a blog by knut skjærven


Itching Image: Two Of A Kind

Two Of A Kind.© Knut Skjærven

One way to create an itching image is to make a two-of-a-kind shot. Like the one you see here. It is a very simple version.

You get an image of this type when you frame two (or more) similar objects. It has to be objects that are NOT intended to be isolated or framed together. Such a strange framing is what (can) make an image itchy. The famous Henri Cartier -Bresson used this little trick in many of his images. He did it well and was one of the first to use it.

Normally shots like this leaves an impression of curiously or humour. A smile at least.

When I speak of objects I include people, which are normally called subjects. Objects or subjects, in this context, it does not matter. In the shot above we actually have one of each: one live person sitting down and one kind of similar object in the painting. In addition we have a somewhat similar overall outline of the two, look at their hands and their faces. Same (roughly) positions of hands, and the somewhat same strange expression on their faces. Look at the mouths.

The picture was taken at the Danish National Gallery in Copenhagen. Earlier this year (2012). Copenhagen is in Denmark.

You can, of course, also make three of a kind and you can substitute objects with situations or groups of people, which will leave you will more complex images. In this example you get the very simple version. I would say that three of a kind is rather difficult to do. Groups or situations might be easier.

I mentioned that Henri Cartier – Bresson used this technique. His shot from Athens in 1953 is a good example. Here he combines two groups of a kind: two women upstairs (the decoration of the house), and two women downstair (passing on the pavement). Another one is shot in Nepal in 1963 showing a concrete figure with roughly the same outline as a passing woman. Another one yet is taken in Rome in 1951 showing a male hairdresser looking out the window of his shop. He is flanked by a poster of a woman in the other window. There are many more such examples in Cartier – Bresson’s portfolio.

I would say that two of a kind was probably one of Cartier – Bresson’s favorite techniques for creating itchy images.

When you see the shots that I have mentioned you will know what two-of-a-kind is all about. It is that very combination which MAKES the images mentioned. Two-of-a-kind is an effective way to create an itching image.

Very easy for you to try as well. Good luck with it.

© Knut Skjærven. Text and image. All rights reserved.


This post has been prepared for a new website Street Photographer’s Toolbox. That site will not be public for a while yet. It is under construction. However, some of the many posts that will go into the new toolbox for street photographers can be read here. You will also get bits and pieces of the new toolbox at Facebook Page Street Photographer’s Toolbox.  Enjoy.


Connotations: Pose

K-Damm Couple. © Knut Skjærven.

IMPORTANT: I am preparing a new site named Street Photographer’s Toolbox. The site is aimed at active street photographers.

The new site is not ready for publishing yet, but some of the posts are.  This is one of the new posts. You will not be able to open all of the links in this post at present. Stay tuned. 

The second connotations procedure Roland Barthes mentions is Pose. 

He talks about people pose which suits us well since we define street photography as having people as the distinct and bearing element. Barthes’ example is a portrait of President Kennedy. The example in this post is far from it. More on that below.

Let’s listen to what he says and expand on the theme just as we did in the post on Trick Effects.

Barthes:”Consider a press photograph of President Kennedy widely distributed at the time of the 1960 election: a half-length profile shot, yes looking upwards, hands joined together. Here it is the very pose of the subject which prepares the reading of the signifieds of connotation: youthfulness, spirituality, purity.”

A bit later in the same text: “The message in the present instance is not “the pose” but “Kennedy praying”: the reader receives as a simple denotation what is in actual fact a double structure – denoted-connoted.”/Page 22.

No one would argue that a shot like that was anyway near what we would want to do in street photography, but it stresses what pose is and what it can bring in terms of connotations. Pose is the direct or indirect arrangement of a scene to be photographed. Like setting up President Kennedy in the shot mentioned. Like setting up anything else under any circumstance you can think of. Pose is a broad and very important thing in any type of photography.

So also in street photography.

It is a good idea to dishinguish between three types of poses. First there is the posed pose, then there is the unposed pose and finally there is the provoked pose. 

For the photographer the different is that in the posed pose he directs the person or the people in question. Like in a studio he sets the light, brings the chair or whatever to sit on, etcetera. In professional cases such posing might well include laying the makeup and setting the hair. Male of female. For the street photographer the pendent would be that he asks people to take on a certain bodily pose, move to a certain location, etcetera.

The provoked pose is when you call indirect attention from people and you by that get them to act in certain way based on such a provocation. Could be that you in a street set up your tripod and photographed people when they came looking and wondered what you were doing. Could be you wanted to shoot people in their face using a flashgun. The last variant seems to be popular and would be a direct provocation quite literally.

These are three different ways of doing street photography sure, but the way we in Street Photographer’s Toolbox understand it is photography as unposed pose. In other words: Cases where you do not directly interact with the people you want to picture. No before you take the picture.

Maybe you say that unposed pose is an awkward expression? I agree with you. The reason why it is a good idea to use it is that is stresses the obvious fact the all photography to a certain extent is posed photography. Already being there  as a photographer under a certain sky; in a special location; at a time of day or night you have partly decided/posed the content of the shot. Call it pre-posing. You may not interact with people themselves but you model everything else. And by setting the camera you model that too.

All the decision you make in this respect have influence on the connoted content you will end up with. You may think that you are there as a spectator alone and that you render untouched reality. That is not the case I am afraid, but you can do your very best as a photographer of unposed poses. That will have to do because there is no other way.

Such a thing as a street photography untouched by man does not exist. By the way, the photograph above, K-damm Couple, is unposed pose, but not quite. I asked the girl to look into the camera, and that little gesture makes a big different. You might say that I was stretching the rules a bit. Hopefully Barthes would have liked it.

Thanks for reading.


Relates posts in this section:  Introduction; Trick Effects; Pose; Objects; Photogenia; Aestheticism; and Syntax.

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.

Connotations: Introduction.

Shoe Seduction. © Knut Skjærven.

IMPORTANT: I am preparing a new site named Street Photographer’s Toolbox. The site is aimed at active street photographers.

The new site is not ready for publishing yet, but some of the posts are.  This is one of the new posts. You will not be able to open all of the links in this post at present. Stay tuned. 

Roland Barthes was a French academic famous also for his writing on photography. He did not have the patience to take pictures himself, but he wrote quite extensively about them. Together with Susan Sontag and John Berger he is one of the top three in a rather exclusive club.

In 1961 he wrote an article which in French was titled Le message photographique. In English: The Photographic Message. Among other things it holds a chapter that Barthes called Connotation Procedures. It is these procedures that shall concern us in this toolbox section.

Barthes operates with six connotation procedures. To get a feel of what connotations are all about we will deal with all six. They are 1) Trick Effects; 2) Pose; 3) Objects; 4) Photogenia; 5) Aestheticism; and 6) Syntax.

To understand the meaning of connotation, you need to understand the meaning of  denotations, as well. The two always comes together. Both words derive from latin. Denote means to mark accurately, observe, indicate. Connote means to mark/observe/indicate along with. It is that little idea of along with that is important here.

If denotations are first layer content, you could call connotations second layer content.

Related to street photography denotations are the more objective elements of a content that is there for everyone to see and agree on. Connotations could be described as the psychological impressions that comes along. Often more subjective than what is denoted.

If you look at the photograph above the denotations would be the 4 shoes on the right hand side, their shadows on the wall, the wall itself, the floor, the woman in the background and another set of objects. You could do a thorough description of the photograph to get all the details that makes the first layer content of the image.

On the other hand, you could say that this image is not primarily about shoes at all it is about elegance, it is about exclusivity and the human isolation in a modern world. That would be the connotations of the image. Second layer contents are more subjective.

There are more layers than denotations and connotations. Such third layer content could be political, symbolical or even other types of contents.

If you ask if Barthes connotations procedures are all there is to it then the answer is: no it is not. There are much more to be considered when speaking about connotations, but Barthes’ procedures makes a good start. For instance there are connotations related to colors, typography, tonal range, grain structure, etcetera.

Good luck with this section.


Relates posts in this section:  Introduction; Trick effects; Pose; Objects; Photogenia; Aestheticism; and Syntax.

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.

Connotation Tool: Trick Effects

The Flying Dutchman.© Knut Skjærven.

IMPORTANT: I am preparing a new site named Street Photographer’s Toolbox. The site is aimed at active street photographers.

The new site is not ready for publishing yet, but some of the posts are.  This is one of the new posts. You will not be able to open all of the links in this post at present. Stay tuned. 

I am going to treat Roland Barthes’ connotation procedures in the same order that they appear in his article The Photographic Message in the book Image, Music, Text.  And I am going to add a little to them to point out their potential for street photography.

The first procedure he points to is Trick Effects. By that he really means trick effects: doing trickery, or faking an image. He talks about inserting an object or a person that was not actually there when the picture was taken. We know this from political propaganda but most of the times when a person is removed from an image after having fallen out of grace. Removing is in the same visual vocabulary as inserting.

Barthes mentions an image where an American presidential candidate was faked to be in the same shot as a communist leader. Thereby connoting a positive connection and even friendship between the two. The communist leader was inserted into the photograph. (We are back in the cold war days.)

Today, we would say that an image like that was heavily photoshopped by inserting an object or a person in a frame where it/he/she did not actually belong. Like in concept photography where this type of manipulation is quite alright. It will, however, not be acceptable in street photography were documentation is an important issue.

You may rightly wonder what this connotation procedure is doing in toolbox for street photography? Particularly as we speak of street photography as straight photography. Straight meaning that we do as little post production or editing as possible. Surely there is no room for trickery and faking images when you define street photography?

You are absolutely right, but as our mission here is to be loyal to Barthes procedures we have to include trick effects as one of his connotation procedures.

There is another reason which is even more important. That reason has a direct relevance for our understanding of street photography.

Roland Barthes: “The methodological interest of trick effects is that they intervene without warning in the plane of denotation; the utilize the special credibility of the photograph ( … ) in order to pass off as merely denoted a message which is in reality heavily connoted; in no other treatment does connotation assume so completely the “objective” mask of denotation.”/Page 21.

What Barthes is trying to say, is that photography of all media have a special capacity to trick people because people or object inserted into a photograph, done well enough that is, really seem to be part of denoted reality. Thereby you also manipulate connotations as in the case of presidential candidate and the communist leader.

Is that it then? Are Trick Effects of no use in a street photographer’s toolbox? Off to the next procedure in Barthes cluster of connotation procedures? Not quite, because photograph’s capacity to blur the distinction between denoted and connoted content can also be used with great effect in proper, unmanipulated street photography.

How come?

Let’s switch the words insert with include, and fake with make. Then the situation becomes very different. We manage to hold on to photograph’s capacity to be truthful to reality. Now we no longer have faked denotations that produce false connotation. We have real denotation producing truthful connotations. By substituting insert with include and fake with make we manage this.

Why is this important? It is important because I never understood quality street photography as a plain and a mostly mechanical rendering of street life. To stress the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary takes a special effort of including or excluding (not inserting or removing) things that in the rush of passing (through life) are normally overlooked. That is the overall mission of proper street photography if it has any. That is its humanistic perspective.

NB: It can often be difficult to detect if a content is inserted or simply included. The difference is critical. In The Flying Dutchman above, the boy jumping in the background could have been inserted in the photograph. It is not. The connoted message could be described as livelyplayfulpositive.

Taking into account that the image is shot at Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the connotations takes on yet another layer of meaning. Maybe a symbolic one. One of reconciliation perhaps. You decide.   The image holds first (denote) second (connote) an even third (symbolize) level contents.

Thanks for reading.


Relates posts in this section:  Introduction; Trick Effects; Pose; Objects; Photogenia; Aestheticism; and Syntax.

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.


Is it all about street photography. This time too. It is going to be a new series of some 10 posts. Maybe even more.

Street photography, in this connection, defines as an approach to things more than a reference  to a location: a street. Street photography does not literally have to be shot in a street: the post office, the town hall, a railway station, an open space, a sports arena will do as well. Even inside a restaurant will do. So will all the likes.

But it needs to be shot in a public place; it needs to be un-staged and unposed; it needs to be contextual showing a slice of life rather then a portrait. First and foremost it needs to have people as the distinctive and bearing element. That is what is understood by street photography in this context. We will not concern ourselves with dead dogs, rooftops or colourful posters. Not with cityscapes either. We will deal with peoplescapes only.

Even with such a broad range of options all shots honouring the criteria above will not be proper street photography. There needs to be something more to it. We all know that. There are shots that are very boring, very plain and very ordinary. And then there are the good ones. Ready for all to see and appreciate. And we recognize them when they appear. There must be something to it then.

But what is this more to it made up of? What is this something. Why are some images acclaimed and others not?

Call it that some photographs have an x-factor; call it that extra, call it an undefinable something.  I call it  I T C H I N G   I M A G E S. And sure, we could leave it at that, pull the trigger of the camera and hope for the best. Could even close your eyes in doing so. We could leave it simply by labeling this mysterious and illusive phenomena. And then know nothing more about it other than the fact that images like these might pop up in front of our eyes from time to time. That would be the easy thing to do.

But we will not rest. We will search for these I T C H I N G   I M A G E S. Those rather few ones that pricks your skin and want to get inside. Those images that will not pass like ships in the night and leave no trace of having been there at all.

I call them  I T C H I N G  I M A G E S. We will seek them out. Not all of them, but the principles that make them itching. Or could make them itching. Not the whole story, but some of it. Enough to make good tools for learning.

Two things of importance:

First thing: Am I going to succeed in this? I have no idea, frankly. Time will show and you will be the judge. I will do my best. More cannot be expected from Europe these days.

Second thing: Are the images I use for illustration all going to be brilliant, I T C H I N G   I M A G E S. Answer: No they are not going to be, because that would not be possible. For copyright reason I will use some of my own images to make the point. I will, if possible, refer to images taken by one or more of the great masters (as we call them). My images are included to make the point only.

Your possible question: Is the image above an I T C H I N G  I M A G E . The answer is: Yes is it. In principle. It makes a point of one of the principles that we are looking for in the pursuit of  I T C H I N G   I M A G E S.  I will deal with it later. This post is only the prelude to the new series so it needs to be later.

How long is this series going to take?  Oh, a month, but probably longer.  Stay tuned if you like the idea :-).

This series will be a part of Street Photographers Toolbox, which is in the making, and not public yet. It will go into the toolbox.

The Lightness Of Life (11)

The Light. © Knut Skjærven

About The Light. The picture has nothing particular to do with the text below. It has been added to break the monotony of the page. It was not part of the original interview. 

And HCB taught you all this?

Hehe, no he did not, but he inspired some of it. And that is what photography is all about. Being inspired. Using HCB as a mentor is not such a bad idea. You should try it. Or try someone else. The point is that there is not that many out there that can be used for this. To me HCB is definitely the best. In fact, I know of no one else.

Give me one sentence: What is photography all about?

I could certainly try.

Photography is the engaged process, and end product, of deliberately or un-deliberately reinventing the world by the help of a camera in a way that is arresting, interesting, attractive –  and sometimes even amazing.

But it got to be good. The best of your ability. You must make an effort. I stick to the light side, as well, because photographic world depression does not take you anywhere.

That was one sentence PLUS. And if you now ask me whatever happened to the decisive moment, I have to tell you that it’s right in there. HCB would have known.

Thank you.


About Knut Skjærven.

 He started, he says, to take photography seriously in 2010 when he decided not only to burn pixels, but doing a project that lasted more than between coffees. He has stayed with it ever since.

From then on things went quickly. Knut runs and/or has initiated the following sites and projects: barebones communication (2007), Berlin Black and White (2010), Phenomenology and Photography (2010), Facebook Group On Every Street (2011), Facebook Group On Every Second Street (2011) and Facebook Group The Europeans (2011).

He was asked to test the new Leica D-Lux 5 for Leica (2011), and was interviewed by Leica shortly after.

He also does more academic writing like this article for Studia Universitatis (Romania) that was published in 2011 (see page 137). He holds two university degrees in communications, film and philosophy.

Knut has written two books and lots of articles. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. But he is Norwegian, he insists. He is a blogger, researcher and a photographer. His main project for 2012 will be The Europeans. See this site. Europe needs an updated photo album, he said.

So that is what he is going to make.


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).

The Lightness Of Life (10)

In Frames.© Knut Skjærven.

About In Frames. The picture has nothing particular to do with the text below. It has been added to break the monotony of the page. It was not part of the original interview. 

Do you have a photographic mission?

Do I have a photographic mission? Hmm, interesting question and the truth is that I don’t know. On the other hand, I probably know a little more now than I used to know.

If you had asked me a year ago, no two years ago, I would have said that I have no photographic mission beyond that of taking pictures. However, the more I study photography the less important photography becomes in terms of having an existence of its own. Photography does not exist in a vacuum and it should not be treated as if it did.

Photography is just another way of being in and handling the world, so the question you should ask is really: Do I have a mission in life?

And the answer is: I think that most people have a mission in life even if they do not formulate it and spell it out in words. I find that it for me comes down to something like live and let live. If I can express that in photography that will be my photographic mission.

What I sometimes remind myself of is that time spent with photography, or any other activity for that matter, is time NOT spent with anything else. You can’t use the same capacity twice. Every economist knows this well: You cannot both spend and invest the same money at the same time. If you try to do that you end up in a financial mess.

More specifically, I cannot at the same time take a seat at Café de la Paix for a day of shooting people passing the street, and feed the ducks in my own back yard. Just as an illustration. I fail to see the benefits of what I call the dark league in photography. Photography better be about death and sorrow, they say, so we can save the world with our images. Better be portraits of depraved people too so we can show how miserable some are. I don’t go all with those masters of disasters.

Shooting the odd drunk on the way to coffee at the Ritz is much too easy. It is also deeply disrespectful unless you make it your project and bring the poor fellow back home and give him a good life. Or give him a good day. Taking his picture will certainly not help.

Also: As grown-ups we all are role models. That goes for photography too. If you want to be treated with respect, then show respect. If you want to be treated like a jerk, then be a jerk. Photography should basically be respectful.

Basically, all angles (camera angles and real life angles) have the same right to exist, but the foot must be put down when the rights and the privileges of having angles, are threatened. They still are in many corners of the world. We don’t have to look far.

If the rights to take pictures with and from different angles are threatened, we can no longer use our cameras as they were intended to be used: Taking pictures from different angles, with different settings and in different contexts. I hope I will fight for that right. Call that a mission if you like.

I have to add one thing: You have to do the best you can. Always try a little harder. I don’t believe that any person should be satisfied with doing things half way or in mediocrity. Photography, mission or no mission, is mostly hard work.

If you absolutely have to save the world with your photography, be aware that social progress comes from play and not from display.


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).

Brains: Are You A Larry Or A Harry?

Winston's Vocation.© Knut Skjærven.

Picture text: Winston’s Vocation: The two brain halves caught in one shot. There you see Larry, the book worm. There you see Harry, dreaming the day away.

You have probable discovered that being a good photographer there are some parts of the job you like better than others. And sure, there are probably also things that you do better at than others. That’s very natural and goes for all areas of life.

The brain works differently too. Or should I say that the brains work differently. We have more than one and you use them in different ways. More or less successfully.

There are left brainers and there are right brainers. Properly speaking we talk about the two brain halves and how they function.

Then there are the women. Maybe there are the women. I have to be a bit careful here since research is not that clear on this. The area is somewhat blurred.

The reason I state it like that is that the left brain/right brain distinction seems mainly to apply to men. Women seemed to have a more even spread of brain capacities. Like it or not. They might, in fact, be good at a variety of things. Men seem to be mentally more slim.

The left brain is good for details, verbal activities, numbering, accounting, linear structures and the like. It sees, and handles details.

The right brain is good for visuals, phantasy, great ideas, dreaming, things like that. Is sees, and handle wholes. This is the creative side.

As a photographer you would probably like to know if you are a typical left brainer or a typical right brainer. There are tests you can take. You will be introduced to one in a minute, but you need to do your homework first.

Now is the time to do a bit of self reflection. Stand up and go in front of a mirror. Ask this question: Am I a typical right brainer, or am I a typical left brainer?

If you are a woman you don’t have to do this. You probably know the answer already.

I am sure that you will come up with an answer that is pretty close to the proper one. People tend to know themselves rather well in this respect.

Read about it on the internet. Just search right brain/left brain. Lots of stuff comes up.

Now take the simple test. You’ll find it at about.com. There are plenty more tests out there. Not all as simple as this.

Why is this interesting? What does it have to do with street photography?

Here are some answers.

The first reason is that it might help explaining your preferred approach to street photography. We normally like best what we are good at. Are you a Larry or are you a Harry?

Are you good at seeing things, good to detect a balanced composition, a dealer of right proportions, then you may very well be a right brainer. You will be a Harry.

Are you good at seeking out details, do proper planning, having an inclination to speak more about your camera than your photographs, then you may very well be a left brainer. You will be a Larry.

Normally one of your brain halves will have the upper hand.

The very good thing is this: If you know what you are (right of left) you will be able to trains your way to fill in the bleak spots. Even as a street photographer. You will, however, probably always have the preferred way: what you like doing the most.

Good luck with it.

The Things Themselves

The Artist © Knut Skjærven

What is barebones and why do I stress that even this site is linked to that notion? And what on earth has it got to do with street photography?
I have wondered about this myself but have not yet found the final words for explaining the connection. So, you have to live with what is written here.

I used the name barebones for the first time in late 2007, when I planned to do a blog on communication. It was named barebones communication. It seemed to be the right word for the right project. Barebones Communication is still the mother blog for all that have happened later. This blog stands on the same pillars. (For an overview of activities, please see The Raw Material.)

Remember I was always a student of phenomenology. That goes back a long way. I still am, by the way.

The word phenomenology is a combination of two Greek words: phenomenon and logos.

Phenomenon could be explained as that which is observable.
Logos is a bit more difficult to handle since it has so many meanings.

Aristotle used logos in a special way and set it apart from pathos and ethos. Pathos having to do with emotions, and ethos with conduct or morality. Logos had to do with reason and argumentation. We will explain logos as reasoned discourse, or simply as science.

Phenomenology, literally means a discourse/science that has to do with what is observable. It is an approach to and a method of describing. Phenomenology is sometimes called radical empiricism. There is absolutely no hocus pocus in it. It is a method for a radical and consequent description.

Combining phenomenology and photography you are combining four Greek words: phenomenon, logos, graphé and phōtos. Photography means drawing with light.
We do not need to get closer to a definition than this.

Where does barebones come into it? I will tell you now.

A fundamental notion in phenomenological theory is “the things themselves”. Another expression for the same is “in the flesh”. Phenomenology has to do with the things themselves. Phenomena in the flesh.

I was looking for a word that could describe the same idea. Bringing phenomena down to the bare bones of communication and photography. Later on street photography, as well. I ended up with barebones in one word. Simple as that.

Now you know why there, from time to time, is a reference from photography to phenomenology to barebones. And will continue to be so.

Let me add street photography to all of this. Remember that street photography as we define it, more than anything else, is an approach to things? The pictures do not literally have to be shot in a street.

The first time that definition occurred was in On Every Street, the Facebook group established in May 2011.

Doing phenomenology (and that is what it is all about) you always start your investigation at a specific point in your life. At a specific time.

You operate in a lifeworld in a natural attitude to things. This natural attitude implies a direct, spontaneous, unreflective interaction with other people much of the time. Maybe even most of the time. Maybe even in the streets. See what I am getting at?

Again, it is not the streets that are important here, it is the approach you you take to your streets. Or to yourself, for that matter.

The interaction with people in certain surroundings is the shooting field for street photographers. What was is again? Street photographs have to be a) shot in a public area; b) un-staged and/or posed, c) have people as the bearing element; and c) be straight photography.

The idea is that street photographers are the silent, engaged and respectful documenters of what goes on around us, the lifeworld that we all engage in. That world carries everything else. Even photography.

It is important to add that a phenomenological approach to photography, and/or street photography, does not neglect or ignore other approaches to photography. That would go against the very nature of phenomenology. But it might find them less fascinating, engaging and dynamic.

Something like this.

Have a good day :).

March 7, 2012.


This is a text posted as a page to a new blog: Street Photographer’s Toolbox. The blog is in the making and therefore not public yet.

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).