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Curious Frame - Issue #29 - Framing

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #29 - Framing
By Leanne Staples • Issue #29 • View online
As you very likely know by now, I love words and language as well as etymology and etiology. That is to say that I am drawn to the history of and how words came into being.
So here in issue 29 of the Curious Frame newsletter I am exploring the idea of the word frame in all of its various methods of usage and how it relates to photography and visual images.
Never trust any photograph so large that it can only fit in a museum. Duane Michals
I realize that the topics that I write here can sometimes verge on the serious, but if you read my Shoot New York City newsletter you will see that I always write Happy Shooting in it.
So I do hope that within all the serious topics, some humor shines through. For that reason I always like to revert back to rereading some Duane Michals. He has many humorous things to say about the art and photography world.
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Readers comments:
Don’t keep those thoughts to yourself. Curious Frame is about dialogue and I’d love to hear your comments or even questions or inspirations. And it’s easy. Just hit reply in your email.
Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required.
One reader wrote:
In the last issue, do you question whether photography influences or is influenced by culture? What comes first? 
Certainly if the photograph existed when God created the universe, we would already know if the egg came first than the chicken, or vice versa! 
The rooster would have already posted the picture of the chicken laying the egg or someone would post the sequence of the egg breaking and a chick being born! 
It is clear that communication has changed from water to wine after certain inventions and photography is one of them, but nothing compares after television and especially the live transmission of images that happen at the same time here and in Japan.
Another reader wrote in response to my response from the previous issue:
Thanks for answering my question. Street photography is nothing but chance, so I’m impressed that you want to add even more!
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Framing & Photography
Wheels in Motion (framed), New York City, April 2014. I haven't quite gotten the hang of photographing a photo!
Wheels in Motion (framed), New York City, April 2014. I haven't quite gotten the hang of photographing a photo!
Recently, I’ve been on a framing binge. I guess this has been one of my pandemic activities. It seems many people started baking bread and hoarding toilet paper. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the act of framing a photo to hang on my walls.
I’ve also been thinking about how we are always framing a photo when we’re shooting whether we are actively employing a framing technique or not.
Putting a photo in a frame along with others and placing them on the walls of my studio apartment is like curating. Choosing those things that are important to me, things that inspire me. It is like being a curator.
You get to curate the space that you live in like a curator in a museum or gallery. To curate as I wrote about in Issue 10 of this newsletter, On Curating means to care for, to love.
An artist typically starts with a blank canvas and fills it in with whatever they choose. They place their ideas onto a frame. Their work is defined by that space and what they can include in it.
The same is true for a writer. You start with a blank page whether it’s a physical piece of paper or a document that you write in on a computer app.
Both artists and writers often talk about the dread of the blank canvas/page and the block that they encounter when attempting to create.
When I write this newsletter, I also start with a blank page. Often I start with pen and paper and then transfer to a document on computer.
Astor Place Entrance, New York City, 21 March 2021
Astor Place Entrance, New York City, 21 March 2021
In photography we don’t start with a blank slate per se. We merely need to decide what and when to shoot. The above photo is an intentional decision to use framing and to fill the canvas.
Even photographers go through periods of feeling blocked about what to photograph. This could stem more from not being able to see new opportunities to capture.
Many photographers feel a need to travel for that reason. I often wonder how it is that artists can always find subjects to paint. I call myself a backwards painter as I can search out images to photograph.
"A New Yorker's View of the World," the cover of The New Yorker magazine, May 29, 1976.
"A New Yorker's View of the World," the cover of The New Yorker magazine, May 29, 1976.
When we take a photo we are framing a piece of the world that we inhabit. While we are typically concentrating on what we would like in the frame of our photos, we are simultaneously editing out the things that we don’t want in the frame.
A map is also a frame. It frames a geographical location. The above cover of The New Yorker magazine is meant to be humorous in that in the world there is New York City that fills the majority of the frame and then there’s the rest of the world.
In reality we all live in a world that is framed by the place which we live. There is the known and then there’s everything beyond those borders which are unknown. How well do you actually know the place where you live?
On Lafayette Street, New York City 2017. Frames are everywhere you look.
On Lafayette Street, New York City 2017. Frames are everywhere you look.
Framing is one of the methods that you can use in photography to create a dynamic look to your photos. That is to say that you actively seek out opportunities to frame your photo.
The above photo would have been pretty boring without shooting through the car. There are many examples of framing methods that you can utilize in shooting. This is a conscious act.
André Kertész, Circus, Budapest, 19 May 1920.
André Kertész, Circus, Budapest, 19 May 1920.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. Anaïs Nin
While we choose what to include in a frame, what we can’t see is often as telling as what we can see. There are always things going on outside the frame that we are unaware of.
André Kertész’s photo above is a brilliant example of illustrating that there is something going on outside the frame that we are not privy to. The title lets us know that a circus is on the other side. Perhaps it’s even better to not know that.
Monochrome Mood 6, New York City, August 2018.
Monochrome Mood 6, New York City, August 2018.
The question is not what you look at, but what you see. Henry David Thoreau.
While we can believe that we are conscious of framing our photos when we are actively framing them, it is in fact the times when we aren’t thinking about it that we are illustrating are own likes and dislikes. Our photos reveal much about who we are.
We can’t always capture photos that illustrate the human experience in ways that lend to a sense of wonder. I like the above photo as even though we are unable to see what he is looking at, we can see his awe.
	Marc Chagall, L’Artiste au Chevalet (The Artist at the Easel), 1953. Unique Hand-colored Watercolor with Pen and Ink on Paper.
Marc Chagall, L’Artiste au Chevalet (The Artist at the Easel), 1953. Unique Hand-colored Watercolor with Pen and Ink on Paper.
When you physically add a frame to a piece and when you take a photo of something, you are imposing a boundary. You can see where the image stops.
Having a physical boundary created by the edges of a photo, a canvas or a frame illustrate the limit of what the person creating the image is able to show us. But it doesn’t prevent us from wondering what is happening beyond the edges.
Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, 1966.
Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, 1966.
So there’s the framing that we intend, unconscious framing which is likely what we often do and then there’s capturing images that we didn’t even know were there.
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up the fashion photographer portrayed by David Hemmings discovers after the fact that one of the photos that he took of a couple in a park might actually reveal a murderer.
So we can only understand a limited amount of the information that we capture in a photo. I’m not certain how often that you could accidentally capture a crime in a photo that is far in the background of it. But try as we might to control what’s in the frame, other things will always present themselves in our photos.
Me and Mona Lisa and Antje, New York City, 21 January 2021.
Me and Mona Lisa and Antje, New York City, 21 January 2021.
Being framed is an interesting use of the word frame. I could tell you that I framed myself in the above photo with my friend Antje and Mona Lisa. That is not only playing with words but also with the idea of literally being framed.
The fun thing about this photo is that it’s a frame within a frame. Rather than seeing a frame as a limitation, we can knowingly play with the idea of a frame.
However, being framed is something that happens when a person is accused of something that they didn’t do or uses it as an alibi asserting that they were set up. This is one of those things that I find interesting about language.
In London, December 2017.
In London, December 2017.
Windows and doors provide frames that are like an invitation. They draw us in. They leave much to the imagination and I often think of the frames that windows and doors provide like visual poetry.
While a frame may create a limitation it can also open things up. The above photo is literally a framework. It is part of the architecture of one building while providing a view of another.
Waiting, New York City, November 2020. Photomontage.
Waiting, New York City, November 2020. Photomontage.
Photography is a frame of mind. Whether it’s shooting or viewing it, it requires a different mindset than working at a 9 to 5 job or preparing your taxes.
As well, different forms of photography require different frames of mind. There are the frames that we see and the frames we think in. Frames of reference.
Whether you can see a visible frame when shooting or not, a photo always has a frame whether it’s conscious or not.
High Line Bleachers, New York City, August 2010.
High Line Bleachers, New York City, August 2010.
When you frame your photos during shooting or to place on your walls, you are defining what beauty means to you. It’s never a complete story. It’s a body or work that really illuminates an individual.
While I’ve recently been discussing social media in my Shoot New York City newsletter, I think that it’s important to realize that photos posted on social media sites are generally about being social. Not necessarily about displaying your best work.
When we take photos and share them with others we are telling our life story. Pieces of it. They are the pieces that we choose to share with others and specifically with people that we know and don’t know.
Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier
While I can understand that not everyone wants to make a living off of photography and certainly there is much to enjoy about photography as an activity.
One thing that I find really difficult to comprehend is that someone like Vivian Maier could take tens of thousands of photos and never share most of them. In fact there were thousands of rolls that were never even developed in her lifetime.
Alas, I’ve gone astray of the topic. I’ve wandered outside the frame as it were. Curious Frame is my frame for my thoughts on photography and so far I haven’t run out of any ideas yet. Photography prompts many different ideas worthy of discussion.
Speaking of which, Curious Frame exists for dialogue. If you have comments, questions or suggestions all you need to do is hit the reply button. Bring it on!
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Sharing is Cool! If you’ve been forwarded this email or are reading online, consider joining the dialogue by subscribing. If you are looking for past issues you can find them all in the archive at the link below.
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Curious Frame Newsletter | Exploring Photographic Possibilities
Further reading:
  • Findlay, Michael. Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art, Prestel Publishing, 2017.
  • Michals, Duane. Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity On The Way To The Bank, Thames & Hudson, 2006.
Further viewing:
Bringing a portrait of private artist Vivian Maier to the big screen
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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