a blog by knut skjærven

The Lightness Of Life (7)

What about the difference between picturetaking and photography?

I had to find a way of describing the transitions you go through when wanting to take photography seriously. The best phrase I found was that this was a transition from simply being a picturetaker to that of (maybe) becoming a photographer. Picturetakers take pictures, obviously. Photographers literaly takes picture too, but they do it with a clear purpose and by knowing and using the alphabet and grammar of visual communication. HCB knew very well what he was doing. He was definitely a photographer.

Being a photographer takes training and knowledge. Being a picturetaker does not. That is the different. It is HUGE.

It is all too easy creating some sort of result when you use a camera. Anyone can buy one and start taking pictures. They don’t even have to leave the shop to start their new career as “artists”.

Knowing how to press the button, however, make them no photographers. Buying canvas and brushes and starting using them do not make you a painter either. You need to know how to use these tools. You have to study and you have to practice. You need to know something about colours, brushes and canvasses before you can start doing work as a painting artist. You need to know something about perspective and composition as well. That learning takes years.

Anyone can cover a canvas with paint using a brush as anyone can cover a film/card with light using a camera. That has, however, only little to do with painting or photography.

Yes, I had been taking pictures for years, but good enough results were far more randomly acquired than anything else. I could come home with 3000 images and decide that I did not want to look at any of them. It was a mess of styles, contents and time wasted. That actually happened. Now I can go back to these pictures knowing what I am looking for. I find some good ones, even. This change in attitude made a big difference.

Photography means “drawing with light”. I simply asked myself what does the pencils look like when you want to draw with light. I started coming up with answers and I tried deliberately and consistently to use the pencil that my experience had provided me with. And I looked for new experiences. I got myself a mentor as you know. All these things were part of the new deal.

Having a mentor does not mean that you copy what he has done. It means that you use his experiences and results but walk down you own path..

I found, along the way, for instance that is was much harder to do a simple picture than a complicated one. Simplicity is very important. I can’t recall any great photograph that was not very simple.

To do a simple picture is a very calculated process. You need to get rid of all the access information. Make sure that things fit together. That can be quite a task. This world belongs to the photographer.

Mind you, a simple picture can be complex, but never complicated. That difference is important to make.

Let me show you two images that I find complex but not complicated. They are structurally complex, but in terms of content they are very simple. The first one is Footwork (8). The second one is The Smoker (9).

Footwork (8). © Knut Skjærven.

Footwork (8), shot in Hamburg in August 2011. A very simple image of two ladies in a bookshop. However, it only works because the details are in order. Two pair of crossed legs, dark dress and white dress on light and dark backgrounds. Different modes and different styles.

The Smoker (9). © Knut Skjærven.

 The Smoker (9), shot in Berlin in May 2011. What holds this image together is the rhythm of the tiles and the windows. But what is interesting to me are the people and their occupations. The curious couple wanting to see what hides on the other side of the door. The woman outside in her tintin dress at the exact moment she is ashing her cigarette. And, of course, the fact that this is a black and white photograph that works better in colour. The orange colour match there is between the trash can, the plastic bag and the inside of the building. And again the bluish colour match there is between the female smokers jacked, the water pipe and the row of tiles at the top of the picture

Some will probably say that working along these lines sounds too calculated, difficult and even academic. And photography is supposed to be fun? Maybe so. But think about in another way. It takes about 5 years become a lawyer, even longer to become a medical doctor. Takes a lifetime to a become painter, a songwriter or a good harmonica player. Why is it that as soon as some people get a camera in their hand they instantly become brilliant photographers? You tell me.

The point is that they don’t. It is impossible.

The good thing is that photography, on top of everything else, also is a craft and like any other craft it can be learned. But it is not the craft that makes it alone. It, however have, to be there. You cannot teach anyone to be come a Picasso, a da Vinci, a Bob Dylan, a Wagner or a Mozart. Or for that matter a Henri Cartier-Bresson, but you can teach people how to hold a pencil or a brush, to wait for the right moment and to point the camera in the right direction.

The rest is up to the person in charge, I am afraid. It is up to the man behind the camera. Or the woman.


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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