I Square Off With Instagrams

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

While I eschew most forms of high technology I choose to use the particular ones that serve my purpose. While by most standards my Epson V-700 Photo scanner is somewhat obsolete I can do wonderful things with it in conjunction with film (prints, negatives and transparencies). My Nikon FM-2 camera (I have three) is yesterday’s high technology but its sophisticated titanium focal plane shutter is still a marvel. It keeps working without any need of repair or fine tuning even though I have had them for at least 20 years.

I am particularly interested in the trends of high technology as viewed by what we call social media. I have both a facebook and a Twitter account (@alexwh). In order to understand youth (and in particular my soon-to be-15-year-old teen age granddaughter from hell) I study how people use social media and how it seems to affect how they communicate, how often they communicate and what medium they use to communicate, or not.

For starters, at least 70% of my incoming emails are from Expedia, Air Miles, Costco, Abe Books, Telus, Kit Cat Clocks, Dueck Motors, and whatever company I have purchased something from and needed ( not given the choice) to part with my email address. Fewer of my friends send me emails. Most don’t call on the phone and if I happen to leave a message in their answering machine these messages are not returned. I think I may have the communications version of under arm odor. Even the usual “I like your pic” or facebook “like” is fading. Facebook seems to be in decline. In order to communicate with my friend Tim Bray who works a Google Android or with my new friend writer J.J. Lee the form that will have a quick return is through Twitter.

Sometimes Facebook is the only efficient mode of instant communication. Last year I wanted to send a message to Max Reimer, then Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse. The Playhouse web page was not user friendly and communication with its Artistic Director was either verboten or simply not listed anywhere. I found Reimer on facebook. I sent my message and got my quick reply. The phone book (the on-line white pages were useless). Of late I have noticed that in facebook people are sending what looks like a form box where they ask you, “Do you still want to be my friend?” You are given three choices. These started popping up here and there and then suddenly they were like a phalanx of Greek Hoplites. Then there are the boxes with aphorisms that have replaced the “word of the day” from a recent past. “It is better to have loved and lost than…” Hogwash!

The nostalgia photos (perhaps an avocado-coloured electric hand beater) that ask, “Do you know what this is?” “And if you do, like”, are creeping up in popularity. Ugh!

What really pushes me off the cliff is the square photo that underneath is followed by the statement via Instagram. More legions (not even Greek Hoplites) of people are taking pictures with their phones and “improving” them with Instagram. One salient feature of the Instagram process is the squaring off of all images. I have yet to see rectangular Instagram. Instagram comes will all sort of apps that mimic photographic effects from the past. In some cases these photographic effects preceded the birth of the users. How many remember where crazy borders came from? Seen here reduction ad absurdum is an image that I took this year of my splendid model friend Bronwen Marsden and her then paramour Michael Unger. I have converted the picture (which I took with that Nikon FM-2 loaded with President’s Choice — No-Name 800 ISO colour negative film) to resemble an Instagram but a rectangular one! I first added a vignette with Corel Paint Shop Pro X2, and then I used Corel’s Time Machine to give it the Cross Process effect (crazy off-colours) and a border.

Then I did the same thing but first cropping my picture to a square. I rest my case in which anybody who reads this can decide which is the better picture. And below is the body of a previous blog in which I wrote of the merits of not shooting square pictures. The Perfect Square Monday, February 06, 2012

Whatever success I ever obtained for shooting for magazines came when in the late 70s I opted to buy what was then a new fangled camera, the RB-67 with a 6x7 cm format and the innovative revolving back (from vertical to horizontal). I remember an art director, Rick Staehling who called me one day and told me he had an assignment for me in which he stipulated that I use that big camera I had showed him. During the many years that I shot for magazines my photographs were rarely cropped. One of the reasons is that the revolving back “forced” me to look at everything as both (not either) a horizontal and vertical interpretation. I had received assignments for vertical full page (bleed is the term) photos but when the art director would see a horizontal version he would sometimes convert it into a two-page spread and force the editor to reduce the poor writer’s copy! For me the square format is the ambivalent format of a person not willing to make a commitment. This person can make the choice later (sort of like exposing in digital RAW). Except for those who shot for record albums (not much of an art now as the soon-to-disappear CDs and their covers were and are much too small for any detail to be important) life is not square. If you look around with care you might find that the Greeks were aware that a square was a static shape and that life was really never square. So they invented the perfect square which was ever so slightly taller than wide. The Greeks without being sure of the existence of gravity somehow corrected what we would now call visual gravity and made their square taller so that we could flatten it with our imagination. For me the square in either film or digital format is a shape that does not lend itself to a creativity of the magazine kind. Books and magazines are all rectangles. It was, paradoxically, the advent of the first Apple computers in the 80s which were quickly adopted by forward thinking art directors and magazine designers that changed everything for a while. In an era where photographs were pasted on with wax on magazine facsimiles the computer liberated these art directors from the problem of designing pages for vertical or horizontal art. They started assigning photographers and illustrators to shoot and draw squares. Issues could be designed with months in advance to suit anything provided. That’s when magazines (for a while) forgot that one big picture usually trumped many small ones. Magazines in those days were littered with little square pictures and art directors ignored the intentions of photographers and illustrators and designed pages, flipping and moving images around in their Apples.

Link to: I Square Off With Instagrams

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:http://t.co/yf6BbOIQ alexwh@telus.net

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:http://t.co/yf6BbOIQ alexwh@telus.net