a blog by knut skjærven

The Lightness of Life (4)

Tell me more about the inspirations you have from his photographs.


How do you honour a master? For me the answer was easy. You don’t copy but you let yourself be inspired. There are certain shots that I found very inspirational.

One of my favourites is the well-known shot from Brussels in 1932. Two Belgian gentlemen are standing by a canvas fence, sneaking into what is going on the other side. One is indifferent to, or unaware of, the presence of the photographer, the other is not. He turns towards the disturbance behind him. You can see his large, dark moustache. Here it is at Magnum Photos.

If luck comes my way I must make a shot like that, I said to myself. I few months later luck came my way and I took he image I call Honouring Henri (2). It is not much, but this was the shot a wanted to have.

Honouring Henri (2). © Knut Skjærven.

I decided that I wanted to take a shot of people looking through the holes of a fence, and possibly with a person looking in the opposite direction. I shot this in Berlin in June 2010. I call it Honouring Henri (2). Not a masterpiece, but I like the idea. People stealing themselves to a glimpse of “the other side”. The human conditions, maybe.

There is another shot that is even more famous than the one from Brussels in 1932. You are familiar with it. I am sure. It is shot by the River Marne in France. It is, by many, recognised as HCB’s Masterpiece. Here at display at Magnum Photos.

I wanted to take a picture with that structure as inspiration. Let me show you two of my trials. The first is Docklands (3), the other one is Indian Summer (4).

Docklands (3). © Knut Skjærven

Docklands (3). This is shot in Hamburg in the beginning of August 2011. I had HCB’s picture from River Marne as the inspiration. It was very deliberate. Foreground, background. The waterfront. People at ease.

What happens is this: Some images that you enjoy gets under your skin and your visual radar tends to halt and address motives based on a similar structure. If you set your mind to it, that is. It is your second nature operating.

Recently a friend well acquainted with HCB, Bernard Jolivalt, made me aware that the picture below, Indian Summer,  reminded him about the famous River Marne shot. Interesting, I thought, that he should say that. Bernard wrote “The perspective of this picture reminds me “Sur les bords de la Marne” (on the bank of the river Marne) taken in 1938 by Henri Cartier-Bresson. The arrangement and postures are similar. In both picture, people stand, waiting. In HCB’s picture, a man pours a glass of wine. In yours, a girl drinks directly at the bottle. Nice coincidence.”

I did not take Indian Summer (4)with any conscious inspiration from HCB, but it turned out that is was there without my knowledge about it. Amazing how your mind works. The Dockside (3) image was, however, very deliberate.

Honouring Henri (4). © Knut Skjærven

Indian Summer (4). The shot is from Copenhagen and taken in October 2011. I had no idea that I was inspired by HCB when I took this. I was reminded by a friend that I was.


What About Henri Cartier – Bresson? The Lightness Of Life.

(Links to all sections).

Prelude; The Lightness Of Life (1);  The Lightness of Life (2 & 3); The Lightness of Life (4); The Lightness of Life (5); The Lightness of Life (6); The Lightness of Life (7); The Lightness of Life (8); The Lightness of Life (9); The Lightness of Life (10); The Lightness of Life (11).


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