a blog by knut skjærven

Posts tagged ““Bits & Pieces”

Bits & Pieces: Using The Visual Radar.

Lost In Translation.© Knut Skjærven.

You mention using a visual radar. What do mean by that and how do you work it?

It is really very ease. All of us know how such a technique works.

An example: Many modern photo-related programs have, for instance, face detection. You feed the database with pictures of a face and the machine will be able to recognize the face in other pictures. You name that face. It is very handy if you want to search for a person in a large catalogue of images.

In photography the visual radar works the same way. Your mind is the program and that database that holds the data. Like a computer program you have to feed it. Feed it well, and it will serve you well. Feed it lousy, or not at all, and will serve you lousy. Or not at all.

When you study the photographs of famous photographers, or the paintings of celebrity painters, it is like feeding a machine with data.

It helps a lot if you know what you are doing. Roaming museums and photo books will not do it alone. You have to tell your mind what kind of mission you are on. You have to tell it that you are on a data collection mission. You could say for instance: we are here to study the use of light and composition. Whatever you decide. That, then, is what you have to set your mind up to.

Study a limited number of objects at a time. Maybe even only one single picture to begin with. Later you can go for more advanced stuff like a photographers style, his use of people and spaces. His uses of lights and shadows. Et cetera, et cetera. Soon you will walk down your own alley.

Try to remember what you see. Having HCB as a mentor it is clearly HCB’s photos you want to study. When you have collected enough data you are ready to go to work. In the city, if you are street photographer. In the countryside, if that is what you prefer.

And again, if you just roam around mindlessly you get nothing out of it. Being out there you have to turn on the radar. Let it know that you intend to use it. Let is scan the surroundings for you. The streets, the cafés and the parks. The people passing. When something interesting comes along the radar will stop you. Ask you to take that picture.

You will be surprised how well such a radar will serve you once you have discovered that you have one. And you have set it to use.

That is what the radar is, and how you use it.

Bits & Pieces: Introduction; The Sources; Picturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;


Bits & Pieces/Image: Reinvented Reality

Sale Solution. © Knut Skjærven.

Sale Solution. Photography is never pure documentation. If you combine and frame different elements you can get connotations that was never intending. Photography is always a reinvention of reality. This is an open image, since you probably ask yourself where the man with the bike has gone. Into the shop maybe? Copenhagen, January 2012. (21).

Bits & Pieces: Introduction; The SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;

Bits & Pieces/Image: Additional Movement.

Rainy Day. © Knut Skjærven.

Rainy Day. You can install life into a shot by taking it at the right moment. All these people are actually on the move since it was pouring down. You can have additional movement in a shot by separating people, groups of people, objects, space and directions. The basic point here is that you need to foresee what will happen. Not that you have much time to do it in. Berlin, June 2011.

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;

Bits & Pieces: Do You Have A Photographic Mission?

Skin Deep © Knut Skjærven

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 ask is really a question of do I have a mission in life?

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. Add to that: Do your best.

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 very 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 hungry ducks in my own back yard. Just as an illustration.

I utterly fail to see the benefits of what I call the dark league in photography. They go: Photography better be about death and sorrow, they say, so we can save the world with our images. Better be people portraits of folks without teeth too so we can show how miserable some are.

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.

As grown-ups and humans living among other humans in smaller and larger communities, 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.

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 privilege of having angles at all, 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 progress comes from play and not from display. My 2P :-).

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;

Bits & Pieces: The Difference Between Picturetaking And Photography

At The Beach. © 2006 Knut Skjærven. (Arromanches, France.)

Tell me about the difference between picturetaking and photography!

I’ll be happy to.

I had to find a way of describing the transitions you have to 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 being a photographer. Picturetakers take pictures, obviously. Photographers literary takes picture too, but they do it with a clear purpose, high dedication and by knowing and using the alphabet and grammar of visual communication. Metaphorically speaking. The alphabet consists of  the single units used to tell a story. The grammar is the way you put units together.

Being a photographer takes experience 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. Everyone can buy one and start shooting. They don’t even have to leave the shop to start their new career. Knowing how to press the button, however, make them no photographers. Buying canvas and brushes and starting using them do not make people painters. You need to know how to use these tools before you will become a painter. You have to study and you have to practice. You need to know something about colours, brushes and canvas before you can start painting as an 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, nothing to do with painting or photography. Having the gear is only the first beginning.

Photography means “drawing with light”. I simply asked myself what do 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 pencils I carried in my bag. And I looked for new ones. Most importantly I got myself a mentor. Now I have many. All these things were part of the new beginning.

Having a mentor does not mean that you copy stuff. It means that you use established experiences and results but walk down your own path. When you look at my photographs I hope that you will see that there is no copying but a lot of inspiration.

One of the most important things in messaging is the form and structure of that message. If you have that right, a message is conveyed. Do it wrong and no message will not be conveyed. I try to do very simple photographs. The lucky ones are also precise. I do simple things with the camera. That is the only way I know. I have that from advertising, actually. Other may have this very differently.

I found that is was much harder to do a simple picture than a complicated one. The last type you very easily get by just shooting away. Left and right. Up and down. That world belongs to the picturetaker. Could be so complicated that it ends in confusion. A message mess.

To do a simple shot you have to evaluate all the time. Get rid of all the access information. Make sure that things fit together. That can be quite a task. That world belongs to the photographer.

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

I have also found that you are not 100 percent photographer, or 100 percent picturetaker. These attitude often mix, but the ambition must be to be a photographer most of the time, and picturetaker less of the time. The good thing is that the new information you acquire, for instance, by having a mentor gradually link into your spine and becomes second nature to you. Even when you are only picturetaking the results could end up as photography. That is the reward of learning. You get the investment back tenfold.

Some will say that this sounds like a strain, 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 become instant photographers? You tell me.

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

The good thing is that photography is a craft and like any other craft it can be learned. You cannot teach anyone to be come a Picasso, a da Vinci or a Bob Dylan. Or for that matter a Cartier-Bresson, but you can teach how to hold the pencil, how to wait and to point it the right direction when the decisive moment is there.

That said, I also realize that some do photography mainly by instinct. You can see it in their individual works, and even better in their portfolios. Such people are very rare. They are the onepercenters. Or even lessthanonepercenters. Call them talents. Even these talents have to cultivate their capacities, and that is just what the process from picturetaking to photography is all about.

I am afraid that for the rest of us it is even harder work. My 2P.

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;

Bits & Pieces: The Sources

Rainy Day.© Knut Skjærven.

“Rainy Day” shot in Berlin in June 2011. The image is a crop of a larger frame. It contains static and no static elements. By including both you contrast both. The overall message of “rush” comes out clearer. You have to work with denotations and connotations at the same time. The denotative elements are the physical and easily recognisable elements in the shot: chairs, lorry, people, umbrellas, bicycle, etcetera. The connotative elements are how the denotative elements move or act or interact within the shot. 

Question: What Sources Do You Use?

 What sources do I use? Let me think. It is good to have these questions asked because it brings you into corners that you normally don’t visit.

The major source, I would say, is in general the rest of your  life. In this case, my life. You need to include photography in such a way that photography, and the rest of your life, becomes the same. In that way you can work on a, or any, project all the time without speculating much about it. It is a good way to work and it saves much time.

It works the other way around as well: Things that you pick up in photography gets a potential relevance for the rest of your life. For me this is a good way to arrange things. Nowadays, I don’t speculate much about it all. It just works that way. By itself.

Other sources are art in general and photographic art in particular. Both writing, reading, studying and simply looking. Make sure that you benchmark up against only the best people and the best works of art. For me one of these “best sources” is definitely HCB, but I am impressed by Walker Evans too. And others, but more sporadically. You only need one or two mentors. Make such to you pick the best.

This is a life long learning process and you have to keep at it all the time. For instance by visiting exhibitions, reading and looking in books, visiting museums and more. Is it not something that you do over night. If you don’t enjoy it, you should probably not be in photography at all. If it becomes a burden, just forget it. Do something else in stead. Go play golf.

Most importantly you need to work with you own pictures. You have to study them over and over again. Rework them, re-crop them, remake them from scratch to see if you get different results. You very often do. Work with them till you are satisfied with the result. You know that you are looking at a good picture when you feel good about it. This is not just something I say. This feeling good about something is a sure indicator that you have done something right. It has bearings from many fields besides photography.  I have it from investigations into human innovation, where it seems to be one of the common denominators describing a successful solution. It work for me doing pictures and for that reason I use it.

Take the image above: Rainy Day. That is a crop of a much larger “negative” that I started playing around with. Hey, this feels good, I said to myself at one stage. Then I knew that this photograph was in the box. The composition is not very classical, I know. But that was never the intention either. I tried to create some sort of compositional and thematic strain. I hope it works for others, as well. The good thing with compositional rules is that you can use them in two way: positively and negatively. You can use them, or you can use them not.

The feel good technique does not work all of the time. Often things are done in a hurry with results not as good as they could be. Basically, however, that is your own decision.

These are basically my sources. Kind of an automated melting pot. I fell good about that too :-). Works for me.  Roughly.

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;


Bits & Pieces

The Mirror. © Knut Skjærven

Bits and Pieces. It could have been the title of this picture, but it’s not.

In stead it is the title of the next series of posts on this blog.

The story is this: Some time ago I was asked to do an interview by a well know American site for street photography. I was, of course, very honored wondering why they wanted to talk to me. I suggested  I could do a draft, could send it to them and they could basically do with it what they wanted. For instance ask other and extra questions. Or drop the whole thing.

I am not going to reveal all of it here. You will only get bits and pieces.

I have been thinking and I have been writing and I have been searching for images to go with the text as bits and pieces for that interview. On and off. I have to rewrite it a couple of times yet. I am late already.

This morning I go the idea of publishing bits and pieces of the draft. My idea was to end at about 10 pages including 10 pictures – for the interview that is. So far I am on page 21, so there should be some spareware text for a couple a couple of blog posts. If you are interested in reading some of this stuff you are more than welcome. If not, you are welcome too.

Bits and pieces coming up soon as just that: Bits and Pieces. Stay tuned.

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;