In recent months, I have discovered a revived interest in the 1:1 ratio. I’ve been shooting a lot more with my Fujifilm x100s as of late. It has an option to adjust the aspect ratio of your photos when you shoot. For some reason, I have been drawn to the 1:1 ratio; those square photos seem to offer an extra challenge for me. So I’ve been having fun shooting square and I expect to do it a lot more in coming months.
Tighter aspect ratios are certainly less common in modern photography, but it has it’s place in history. Early consumer cameras had pretty tight ratios. The famous Kodak Brownie Camera, for example, used 120 film: A pretty wide film that was created for the consumer market, and it often resulted in a tight aspect ratio (1.35:1, 1.20:1 or even 1:1). Many consumer cameras followed suit. It wasn’t until Kodak’s 135 film caught on in the 1960’s that we started to see the rectangular format we know so well today. After the 35mm format caught on, it seemed like only Polaroid was promoting the 1:1 ratio, and their holdings in the market faded dramatically in the 90’s.
[Fun Fact: 35mm format cameras actually used the 135mm film developed by Kodak. Contrary to some belief, 35mm film is actually the format developed by Kodak for motion pictures. 135 film was actually developed in the 1930’s, but it took a long time for it to catch on as an industry standard.]
So the popularity of square dwindled dramatically since the ’60s and everything seemed to get wider: Photos, movies, even our monitors and TV’s. Square just isn’t that common anymore. But you can’t ignore the popularity of Instagram, which has made all the old film formats and nuanced developing popular in recent years, albeit for a digital world (how meta?). But even though Instagram seems to have made square popular again for social media, most photographers still prefer more rectangular formats, especially architectural and landscape photographers like myself.
Perhaps that is why I have been drawn to a square aspect ratio recently: I work so much on the rectangle that square is an escape from my common work. It seems to be even more appealing to work with a camera where I can set the aspect ratio while I’m taking the photo. I can’t do that with my Nikon, which locks you in at 2:3. Shooting square gives me an interesting perspective. I feel it simplifies my photos. Square seems to make otherwise uninteresting compositions more interesting. But it is also an additional challenge as I try to create a composition with a fixed focal length at a fixed aspect ratio. I’m never one to turn down a challenge.
So with that in mind, I relaunched my No Words project for 2017. When I initially started the project in 2012, each photo had three requirements: Square, monochrome and, most important, no descriptions. I always felt that art was like a joke: If you had to explain it, it wasn’t worth sharing. So the project was based on that concept. The other prerequisites existed just to add some challenge and depth to the project. But both have faltered slightly over the years. Even some recent works were in full color, rectangular or both. But this year, the project goes back to it’s roots. Every photo will be square, monochrome and lacking descriptions. I have even chosen to remove those offending photos from the project where I lapsed on the original mission.
No Words is not intended as a daily photo project, though I am trying to take a few photos every day. I will be posting photos that I took days, weeks or even months ago. I will miss some days. The schedule is not a focus of the project. Daily postings are hopefully just a side-effect of good shooting habits. But I will not be posting all of the photos here on 4North. If you want to follow along as I continue to update, you would best be served by following me at Flickr or via Instagram. My favorites will inevitably end up in the No Words Gallery.