PeterVRSoleilaberlin, Bonn (2017)

I’m not at all fond of vertical orientation in photography/image making–I refer to it with the pejorative #skinnyframebullshit.

This isn’t #skinnyframebullshit. Why not?

My frustration with portrait orientation in photography/image making was born of the same thing that makes me distrust zoom lenses–i.e. the place an emphasis on results over process.

Instead of standing in one place and adjusting the focal length of the lens to provide an angle of view that allows you to convey the information you select to the viewer. It fosters a first idea, best idea approach that I think when deeply ingrained too early on becomes a huge stumbling block further down the road.

But my bias is definitely in favor or work that is more studied and/or contemplative.

Of course, at the end of the day the only question that matters is did you or didn’t you get the shot? A vital shot that is legible–will depending upon the urgency of the moment–work despite failings in visual grammar.

After a decade of looking at student work and working with novice photographers and image makers, I can say that in my experience–unless the photographer/image maker is working within the confines of the architectural genre, a vertical oriented frame is almost always self-conscious, affected and logically incongruous when considered within the context the scenes it depicts. (I’ve actually had a half dozen people tell me that the reason the chose the vertical composition was because they felt more like a photographer when they took it–which is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever heard.)

The saying goes: you have to know the rules before you break them. Yet, by the same token: there are exceptions which prove the rule.

Intermediate practitioners love to take me to task about my strenuous objections to #skinnyframebullshit. (There are at least two internet famous photographers who disagree with me vociferously–in one case the photographer seems to have specifically built a body of work in an effort to flout my assertion. I find it ironic that this insistence is actually very much to the detriment of what would otherwise be better than average photos.)

In my own work–there have been instances where I have employed a vertical frame. I only use it as an absolutely last resort. And frequently I find a way to do it wherein the resulting image will be presented as if it were original conceived and executed as a horizontal frame.

This is partly because I am interested in more narrative or cinematic photos/images. And if you are intended to make a narrative photo/image and you frame it vertically, you’ve already missed the bus.

Another excuse I hear a lot is that the framing echoes the relationship of the subject to the space the subject occupies. This is actually dumber than the but I feel like a photographer/image maker because I tilted my camera on its side while taking a picture. Almost categorically, people who use this reasoning do so because they like the age old trick of making already skinny women look thinner through the imposition of a vertical frame. Or, they do it because they are shooting in an unphotogenic space and want to through shallow depth of field and careful staging draw attention to the subject while merely implying things about the physical space (i.e. it’s an interior with a brightly lit window.) :::masturbatory gesture:::

Most folks don’t stick around long enough to advance beyond the intermediate level. Also the gap separating a novice from an intermediate is much less than that which separates the intermediate practitioner from the advanced.

At a certain point you have to realize that the rules only apply to the well-traveled paths. They are there to keep you safe. But when you find your passion and chase it off the well-beaten path, the same rules deteriorate, clutch up and cease to offer their assistance. You begin to make your own. (And the way you’ll know whether or not someone is at that level, the ones who deny they’ve reached there are always more trust worthy than those who insist they know better.)

So why does this image work? I mean am I not contradicting myself because the framing so clearly echoes the position of the subject in space that is depicted. Well, yes. But also, not how the frame functions as an ellipses. The grading toward black at the top and bottom of the frame presents an impermeable boundary. Whereas the white on either side (bed and curtains, respectively) speak to space beyond the left and right edge that has been purposes excluded due to repetition. In other words, by seeing what we do of the bed and the curtain, we are able to extend the frame out in either side in our mind’s eye.

Anything that manages to include and engage you in the process of perceiving is a victory. But that fact is while being invited to participate is invigorating, a horizontal frame here would actually be boring. Too much white and not enough black would give it a oneirically suffused look; whereas because of our participation this seems edgy, voyeuristic and even lonely.

I’m not super familiar with all of PeterVR’s work but looking back over some of his recent stuff, he actually does a really good job of knowing when to use vertical frames. So if you’re interested, you should definitely spend some time with his work.

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