A few years ago I was lying in the grass staring up the sky when I made the seemingly obvious discovery that my vision is circular. Our eyes are round, the earth is round, even camera lenses are round – but after years of taking pictures I’d failed to notice that my vision was round too. After that I started telling friends that I was going to start taking circular pictures. I haven’t followed up on this threat, but it still seems like a good idea. There was a time, after all, when this was perfectly acceptable:
Unknown photographer, circa 1890. These images were taken with a vest camera. Designed by R.D. Gray in 1885, the vest camera was a disc form fitted behind a rigid false shirt front with a lens that, disguised as a button, passed through the front. Six exposures could be made on the glass plate, rotated by a knob which also passed through the front.
In the late-sixties Emmet Gowin gave the circle another shot. In his 1976 monograph, Photographs, he writes:
About the circular pictures: I had quite forgotten that it was the nature of the lens to form a circle and in 1967 my only lens was a short Angulon intended for a small camera. I’d been given an old Eastman View 8×10 and brought the two together out of impatience and curiosity. After a while, I recognized the wonderful exaggeration near the edge. I began to use the camera with the lens, but for several years I would trim these prints so that the circle was disguised. Eventually I realized that such a lens contributed to a particular description of space and that the circle itself was already a powerful form.
Accepting the entire circle, what the camera had made, was important to me. It involved recognition of the inherent nature of things. I had set out to describe the world with my domain, to live a quality with things. Enrichment, I saw, involves a willingness to accept a changing vision of the nature of things – which is to say, reality. Often I had thought that things teach me what to do. Now I would prefer to say: As things reach us what we already are, we gain a vision of the world.
After Gowin, most circular photographs appear to be staged or experimental:
I’m looking for more circular photographs. Please send names, links or anything else that comes to mind.