next picture—a shot of the sea with a landmass in the background, taken from the window of an airplane—was received with less enthusiasm. People accused the photographer, a young man with dirty, bleached hair wearing a sweatshirt that said “Violent Femme,” of following the mores of Instagram.

Another student, defending him, asked, “Wait, does every square now mean Instagram?”

“It shouldn’t, it shouldn’t,” Opie told them, shaking her head emphatically. “The square came before Instagram—it’s called Hasselblad!” (In her own work, Opie eschewed the square for years, to avoid invoking Robert Mapplethorpe, her predecessor in exalting erotic deviance through photography.)
Here's an article on the square composition in photography. Excerpt:
I have been quite fascinated with the square-format in street photography for a while... There was something quite sexy about the 6×6 format– the way that it created perfect balance in the frame, the simplicity, as well as the novelty.

Of course as Instagram has become insanely popular– the square-format just looks like an “Instagram shot.” I have heard of Instagram as “ruining” the 6×6 format (medium-format film)....
This is a problem I've never thought about. I always avoid the square format, even though back in my painting days, I liked 3'x3' canvases. I never became enamored of Hasselblads or Instagram and hadn't even noticed these used square formats. Maybe I'll set my camera to the square format and see what happens. Other than that it would make it easier to do a closeup of something round, like a flower, I would think that the same instinct for composition would cause me to use whatever space is available within the frame. But that wouldn't take into account the effect on the viewer, and apparently squares these days import a lot of static from the world of Instagram.


rhhardin said...

2 1/4 x 2 1/4 was a standard SLR format but you crop it in the printing, so the shape is really determined by what you photograph.

Luke Lea said...

Apparently criticism trumps art these days, which is a pretty low bar. I prefer Ann's neo-reactionary snap-shots.

Quaestor said...

Ask somebody who owns a Hasselblad about square composition.

robinintn said...

"I think your images have a lot of phenomenological availability, and I am really in admiration.” This child's parents should demand a refund.

Mary Martha said...

Back with film I was taught to crop based on the camera - my earliest professors required that we print 'full frame' for critiques. This applied if we were shooting 35mm or Medium Format.

With modern digital photography I crop to whatever the image calls for in the 'digital darkroom'. Cropping is a (relatively) easy way to change the impact or focus of an image.

The challenge I have now is that I will give clients digital files and then they will ham fistedly crop to fit their needs. Even when I offer to proved them images in any dimensions they want.

buwaya puti said...

6X6 is much older than Hasselblad.
Lots of folding cameras in that format. I have a few ancient German models.
First pro camera for it was probably Rolleiflex, I have a 1946-47 model.
It was the TLR format, like all those Yashicas of my youth.
And I have a 6x6 Japanese Bronica system too, a poor man's Hasselblad.
6x6 was wildly popular among pros.

Angel-Dyne said...

I'm interested in your comments on composition, but I don't read anything, or about anybody, touted as "subversive". The word invariably signals "dipshittery ahead".

Quaestor said...

I lust for a Leaf.

Mark B said...

I went to the link. Gross!

David Begley said...

“I get paid fifty thousand dollars to take someone’s picture,” Opie said, cackling and pounding the table with her fist. Her friends were laughing deliriously. “Isn’t that hilarious?”

Well, got to have some money to send that boy to a private Progressive school.

I'm sorry. But rich liberals are nuts.

David Begley said...

Oh, and I guess liberals need to read all about the great Opie now that Hillary lost.

YoungHegelian said...

I think your images have a lot of phenomenological availability

When I asked the cute chick who sat next to me in that course on "Fast Eddie" Husserl's Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness if she was "phenomenologically available" for a hook-up on Saturday night, she smacked me.

YoungHegelian said...

Does anyone else find it weird that the New Yorker can write so glowingly of this woman & her, well, rather unusual tastes & life, yet cannot write about President Trump or his supporters without spitting bile?

Leather Dykes, all 0.1% of them (if that) in the population? Okey-dokey!! The 63,000,000 of their fellow citizens who voted for Trump? Ewwwwwwwwww! Gross!

buwaya said...

I lust for a Pentax 645Z
It is pure greed though.

Available, of course, on the Althouse Amazon portal!

David Begley said...

Opie laughing and bragging about the insane fees she collects from her idiot rich customers reminds of when Ben Rhodes spilled the beans on the Iran deal. He bragged about how stupid and naive the MSM was to fall for his lies. And then Rhodes was all surprised that his dupes were offended to learn that they were duped. I hope Opie never sells another one of her mediocre photos.

But then again, who reads The New Yorker now?

Biff said...

Snobs will always find something to be snobby about.

Laslo Spatula said...

The framing format will become to Photographers what analogue recording equipment was to Record Producers: an influence and a constraint, fetishized in the digital age.

But that is not the point I wish to discuss. Because it doesn't involve naked chicks.

So: what was one of the most constricting yet recognized formats of still photography ever used in the last fifty years?

The classic Playboy centerfold.

The frame was not two but THREE pages, united as one severely rectangular shape -- approximately 11 inches by 24 inches, unfolded (2.18:1). As a frame of reference CinemaScope was 2:35:1...

While CinemaScope was wonderful for epic landscapes, the Playboy Centerfold subjects did not cover vast areas of, say, barren desert. That is because for most of the era women did not shave their pubic hair...

The Centerfold was used as both a horizontal and a vertical format. If the woman was standing naked: vertical. If she was naked lying on a bed: horizontal.

Sometimes the photographer would push against these constraints: for instance a side view of the woman on all fours. While primarily oriented horizontally, the pose would also fill the vertical space, with the model positioned -- physically compressed -- to not exceed the frame. I would figure girls with short thighs worked best in these instances...

Of course, the girl on all fours wouldn't necessarily now fill the frame horizontally, although a leg was usually extended backwards to help fill space, and provide a good look at the toes for the Toe Guys who like that thing. The remaining empty space was typically filled with a standard Playboy prop: a pillow, although robes, blankets and flowers could also be used...

One could argue that the frame format of the Centerfold lead to relatively chaste poses: a woman lying on her back with her knees spread wide would leave a lot of empty space -- a pose more suited for the less severely rectangular two-page centerfold, and was often used by the more extreme magazines that, coincidentally, used that very same two-page centerfold format...

Of course, now the standard frame format for nude photos is that of the iPhone: to paraphrase the Buggles, Nude Selfies Killed the Centerfold Star. I'll leave you to decide if that is progress...

I am Laslo.

Henry said...

Instagram doesn't have to be square. I make it a point not to. 4:3 is the default smartphone image size. For a month or so this year I was using a budget smart phone that had a 3:2 aspect ratio. It was really quite odd to compose to those dimensions again. Of course in the old days your viewfinder wasn't 3x5 or 4x6 - your prints just got cropped and that was that.

Triangle Man said...

Hasselblad may be square but so was Polaroid (3x3). Isn't that what Instagram was capturing?

Peter Irons said...

Yes, the square frame has a lot of phenomenological disability. (The preceding sentence doesn't mean anything except as a snide joke.)

Mark said...

Our family photo albums from the 60s are filled with square photos and none of the people who took them ever heard of "Hasselblad." They were all Kodak Instamatic photos I believe. We got a Polaroid once, but never really liked them all that much because they did not provide a negative for additional prints.

M Jordan said...

Squares bore.
They just do.
The Golden Mean
Is right for you.

M15ery said...

I still have my Blad, along with a Rolleiflex and a Bronica 645 rangefinder. Square is very nice, especially for people and often for landscapes--there's a real fullness to a well-composed square.

MF cameras are pretty cheap on eBay and KEH these days.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

2-1/4 X 2-1/4 is not standard SLR format, but TLR (twin lens reflex) format. Not sure about anyone else, but in 1979, the Temple University J department lent us all Yashica TLR cameras to learn photography with. I still own one. A doorstop, of course, but I have affection for it.

stlcdr said...

As already noted, Polaroid format.

(And then we will be back to vinyl, and how the modern tech youngsters believe they invented something of value).

Laslo Spatula said...

The Patriarchy Men: Nude Photographer...

"Amanda, I am Patriarchy Man. The time has come in our Photo Shoot for you take off your clothing..."

"Uh... I really don't want to do any nude photos.. I'm kinda a Feminist, I think..."

"Oh, Amanda: The Patriarchy is more Powerful than you ever could have imagined. Take off your clothes. Take off your clothes for Daddy."

"Please don't call yourself 'Daddy': that's kinda, like, creepy...."

"The Patriarchy says OFF WITH YOUR CLOTHES!"

"Okay, okay, please just don't raise your voice like that: my Dad used to raise his voice like that, it scared me..."

"Amanda, The Patriarchy will speak in cool, measured tones as long as you do what I say -- UNDERSTAND?"

"There -- I'm naked. Just don't yell."

"No one is yelling, Amanda: a stern voice is NOT yelling. You Feminists never can figure that one out..."

"Now what?"

"Get on all fours, Amanda..."

"But... that's kinda demeaning..."


"Okay, okay! I'm on all fours -- I'm on all fours!"

"That's good, Amanda. Now smile while I take some pictures..."

"Uh, please don't tell me to smile. My Father was always telling me to smile and stop being so melodramatic. I don't like being told to smile: I mean, smiling should be my choice, I think...?


"I'm smiling, I'm smiling!"

"You have a pretty smile, Amanda. You Feminists should smile more, it makes you look less like a man-hater..."

"I don't hate men, I just think I have rights, too..."

"You have the rights The Patriarchy allows you to have, Amanda: no less, no more."

"This isn't going to involve whips and chains, is it? Because my Father kept magazines under the bed of naked women in chains."

"Your Father was part of the Patriarchy, Amanda. ALL men are part of the Patriarchy."

"I just want to put my clothes on and go home, Mister..."

"You will go home when Daddy says it is alright for you to go home. But Daddy wants to take some more pictures of your butthole..."

"This is horrible..."

"Oh, it gets worse, Amanda..."

"How can it get worse, Mister?"

"The Patriarchy commands you to go into the kitchen and fix me a sandwich!"



I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

"Available, of course, on the Althouse Amazon portal!"

If you don't see "Althouse" in the code, it won't work to channel $ to Althouse. It's better to just name the product and suggest the use of the Althouse Portal. I appreciate the effort though! Anyone who wants to shop and help Althouse in the process, just start your interaction with Amazon by clicking in through the "portal" (always in the banner) or to use the search box in the sidebar. Everything you do within Amazon before clicking away will then count.

EDH said...

Opie? Looks more like Aunt Bae -- or Otis.

Peter said...

Square formats: the original Kodak Instamatic (1963) used a 126 film cartridge, which produced square negatives that were processed into square prints.

I'd guess this (and photos taken with numerous Polaroid cameras using SX-70 and 600 film) were used by far more people who took far more photos than those who've ever heard of Hasselblad.

Fernandinande said...

Mark B said...
I went to the link. Gross!

Someone doesn't like square pictures!

mtrobertslaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mtrobertslaw said...

Art minus Beauty = Opie

BN said...

I'm just a poor hillbilly, but please can someone tell me what is "phenomenological availability"?

And did that line work, i.e., did they have sex?

Sam's Hideout said...

Personally, I wish digital cameras would capture circular images, since almost all photographic lenses actually have a circular image area (tilt-shift and perspective-control lenses are exceptions, I think), so that i can capture everything the lens sees and then I can crop however I like afterwards.