On Square Pictures and Pots
It may seem strange to come to a potter’s site only to find it filled with photographs. What does a potter do when she’s let go of her ceramics studio? She naturally keeps making stuff with the iPhone she’s addicted to.
Since moving to Maine last month and having no working space right now, my focus has shifted from the ceramics studio into a daily practice of seeing and recording the things around me. Like many artists, I am constantly thinking about beauty by finding it, researching it, making it, surfing for it, noticing it. Seeing is something I work hard at. I think that this practice of seeing with intention is crucial to everything I do as an artist and nurtures a way of making art that’s not tied to one medium. Although I see myself more holistically as an artist, I work best within parameters. I’m sure that this is one reason I became a functional potter. With a blank slate I’m lost in the infinity of possibilities, whereas with parameters I can begin to problem solve and respond to an existing set of conditions, which at the moment involve the square format of Instagram and a particular high saturation filter called “lo-fi”.
The general move toward the square format in web design strikes a chord in me both for nostalgic reasons and because of the challenge that the square format presents in making a composition dynamic. A square is static by nature and the long horizon line of a 3:4 ratio is lost in a square making the center the focal point. I got my chops taking pictures at newspapers in the early 90’s with a 2 ¼” Mamiya and spent days (actually years) in the darkroom developing photos and roughing up frames to get the retro shaved look that’s so easy to apply now. Back then, I used to be a purist about framing a shot in the camera, but now I make guesses about where the square crop may land and how to keep the eye moving around the natural equilibrium of a square. What’s nice about the square is that even if there’s not a lot of movement in the composition, a straight-on shot comes across as more formal and dramatic.
Square formats also suggest the presence of pictures on every side, even top and bottom, because they lend themselves to a symmetrical grid. They’re similar to pots in the sense that pots are singular objects that simultaneously exist in a long continuum of pots made over the course of thousands of years of ceramic history. They don’t generally exist as stand alone masterpieces; they’re considered in context and regarded within a whole body of work. Instagram photos feed off one another in the grid. Lately as I’ve been shooting, I’ve been keeping in mind how the images read in order, as well as how they read in a grid. I’m responding visually to the last picture posted which makes the challege of taking a nice shot even more complicated. Throw in the task of journaling, or posting in exact order of event, and there’s a fudge factor of a day in the timeline. What I love is that within all these parameters of form, time, and emotion, craftsmanship remains crucial. Whether it’s pots or photos, well-made is well-made.
*A note to Instagram users- sometimes I use an iPhone to take pictures, sometimes my DSLR. The limitations of the iPhone frustrate me and relying on a slow shutter doesn’t ultimately serve the work well, so I’m far from an iPhone purist and say use the “right” tool for the job, Photoshop away, and give us all the best work you can do.