Outthinking the Rectangle

2019 - Review by Colin Pantall

334 Words


Outthinking the Rectangle by John MacLean looks at the ways in which images are constrained by the rectangular form. In MacLean’s view it’s a limitation that is reinforced through the viewfinder, the negative, the print, the screen, the frame, the white cube of the gallery. Photography is constantly trying to find new ways of seeing and representing, yet the rectangle is a constant.

He reinforces this idea in the introductory text to the book, referencing Heider and Simmel’s 1944 animation-cum-psychology experiment, ‘An Experimental Study of Apparent Behaviour’, an experiment which ‘shows how a rectangle can not only be perceived as a place of refuge but also a place to be trapped… depending on whether it has a ‘door’ that can be freely opened and closed’. And that’s what this book is about, the powers the rectangle has in limiting the way we see things, and how that rectangle (and the image) can be open and closed. The idea is that our thinking becomes enclosed by the linear sides of the rectangle.

Outthinking the Rectangle is a great title. It fits the concept of the book, it fits the form of the book which is an unbound box of two-ply prints. It’s heavy like a brick and it’s white like the gallery cubes the book is critiquing. The images themselves are austere gradations of white and grey. They come with minimal captions on the back. ‘Viewfinder’ reads one, and we see an image of a DSLR viewfinder on a plinth in white room, an open door to the left (a reference to the previous quote). We are imprisoned by the rectangle is the message, but we don’t need to be. It’s an imprisonment of our own imagination.

There are Photoshop manipulations showing what our eyes see and do not see, there are images of splitting like Limo Usine, a picture of a limousine cut into three, or images like Void where a single viewer stares off into the blankness of an erased White Cube space.