On the Edge

Rocks and roots above the Potomac.

Usually, when I crop a photograph, it’s strictly for compositional reasons: the camera’s frame has included something I wish to exclude. But sometimes I feel that a particular format carries an emotional value with it as well. I think, for example, that the square format carries with it both a sense of stability and nostalgia (viz. Instagram). Putting an asymmetrical or offset subject in a square frame creates a different tension than it would in a standard rectangular one, where it would likely conform to the rule of thirds. Centering a subject in a square frame gives a positively iconic quality to the image.

The 16:9 ratio is relatively rare in photography until the modern era. It’s the ratio of HD, the widescreen movie. We associate the shape with drama and motion, the proportion generates its own inherent suspense. Something is going to happen. A photograph in this format reads as if it were a movie still: if it’s been called out of a film, it must be an important frame, right? Why this moment, and not some other? But because it is static, in our Western culture we “read” images that are short and wide from left to right, they have a built in visual narrative. We expect them to develop or unfold. At the very least, we expect a certain grandeur from a panoramic landscape.

That’s a lot of built in semiotics to play with, or against.

This small tree and its rock-grasping roots are found at one end of the Billy Goat Trail above the Potomac River in Maryland. It reminds me very much of the cliffside cypresses of the California coast, and I am suddenly overcome with a desire to revisit Point Lobos. A small state park, Lobos is a place with an astonishing density of natural beauty; around every bend there is a lovely new ecosystem-in-miniature. I went there often when my grandmother lived in Carmel, decades ago.

2 Responses to On the Edge
  1. [...] A Year Ago: On the Edge [...]

  2. [...] with what I would title today’s entry. Having settled on an HD-format crop, which I have previously described as having an inherently narrative quality, I immediately thought of scrolls and storytelling. I’ll call it The Story of Leaves, says I [...]