Why are photographs rectangular?

Most photographs are oblong.  Fewer are square.

Why don’t we see images that are hexagonal, or octagonal – sometimes we see circular ones, but then only because they’ve been taken with a fisheye lens on a full frame camera.  Why not oval… 

The reality is that you can make photographs any shape you want, but the vast majority are oblong.

Partly I can see the logic.  Photographic paper is now, and always has been a particular shape, and it’s much easier to obtain mounts with specific sized holes cut in them.  In fact if you go to most framing sites online, they offer ‘standard’ size mounts with ‘standard’ cut outs…. 

Think of it this way, a lens makes a round image, but you only see the rectangle because of the nature of the camera.

Tradition makes oblongs – artists can make them any shape they choose….. so why don’t we?

Thoughts about Photoshop

Over the last year or so, some of you have been taking in my pearls of wisdom (or not, as the case may be).

I have used the phrase ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’ many times, but have you stopped to think what exactly it is that I’m on about…..

It’s about finding inspiration in the work of others – using that as a starting point for original creative output.

Artists sometimes decontextualise, remix, substitute, or otherwise recreate existing work in order to make something new.

For example – there are a number of photographers who are taking images from Google Earth, and rehashing them into something different – but what makes this sort of thing ‘stealing’?

It’s that instead of borrowing something, and making a weak imitation, which might just serve to remind people of the superior original, it has been changed by you, with your own new ideas.

Then, when you’ve transformed it – your audience may look at both works and say that yours explores that idea in a new and different way – you then own that new idea – you’ve stolen it.

Modern writers steal Shakespeare’s plots. The Lion King is a version of Hamlet, and West Side Story a version of Romeo and Juliet – these adaptations though transformed the original idea and became iconic, and famous in their own right.

There is a difference between inspiration and imitation, but also between inspiration and straightforward copy. It’s not copying when you replicate how the great masters used colour, or composition in their paintings in order to improve your own work.

How did the great painters and artists train their students? – they gave them things to copy…. I’ve seen it on the Antiques Road Show – the expert doesn’t always know if it was the master or the student, if the piece is not signed. Hence the importance of provenance.

Steal ideas if you must – but then go away and make that idea and concept your very own…. you never know, someone might just steal that idea and move it on some more…. be flattered if they do.

Oldies but Goodies

For as long as Lightroom has been in existence, I’ve used it…. I’ve organised and sorted all my images using this system which has been so efficient for me.  I can find anything fairly quickly, because the catalogue system is so good, and also because I understand my own file naming system.

Looking back though at what’s in there (there’s a lot of rubbish by the way), and I do start to wonder why I keep as much as I do.  

I think I operated under the wild assumption that I would (one day) go back and revisit all those images, and edit them over again as software developed, and my skills improved.

But here we are – some 20 odd years later and I’m looking at some of the things I kept, that I thought were ‘good’ at that time.    I think I can honestly say that most of the images are of no interest to me any more.  My style, and ideas have changed, and there’s little that I did then that I like now.

The other week, I had a more radical idea.  What if I removed from Lightroom, and indeed from my immediate hard drive everything I’d not looked at in the last twenty years, and started again.  Keeping only recent ‘lockdown’ work and textures I’d made.  

I couldn’t do it….. but in the end I compromised.

I’m older now, and hopefully a bit wiser.  The person who made those images 20+ years ago doesn’t exist any more.  I was a beginner with a Sony 3mp camera, with a 1 inch screen on the back.

So, the compromise was that I’ve backed up all those old images to an external drive – they include all my college work, and some family photos that honestly I can’t take again. That drive will be stored away with other hard drives, and hopefully I’ll take a look at it every now and again.

For now though, it’s time to look at what is left…. And I discovered some portraits that I took in 2011.  My editing wasn’t that good at the time, so I’ve been able to go back to the original RAW files, taken with a Canon 5D, and work them up again.

I realise now that there’s no way I could have visualised those images, the way I do today.  I think that then I was just ‘taking’ photographs, and maybe today I’m ‘making’ them.

As an aside, I was reading a book the other day, and the discussion was about the ‘perfect’ photograph, and the question was ‘what makes a photograph perfect?’  The answers were varied, and here’s a selection of them.

  1. One that is sharp and in Focus.
  2. One which gives the viewer a perfect experience, with no question about the content
  3. One which survives over 100 years and still gives the viewer the same experience
  4. One which is artistic and impressionistic
  5. One which adheres to the rule of thirds
  6. One which tells a story

All of these, or some of these.  Maybe you think non of these…. 

The thing that makes photography so fascinating for me, is that all the above can be ‘perfect’.  The photographer can be both objective, and artistic at the same time, and that’s probably why I love it so much.

I reckon I’ll keep looking back at the old stuff for a while longer.  

Scarlot Rose – 2011