a blog by knut skjærven

The Interview: Sting Happens

The Sting. © Knut Skjærven

/Knocking/ Anybody home?

Sure, please come in. I have been expecting you. I am sorry that I have not been responsive to you calls and your many mails. I have no excuses. Should I say I am sorry?

No, please don’t. As long as you are here. I need to talk to you between your occupations. Have you got half an hour?

For you I have got all the time in the world /smiling/ as long as you are brief about it.

Are  you always this busy?

I am never busy, but I keep sessions like these short not to start thinking too much. Thinking sometimes obscures the case. You just go ahead.

Will do. Here is my challenge. I think I mentioned this before.

/Interrupting/ Forget what you mentioned before. Just state it now.

/Interrupted/ Yes. Thanks. You have indicated that there is a link between phenomenology and photography and you have suggested certain structural similarities. You even say that this affinity goes directly to the heart of street photography. That puzzles me a bit. I simply don’t get it, so you need to explain this to me. Please.

/Staring into the air as if full of resignation/ Yes, I understand. I will try to explain what  I mean with that. You’ll get the short version. The long version I will save for the book that I will never write, right?/Smiling/. Take phenomenology first. Two terms are important: the natural attitude and the phenomenological attitude. You need to go from the one to the other to do phenomenology. Are you with me?

Think so. The natural attitude is the attitude you are in most of the time when you are on your daily chores, right? The phenomenological attitude is the attitude you take on when you arrest, freeze, bracket a moment in the natural attitude to investigate it a bit further. Phenomenology calls it bracketing, right?

Pretty much so. You have got the important distinctions. Let me now take this a step further. Have you ever wondered how you get from the natural attitude of everyday life to the phenomenological attitude of a less everyday life? I have, and in the beginning I could not figure it out. I did not think that this change of attitude could come by itself. So I started looking for things that could trigger the transition from one attitude to the other. My answer, this far, is that there must happen some sort of event for that to happen. If not, why should a person want to make such a transition even if it was only temporary? Without such an event, the transition would never happen. There would be no need for it to happen. No door to walk through. Not even stairs to climb.

Hmm … you say event, are we talking about the distinction between chronos and kairos?

Gosh, you are getting brighter by the minute. We most certainly do. Chronos being the time passing, kairos being the events in time that changes or alters things. Did not HCB use these notions too?

He might have, yes. Is it the decisive moments you have in mind?

I definitely have. Such an event could be of any sort, and I will not mention them all, but it has to do with some sort of incident that make you stop, make you want to reflect. Could be a personal matter, could be something happening around you, could be any kind of negative or positive friction. I will call it a STING. Like the musician. Simply STING. STING happens. Something hits you that is not within flow of routine expectations. In a photograph it could be a striking composition, a striking content of any sort. In some bright cases it will be a striking both. Still with me?

/Smiling/ Think so.

/coffee break/

Now, let’s take it a step further into photography. You remember that I made a distinction between picturetaking and photography? Yes you do. If not, you can read about it here.

I remember.

When you operate in the natural attitude you are a picturetaker. When you are operating in the phenomenological attitude you could be a photographer. That is one way of seeing and saying it. It takes time to move from one to the other. A camera alone will not do it, that’s for sure. Eugen Herrigel spent 6 years of his life learning to become an archer. That is easy compared. He even had to go to Japan to learn it. Don’t for one second believe that it will take less time to become a photographer.  If you have it in you at all. Wax on, wax off, that is the basic training you need to do. Remember Karate Kid? Sorry, I am getting off track here./smiling/

It sounds like that, yes, but I like it anyway. Who is Eugen Herrigel, by the way? Maybe we can come back to that another time?

What then is a STING in a photograph? I will answer that myself since time is now running. A STING in a picture is that little something that moves a picture from being plain documentation to being something on another level. I mean, pure documentation is alright if that is what you are after. But plain documentation does seldom arrest people. Documentation with a STING does arrest people. In street photography that is, for me, what it is all about. STINGS does not come by itself by the way. You help placing the needle. That is when picturetaking becomes photography. Time is up, by the way.

Ok, ok, I am off. I will come back for more STINGS another day then. Would that be ok? One last question though. The picture you have wanted to show at the beginning of this post, has that got STING.

I think so. The STING there is first and foremost the flying dutchman in the background, but it is also the contrast to the down to earth situation in the foreground: the kids and the photographer. It is all held together by the composition. Not only held together, but stressed and underlined by the composition. Would you not agree?

/Smiling/ Let me think about it. Now let’s have coffee.

/Smiling/ Yes, let’s. What coffee do you want?


Corrections to this article will be made.

The expression STING has also been used by Roland Barthes.


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