a blog by knut skjærven

The Lightness Of Life (9)

Open and Closed Images

 The first thing I found was that there seemed to be two types of images: open images and closed images.

On closer inspection I found, that what seemingly were the open images in fact were the closed ones, and the closes images were the open ones. The best way to explain this is by showing you two pictures: The Mirror (12) and The Reception (13).

The Mirror (12). © Knut Skjærven.

The Mirror (12). At first glance this seems to be a very open image. And in a certain sense is it. The whitish space may suggest openness, but in fact this is a closed image. It is self-contained. You don’t ask for more information that you have already got in the picture. I call this, then, a closed image.

The Reception (13). © Knut Skjærven.

The Reception (13).

 At first glance this is a very closed image. There is no room for more. On second glance this image begs for questions to be asked. Why is his young lady passing? What is she doing there? What is she looking at? I call this an open image. By the way, the elderly man at the right is photographer Arno Fischer.

One, Two and Even More Dimensions

I also found other interesting things: Some of the photographs had a one-dimensional structure, but by far most of them had at least a two-dimensional structure. Of course I knew some of this beforehand, but I never sat words on it like this.

In the one-dimensional picture the message is fairly simple. Let me show you two examples of what I would call one-dimensional photography. This is , by the way, not negative meant but only a label used to find out what is often going on in photographs.

The two images are Shipmates (14) and K-damm Couple (15).

Shipmates (14). © Knut Skjærven.

Shipmates (14) is shot in Copenhagen this summer (2011). This is an example of what I call an one-dimensional image. The content is clear: A group of men/officers are standing at the end of a ship ladder. That is basically the message. Visually the message is also very simple.

 Be aware that one-dimensional pictures do not need to simple in terms of structures. Shipmates is simple, but K-damm Couple is not.

K-Damm Couple (15). © Knut Skjærven.

K-damm Couple (15). One of my own favourites.  Shot in Berlin in November 2010. I was out looking for a late night fast dinner, and I passed these guys in this pose on a bench about 200 meter from my hotel. I can’t neglect this, I thought, and so I asked for permission to take a couple of pictures. Same pose, but now they were aware on me. This is a one-dimensional image, but compared to Shipmates (13) above the composition is much more complex.

 That much for one-dimensional photography. Let’s look at some two-dimensional images from the dinner table selection.

If the one-dimensional images thrives on the exchange of meaning from image to spectator, then multi-dimensional images add a dimension to that: there is a exchange of meaning already inherent in the image.

Let me even here show you some examples: The Stranger (16) and The Flying Dutchman (17).

The Stranger (16). © Knut Skjærven.

The Stranger (16) is shot in May 2011. Charlottenburg, Germany. This is a good example of what I call a two- dimensional image. The lines of communication are not only from picture to viewer. There is another point of interest as well. What is happening, or is not happening, between the two people in this shot? Are they in some way connected? In what way? Questions posed, but not answered. As a photographer you can force such questions into play

K-Damm Couple (17). © Knut Skjærven.

The Flying Dutchman (17) shot at the Jewish Memorial in Berlin. Yes, another example of a two dimensional picture. It has two lines of communication. First one from the image to the viewer, second one from the group of three in the foreground,  and the flying Dutchman in the background.

Add to that that many pictures are multi-layers. When you talk about dimensions, as I do it here, you talk about relatively distinctive exchange point of meaning between the image and the spectator. Or within the images.

When you talk about layers you add dimensions that to a larger extent is based on the culture you bring with you. There are always such cultures, and a layered message may be more or less distinct. One (male) viewer stated for instance that he read sexual connotations in The Stranger (15). Others may read political, symbolic, or other not necessarily intended messages into almost every picture.

Her are two photographs with potential layered messages. The first is Blue Note (18). The other one is The Stool Mover (19).

Blue Note (18). © Knut Skjærven

Blue Note (18) is shot in Berlin in October 2011. There is an internal reference in this image consisting mainly in the non-spoken dialogue between the posh couple in the foreground, and mother and child sitting begging in the background. The simple juxtaposition of the two groups establishes this shot at least with  a two dimensional structure. Add to that the social comment, or non-comment, that can be induced from the picture. You have wealth and poverty expressed here. The young couple, that long gone have gone stale in their headlessness, turns their back on the realities unfolding quite close to them. They have chosen to turn their back on social realities, only to take the occasional glimpse throught the car mirror up left. This could be said to be a layered cultural message. Is this a comment on the present crisis in Europe? Hardy, but some might interpret it that way. The message is subtle.

The Stool Mover (19). © Knut Skjærven.

Just a quick word on another optionally layered image. The Stool Mover (19) is from May 2011. Shot in Berlin. This is potentially a layered image, in that it ALSO indicates a reality of things. The white, black dressed and very exclusive women standing comfortly inside the house, are watching when the differently dressed man is carrying out his chores. The women a placed high, the man placed low as to indicate their social status. He is their servant.

 Clearly there are much more to be said about the language of images. My point here is only if you have the ambition to move from picturetaker to photographer there are tools that could help you along that way. HCB new all of this. That’s is why his universe is so long lasting and inspiring.

It must be stressed that such tools are not here to substitute creativity as a more instinctive and spontaneous process when taking pictures. They are only there to assist such creativity. Using the elements of a visual language will become second nature and act as silent servants for the spontaneous eye. The sword has got two edges. Not one.


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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