a blog by knut skjærven

Posts tagged “phenomenology

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 Interview: Introduction.

Room At The Top. © Knut Skjærven

Here we go then.

For some time, I have had the idea of writing a bit more substantially about photography and phenomenology. Note that I have changed the order of things here: Photography first, and phenomenology second. That is also my priorities.

Not that I particularly fancy the work involved here, but looking over the literature I am actually not that impressed with what I see. If I see anything at all. At couple of years ago, I had the idea that someone else must take on this task or it will not be done. But no one raised their hands. At least not that I know of.

So I will do it, but I will do it my own way.

I have no intention of producing another unreadable, that phenomenologists, are so very good at. I will do this as a practical layout for an approach to photography. Street photography first and foremost. I will do this in no haste, since I have no haste. I will do it just the way I take pictures: The good way: Take the camera, get out there and anticipate that things will happen. They always do. In that respect, I am very lucky. I hope to have some of the same luck here.

This means, that I, at the present moment, only have a rough idea what to write about and the direction I want to move in. That is all, so this is going to be exciting to me as well. Look at this as a RAW file. I can always crop and modify the picture later.

Since both photography and phenomenology are personal matters, that, if you are lucky enough, others will take an interest in, the form of this essay will be an interview. I will interview myself.

The good thing with an interview is that you need to pose the questions before you give the answers, but as we all know, you also need to know the answers before you can pose the questions, this method seems appropriate.

I will a assemble all the interview sections in a large post later, but already now each fragment will be collected on a page simply called The Interview. Look for the page section.

If you are interested in following this experiment, he best way to stay tuned  is to subscribe to the blog. You can do that in the right hand side bar.

Good luck with it.  All of it.

Leica, Or No Leica

How High The Sky?. © Knut Skjærven.

One thing has struck me. Every time I go shooting with a camera I have the feeling that I am executing phenomenology. Why is this? Are there any reasons why I should have such an idea?

I think there is, and I will make a note about it here.

Phenomenology teaches you to study the things themselves. The way you can experience them in the natural attitude doing day to day chores. Beyond that, phenomenology also tells you to wait a second, to freeze the situation, and to study it further. To bring out the heart of the matter.

Phenomenology has special words for these activities. They call it bracketing and phenomenological reduction. Bracketing is the freezing of a situation. Reduction is studying it in detail to bring out the general structures of phenomena. Phenomenology simply means to study, to talk about, or to argue for that which can be experienced. And how it is experienced. As man’s knowledge is confined to that which can be experienced, phenomenology is a basic discipline. A first science.

Doing phenomenology is very similar to what I do with my camera. Bringing my camera with an intention to take a picture, already frames the moment in terms of having that and that intention. When I press the release button, I actually freeze the moment that I intend, or don’t intend, to photograph.

Having done my homework I know what structures a phenomenological reduction brings with it. Every single picture I take is a window to all structures of all experiences. Every time I take a picture I am, in terms of phenomenology, half way there. I do not have to think about bracketing, or freezing, the natural attitude to understand it better. The camera does that for me.

That is what you see reflected in my photographs. That is the type of pictures that I enjoy taking. Take a look at the one above. Every phenomenological dimension you can ever think of, is in there. You only need to unfold them. Here are 425 more photographs you are welcome to look at.

That’s all, ladies and gentlemen. Think about it. Leica, or no Leica.

So high the sky.

The picture is shot with a Leica X1, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin, November 7, 2010.

Announcing: New Series of Notes

Train Transition. © Knut Skjærven

I am starting a new series of posts. These posts will have the form of notes, much like the ones you have in your personal notebook made of paper. The difference is, of course, that these notes will be made public. Feel free to comment as they emerge. You can do that in whatever way you find suitable.

The notes will have the form of short, unpretentious, often fragmented pieces of information from areas within phenomenology that will be relevant for investigating photography as a phenomenological phenomenon. Many of the posts will be inspired by well known philosophers, and their well known phenomenological texts. Others may seek to pave a new way.

In the notes, I will also seek to bridge the gap between phenomenological description of photography, and the activity of taking pictures with a camera. I find that to be an interesting task since I have a liking to both practical phenomenology and practical photography. Yes, I do think that there is a special affinity between phenomenology, and certain types of photography. That issue has not been investigated yet. My hope is that I will be able to contribute to make that affinity more tangible.

Some of you may have noticed, that apart from running this blog, I also run two picture blogs. The largest one being Berlin Black And White, which I started in July 2010. At this moment it holds 270 photographs. The second picture blog is Photos Of The Danes, which is quite recent and does not hold that many images.

And there is barebones communication, which has a much wider scope. That blog was started in November 2007, and already took an explicit interest in phenomenology and photography at that time.

I have worked rather hastily in loading pictures to Berlin Black And White. The reason is, that I wanted to have a stock of pictures in place for the blog you are reading now: Phenomenology and Photography. I believe that many of the pictures loaded to that blog are shot in a phenomenological “frame of mind”. They honour certain unspoken demands that phenomenology could be said to pose on photography.

Mind you, I could be wrong in this assumption. Please, therefore, consider  it a hypothesis to be investigated. Such an investigation will indeed be a main theme on this blog. The forthcoming notes will, hopefully, bring bits and pieces to such an investigation.

I cannot explicitly tell you why I find many of the shots in the Berlin photo blog particularly phenomenological, for the simple reason that I am not able to set words on it yet. It is more of a gut feeling based on certain phenomenological preliminaries. So, you have to bear with me for the time being. Just as I have to bear with me.

I am excited to see where the series of notes will take the investigation, as I hope some of you are too. Why don’t you start by looking at some of the photographs in Berlin Black And White. There is even a slideshow presenting some of them. See if you can spot the preliminaries :-).



This post have been tagged: note, notes, notebook. A new category has been set up, as well: notebook.

Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics

Photographer's Eye. © 2010: Knut Skjærven.

Yes, I admit that this is a somewhat prosaic title for a blog post.

However, using that caption there is a change that random googlers searching for phenomenology and/or aesthetics will find their way to this post. To this blog.

The reason is that when they get here, I am in a position to inform them that this book it now out, and with an impressive scope handled in about 70 separate articles.

The title is, as you might have guessed: Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics. Editors are Hans Rainer Sepp and Lester Embree. It is published by Springer in 2010.

The book is not a collection of essays by the masters themselves: Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roman Ingarden, whoever. The editors have done better: All articles have been written specially for this handbook, and they are short(er) introductions to specific thinkers, and to specific themes. You can dive in from there. One way is using the suggested bibliography.

Have a look at the content.

Contributors are distinguished scholars within their fields. They give you summaries, interpretations, updates and contributions to the themes/philosophers in question.

Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics is not a book you want to read page by page. It is a handbook, a book that you will want to keep close at hand and to grab when the questions are about  phenomenology and aesthetics. As such, the book comes with a lot of muscle.

My particular interest, for instance, are the crossroads of phenomenology and photography. Not only as theoretical disciplines, but as practical executor of both. There are plenty of interesting stuff  for me: Andrea Pinotti have written about Style;  Cathrin Nielsen about Work of Art; Cheung Chan-Fai about Photography; Eliane Escoubas about Paintings, just to mention a few contributors and themes.

I need to come back with reviews of specific articles in separate blog posts, and I will. So far this is just a pointer to the book. As I said, it is impressive. Much needed and much wanted. Now it is here.

Good luck with it.

Library Thing.

NB! The photograph above has no direct link to the book.