Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Square

(photo Harry Callahan)

Over the last few weeks I've been experimenting on and off with the square format - 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 (or 6x6cm...) - mainly in colour.

It's been many many years since I used this format and that was with a fairly battered M.O.D./SOCO broad-arrow-marked Hasselblad.

(photo Harry Callahan)

I must say it's been much harder than I expected to "work the square". It's a very different way of seeing to me - even using the ground glass on a TLR feels very different to the 4x5 or 8x10 ground glass image (I'm doing some ragnefinder stuff as well). And then dealing with the equal sided frame - for one thing, it's too easy just plonk everything right in the middle... But it's an interesting and challenging experience so far as well. We'll have to see what eventually comes out of it.

So any words of wisdom from the square masters/mistresses out there would be appreciated!

Unfortunately, though, I haven't actually had time to scan any of my efforts yet (I've also been using up an old stash of outdated Ektachrome 120 64T film a lot of the time just while I experiment, rather than "real" - i.e. in-date - film).

So until I get time for some scanning (and find my MF scanner holders) here's a few from Harry Callahan instead.

(photo Harry Callahan)


julian said...

I think Friedlander summed up the provblems/opportunities really well when he said that the thing about the square is that all sides can pull the same dynamic weight. The top becomes equal to all other sides. Looking forward to seeing the results!

adrian tyler said...

i keep coming back to the square formant and i think that is the most liberating in terms of composition, it is both horisontal and vertical, therefore i don't have to think of the stucture so much, just go with the flow (man). )

mikepeters said...

Tim, for years I resisted square, going with 35mm or 4x5. But once I truly got what square was, I cannot go back. There is something limiting about it, you have to really take responsibility for the entire frame in order to be successful. But with those limitations comes the freedom and endless variety of ways to fill the frame.

The true beauty is that you never have to decide, vertical or horizontal? It's in many ways like a circle, endless and perfect in its proportions, you never get tired looking around the frame.

I also have a fondness for consistency of shape, making a book, portfolio or exhibition using different shapes to me disconcerting. I'm weird, I know it, but I'm a square and proud of it.

consumptive said...

reading an interview with friedlander, not long after he'd switched to 6x6 photographing the sonoran desert, he answered the question 'what's the difference between using the 35mm rectangle and the 2 1/4 square?' thusly:

*you get a lot more sky*

unSane said...

I think the trick to composing with the square is to use the rule of thirds, but expand it to include halves, quarters, fifths and so on. It really helps to have an ungridded viewfinder if you are going to try this approach.

So for example, if you have three points of interest horizontally, you figure out what the grid would be that would make them all land on a line. If they were equally spaced, it would be a grid of three vertical lines, so they'd end up on the quarters. If they were unequally spaced then you choose some other division where they land on the grid.

You can do the same thing vertically, independently. So you might have quarters horizontally and thirds or halves vertically.

Of course then you can fiddle with it to your heart's content but at least it gets you started.

This also works for non-square formats but most of the time they are not so challenging to compose.

Another tactic is to compose from the edges or corners and let the center look after itself. So long as the camera is in the right place (so that the center of the image is working), this is a good quick way to work.

I tend to be fairly strict about using open as opposed to closed compositions in the square format. IE the picture extends to the very edges of the frame and suggests what is outside it. I may sometimes close one edge (usually the top or bottom) but it is quite rare. This often cuts the gordian knot of composition since you reduce the number of constraints you are trying to satisfy.

I find that a reflex finder is a big help on the square since the laterally inverted image does my brain in.