Wired.com – August 28, 2015
Instagram’s ditching the square, and everyone is freaking out. But the social network isn’t the first to champion the shape only to dump it later. Photography’s had an on-again, off-again relationship with the shape almost from the start.
Of course, the square is synonymous with Instagram. The wildly popular app has racked up more than 300 million users since its launch in 2010, and it’s always been characterized by squares and the grid they create. Granted, people fairly quickly found ways around that limitation with apps that provide workarounds. Many of them simply letterbox the image by pasting black or white bars at the top and bottom. Instagram finally got the message; in announcing the change Thursday, the company said one in every five photos on the site aren’t square.
Given that some 70 million photos are posted daily, that’s a lot of rectangles and circles and other shapes.
Instagram doesn’t offer any insightful, or especially compelling, arguments for embracing the 1:1 format. “Square is simple, it’s aesthetically pleasing, and it’s part of our DNA,” says product designer Christine Choi. Still, it’s not a surprise, given the app’s many nods to the bygone days of photography. The original Instagram logo all but mirrored the Polaroid OneStep SX‑70, for example. And there a plethora of filters make your pictures look like a Holga, or a Polaroid, or the washed-out photos every cheap camera of the 1970s made. Even as Instagram has revolutionized photography, it has nodded toward its roots.
And so it is with the square, which has been a part of photography almost as long as photography’s been around. Twin-lens reflex cameras used a 1:1 format, as did the first Kodak Brownie and mid-century Hasselblads. Polaroid cameras like the SX-70 spat out square pictures. All eventually gave way to better, faster, or more convenient cameras. Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, and every other art school student loved the square, but the rest of us moved on to more cinematic formats.
Until Instagram, that is.