Understanding Aspect Ratios

In preparation for the submission of my second assignment forAV Professional Practice, responding to a brief photographing St Michaels and All Angels Church, I want to reflect on aspect ratios and how practitioners use these to construct narratives and control how the viewer encounters their images. 

Jef Bonifacino’s Western Horizons (2018)

I often feel a slight discomfort when looking at photos with a 1:1 aspect ratio – perhaps my aversion to the limitations of Instagram is to blame for this. However, when I came across Bonifacino’s Western Horizons (2018), I admired his images in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to before. Of course, viewing images online is an entirely different experience to seeing them in a photobook or in print. With this, I think the ‘scrolling down’ of the webpage is an interesting way to view images with a 1:1 aspect ratio. Firstly, in some subconscious way, I think that the viewers expect to see an image that is 3:2 or 16:9 when away from Instagram. To be met with 1:1 in this context, then, is abrupt – the borders of the photo appear sooner than normal and our attention is jolted somewhat.

Moreover, as Bonifacino notes himself, the composition and subsequent narrative of the images are implicated by the chosen ratio:

The long horizons cut the square frame in two, providing a very strong structure that highlights the dualities of the moments I captured. Many times, these horizons represented a front between human and natural activity, often with bad consequences.

Bonifacino, 2018
Bonifacino, 2018. Western Horizons [series]

I think Bonifacino does something incredible with his series in this simply dimensional way. It’s quite easy to imagine the photos having a 3:2 ratio, that is, the standard for 35mm lenses, but the seemingly confined nature of the ‘square’ appears to encapsulate the image with strict boundaries. There is also an element of nostalgia, perhaps due to the historical prominence of the 1:1 ratio in medium format film cameras. Moreover, there is something to be said for ‘thinking outside of the box’ in this way – we see a square and we can imagine, for ourselves, what’s outside. In this way, Bonifacino’s images produce a feeling of affect in me – it feels as though I’m along for the ride.

Bonifacino, 2018. Western Horizons [series]

Michal Solarski’s Cut It Short 

Solarski’s Cut It Short works with an aspect ratio towards 2:1 – I determined this by dividing the dimensional width by height as instructed by a handy online guide (Squarespace, 2018) Not 1:1 and not quite the expected 3:2, the photographs are in-between; this, in some way, supports the narrative which Solarski is creating through his images – that is, to demonstrate the process of his own ‘coming of age’ (Solarski, 2018), with a focus on the boys’ loss of virginity.

Untitled #98 – After First Sexual Encounter. Goleszow, Poland, July 2013. Michal Solarski / Tomasz Liboska

To me, the exploration of sexuality in this series is reflected by the aspect ratio, which does not conform to the pre-established norms. By using 2:1, we see a set of images which look a little different, unusual. This is mirrored by the exploration of sexuality in the series, which is worthy of note – we see a potential threesome, one of the brother’s masturbating on a rooftop, and the cutting of hair which may be interpreted as an intimate act between siblings. This hair cutting in particular, as Solarski himself claims, is important to the series, aptly named Cut It Short. In Polish society, the cutting of hair (Postrzyzyny) means the entering of society or ‘coming of age’: 

One day we decided to make the world a better place – then and there, just like in the musical about hair, before we reached 30 and lost all faith in ourselves. We cut our hair short and became vegetarians in an act of defiance against mainstream society’ 

Solarski, 2018.
Untitled #11. Masturbation. Poland, 2013. Michal Solarski/Tomasz Liboska

Such defiance, one might argue, is replicated simply by the use of a 2:1 aspect ratio. Although it’s likely that this was not the intention, I think it’s so important in demonstrating the importance of such seemingly uninteresting and mundane decisions that we make about our photographs and how we present them to our viewers. I will definitely consider this more carefully when producing and presenting my own works. 

Untitled #310. Cutting Hair. Poland. August 2014. Michal Solarski/Tomaz Liboska

Sources Used

Bonifacino, F. 2018. Western Horizons. [online] https://www.lensculture.com/articles/jef-bonifacino-western-horizons [Last accessed 14 December 2018] 

Solarski, S. 2018. Cut It Short. [online] Available at: http://www.michalsolarski.com/gallery/cut-it-short/ [Last accessed 14 December 2018]

Squarespace. 2018. ‘Understanding Aspect Ratios’ Squarespace [online] Available at: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/115008538927-Understanding-aspect-ratios [Last accessed 14 December 2018]

Published by Nel Jade

Research interests include domiciliary care, visual methods, affect and emotional geographies.

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