The series begins with examples of traditional film photography, Polaroid and Hasselblad, that employ the square format, with one example of each. An additional Hasselblad film image appears in the studio section. Beginning the book with these images underscores the nature of the motif as a square composition, rather than the square as a subject. One could photograph any subject they please on square film, although the format will dictate the composition.
Special thanks to the owner of this auto repair shop for generously providing this space. We found a number of visual opportunities in the form of textures, colors, and lighting characteristics. White walls produced inspiring light, while the center of the cavernous space allowed for deep, moody shadows.
A plethora of objects and a range of textures tell stories spanning decades of accumulation and evolution. Small parts, tools, and general clutter construct a rich tapestry that is gritty but organized. One table in particular exhibits the scars of age, having endured what must have been decades of service.
The subjects’ role is to explore the location and exploit the visual possibilities. Imagining the duties of those technicians who inhabit these areas, the subjects drew inspiration to choose props and strike poses.
The figure wears mechanic’s gloves, complementing the motif of tools and parts on the repair bench. A large adjustable chrome crescent wrench and welder’s goggles work towards the same effect.
A long-spouted container adds some intrigue and purpose to the subject’s movements near a cabinet of carefully labeled drawers. Handwritten numbers, with ink bleeding into the yellowing paper, impart an almost rune-like appearance.
A right-angled pose conforms to the square shape of a workbench. The bench and compartments form their own right angles, divided by broad lines.
A vice stands out amidst a variety of textures and tones. A rag draped over a shoulder helps integrate the figure with her surroundings.
A pneumatic hose snaking across a supine body connects visually to a mesh-skirted work table. This composition offers a rich array of contrasting texture.
A subject sits on a shop cloth and leans into the items stacked on the bench.
Wearing welder’s goggles and crouching beneath the table, the image takes on a mysterious ambiance.
Inside the Frame
A rigid frame provides a structure to pose in. Although this prop makes a strong suggestion to contort the entire body inside the square, some more creative compositions defy this expectation.
When the square aligns with the page, it imparts a stable feeling. More intriguing, perhaps, are compositions with the square offset, balanced by limbs extended in the other direction.
The process of posing inside a form like this is a contemplative one. The subject is acutely aware of where each body part is and how her head and limbs conform to the geometry. Even when glimpsed from an angle, her striking features command immediate attention. Her long, flowing brown hair adds an interesting facet to the images.
Bleached, cool highlights leave only a hint of the frame, and draw the eye to the abstract shapes of the overall design.
The addition of a black square block forms a shape within a shape to further explore the theme.
Composing photographs outdoors is a distinct process that readily accommodates square designs. An abundance of compositional elements are possible in every direction and extend to the horizon.
The infinite background of the natural world affords almost limitless compositional possibilities for equal proportions of height and width. In these images, we find ourselves either in the wilderness or on the edge of it, where traces of our encroachment blend with natural beauty. The nude is at home in nature.
Before sunrise, a pair of figures poised on driftwood suggest a composition. The body in sand or water creates a design of texture and color. Whether composed in river water, a blooming field, or on a deserted road, the goal is to balance the figure with the landscape and immediate surroundings.
In an urban concrete environment, the comparison is between the subject and the countless lives going on in every direction.
Shadows and Ghosts
When our communities retreat from our encroachment on nature, the resulting place becomes an opportunity for an unusual kind of figure photograph. These settings are apt analogies to humans: part civilized, part animal. The lines of architecture and fading patterns of age populate the compositions.
On an abandoned bridge at sunset, an arm and a foot each stretch towards opposite corners of the square page. Against a concrete barrier, an arm and a leg on the same side of the body reach upward to fill the frame.
Multiple exposures at an abandoned Buddhist monastery yield an ethereal effect. The sequence narrates a journey across the rooftop. The lines of the railing are visible through the ghostly bodies.
A modern, angular table contrasts with its surroundings in a disused government building. Through the window, the straight roofline across the alley is visible. Special thanks to the maker of the table and shop owner who helped us access this visually rich location.
Posing in and around massive geometric elements—an enormous pipe or a straight concrete wall—incorporates the body into their shapes. The manufactured lines, circles, and curves contrast and complement the natural contours of the body.
Circular structures provide a construct of equal height and width to fit snugly in these pages. Rectangular structures harmonize with the square in various ways, for example, by bisecting it.
Contemplating how the human figure fits into a square image usually involves compressing the body, or foreshortening it through perspective, to fit the proportions. However, there is another method: balancing the subject and background in such a way that a square crop is the most compelling arrangement.
The cement structure’s light, smooth surface reflects ample light, glowing in the afternoon sun. The deep shadows of the late hour emphasize the shapes of both the subject and her surroundings, adding drama.
Interior settings offer geometric elements that suggest a square composition. The body can align with lines and blocks of color in a room. Alternately, the body can break across the geometric shapes. In either case, combined elements fill the frame. The edge of a couch, the corner of a room, baseboards: all create geometric planes that can be arranged to contrast with and surround the figure.
Square glass bricks reflected in a mirror and the right angle of a decorative wall are obvious lines which easily divide the square image. The predominantly blue tones are complemented by the warm lower region.
The body perched on a sofa and the dark mass beneath her balance the visual composition. Her limbs work in concert to guide the eye diagonally from her head to her feet and hands.
Sometimes only light and shadow are needed to add a geometric component. The body is balanced with the shapes cast on the wall by the window light.
Red and Angular
A bright red sofa dominates the composition with its vibrant color and array of angled shapes. A range of garments accents the subject’s limbs; black stockings and garter, high heels, and smooth leather knee-high boots. The choice of attire and posture challenges traditional ideas of femininity and modesty while simultaneously maintaining a sense of mystery.
The sofa is composed of rectangles, creating several planes in three dimensions. Each right angle adds to the density of lines that occupy the space around the subject. In some compositions, the lines are jumbled; in others, they provide a sense of order.
Artists have long used red as a strong color to demand attention. In these images, the form is either framed on all sides by the blazing color or she sits perched atop it. Her deliberate choice of limb placement and direct expression maintain a balance with the bright couch, commanding our attention back to her. Faint tones of blue light splashed on the wall provide a cool contrast to the hot crimson.
The subject fills a painter’s small studio with an energetic display. The glass brick window provides visual balance to the figure. The floor is strewn with bits of paint, oil, turpentine, debris, and what seem to be bits of the floor itself. The floor tiles echo the square motif. The line where floor meets wall divides each composition.
With unbridled instinct she commandeers a broom as a visual element. Dance poses and airborne maneuvers are the mainstay of the kinetic energy in these compositions. This series demonstrates that the square frame does not have to be static or confining.
Musical equipment provided a challenge to be innovative within a familiar theme of pinup and electric guitar. The amplifier forms a dark rectangle, placed left of center. This dark rectangle aligns with the much larger rectangular area of glass blocks, balancing the visual offset of the window to add tension to the composition.
The painter’s easel made for an unusual theatrical partner. The lines of the easel contrast with the organic shapes of the body.
The photography studio offers controlled, repeatable results. This process can develop formal, refined compositions which are neither vertical nor horizontal in orientation.
Balancing on, against, or behind a truck tire brings out muscle-tensing positions. Similarly kinetic, a robust metal chain obeys gravity and acts as a pendulum to add a subtle unpredictability. A pair of chains allows both symmetrical and asymmetrical arrangements.
Three identical inflatable spheres or a single sphere allow leaning dynamically into the pose. Motion creates sweeping curves with fabric. Mesh gloves and a guitar round out the list of props.
Rectangular blocks allow the figure to fit, inverted, in the square. On a velvet sofa, an atypical pose seems more interesting than sitting. With just the body, triangular or diamond shapes appear between arms and torso or between arms and the floor. Similarly, legs create angular, zig-zagging lines or sweeping arcs.
On the Square
A raised platform draped with dark fabric provides a plane for the subject with parts of her body both above and below it. This raised surface combined with poses that are neither standing nor sitting push the center of the body toward the middle of the square.
A diagonal lines bisect the frame in the first of four variations on this theme. A crouched position fills the square, but an outstretched leg and tilted head draw attention through the image. A raised arm changes the focus of the pose.
The body is arranged with a small black square inside the square frame, drawing attention to the use of space. The foreground comprises the figure and the dark square, while the background comprises the negative space around the two elements.
In each image, the viewer’s journey begins by following the subject’s gaze. The interior lines of the body, arms, and legs all direct the eye through the compositions.
This photobook began with a Kickstarter was made possible by backers. The acknowledgements in the front of the book include the names of major backer as well as the models for the images. The second edition was published in 2019 and is currently available; the first edition was published in 2015 and is out of print.