More on Cross Transfer

Sporting Life

© Sporting Life. All rights reserved.

Some time ago I got a very relevant question from Elisabeth Maurice. It goes like this:

Hi! I keep turning it into my mind, but need some advice here. I understood the concept you explained very well but I’m not sure how to get such a situation. Maybe I focus to much on one subject at a time and should widen the scope? I certainly lack references too. Would you be kind enough to share some more examples?

Yes, I definitely will try to explain this as I understand it. It is not, however, that we have a schoolbook that we can consult. Many of the notions you will find in this toolbox are newly developed. They are used here for the first time even if the matter they describe are well know in other connections.

You said that you understood the concept very well, but what you would like are more references. Meaning, that I should show you, or point to, photographs where cross transfer or meaning is handled.

I will try to do that.

First of all it is necessary to stress that the cross phenomenon is very fundamental. Every time two or more objects are placed together in a context they rub off on each other. That could be an intended rub off or a non intended rub off.

By intended rub off, I mean a situation where a transfer of meaning is meant to be and perhaps even successful. By non intended rub off, I mean that it is not explicitly meant to be.  In the latter case one could say that cross transfer works latently.

We are not going to concern ourselves with latent rub offs here since we are interested in only those situations where the street photographer deliberately intends you deal with  cross transfer of meaning in his photograph(s).

Within intended rub offs, I would say, there are two kinds: First you have the congruent or harmonious rub off, and second you have the non congruent or non harmonious rub off.

As that same goes for the non intended transfers/rub offs, we have in total four types of cross transfers:

1. intended – harmonious

2. intended – non harmonious

3. non intended – harmonious / latent

4. non intended – non harmonious / latent

I will only elaborate on the two first types, as mentioned.

In  the photograph shown in Commission 02: Cross Transfer the transfer of meaning belong to category 1, since it was intended. I wanted a harmonious rub off from the section with the trash cans and the girl passing in the background. How did I do that? I spotted her coming from behind and I simply waited till I had her in the frame at the right place.

Here are a few links that will take you take you to similar type of shots: Waiting for Wilhelm, and  After The Party.

Let me indicate the difference between harmonious and non harmonious rub offs/transfers by using the same basic photograph, but by cropping it differently. The first example is K-Damm Couple. The second is K-Damm Couple (Remake).

I would suggest that the first crop render a harmonious impression, while the second crops end up as a non harmonious impression.  In the way we use the terms here.

And now you can rightly say but this is not the way photography works in real life. Street photography is mostly random. Maybe you can plan the main objects to have in the shot, but you can never plan who turns up in the background.

And the answer is, yes that is very and nearly the truth, but when your are sitting in a plane to Paris that can not only have been luck can it? Did luck pay for the ticket and take you to the airport? Hardly.

Let me show you a photograph where you actually find both harmony and non harmony in the same shot. Look at Long Tall Sally. Overall you have an intended harmonious cross transfer, but take a look at the young lady in the right side of the picture. She tends to dissociate from the others and makes for a disharmonious cross transfer. She wants to be on her own.

Luck happens in the details not in choice of direction.  In the two K-damm pictures luck are the way she holds her cigarette, the way he smokes his. Luck was also that a couple should pass in the background, but luck was not waiting for them to be in the right place. That was the photographer’s sole decision.

I hear the question: Is it really necessary to know about these things to be a street photographer? Certainly not, but it certainly helps if you do.

And another question: Can this always be controlled? Answer: Certainly not, but if you have it coded in you visual radar you don’t have to think much about it. The situations pops of in front of you. All you have to do is click the camera.

One of the most crucial points to remember with cross transfers it that the objects/subject you deal with have to be visually distinct. There is no use in dealing with these matters if you intend something that can hardly be seen or even discovered by other. So once again: KEEP IT SIMPLE.

This was not a direct answer to your question Elisabeth, but I pointed to some examples. Yes, you should definitely widen the scope. Shooting with both eyes wide open is literally a very good idea. Focus on many objects at the same time, because they are going to be in your frame whether you like it or not. As many as  you can.

So then: Cross Transfer, as I see it, is when the street photographer intentionally tries to have content/meaning from one part of picture rub off/transfer to another part in the same picture. Intentions can be to make a harmonious impression or  to make a non harmonious impression. It got to be distinct to work. Keep it simple.

I hope you can use some of this.

End of story, but: You will have noticed that I have said not a single word about the photograph accompanying this post: Sporting Life. There is a reason for that: You figure it out. Remember we deal with soft issues here so there are no simple, single answers. Only more of less qualified suggestion.

Should I say good luck with it.


October 5, 2012.

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  1. #1 by elisam75 on October 5, 2012 - 6:47 pm

    Thanks so much for your deep analysis and explanation! I visually understand now with your explanations and illustrations. I will try to to concretize that. What a a great mentor you do!

  2. #5 by elisam75 on October 6, 2012 - 12:10 pm

    The “lucky girl” :())))) (ref Rickie Lee Jones on Pirates 81… : has been wondering quiet a bit since last night.

    I took a shot few days ago – very sad one – I called it “the lady and the pimp” or “Love for sale” (songs always i know :-)…) In my vision there is cross transfer in between the two subjects. Non intended for I did not plan anything and could we say it harmonious as expected be beeing maybe sarcastic? Maybe these two were here just by chance or maybe not but I saw an unexpressed link or transfer to-be between them.
    Do you consider it could belong to the cross – transfer class of shots?
    Many thanks in advance for your feedback!!!
    Have a great day!

  3. #6 by elisam75 on October 6, 2012 - 12:37 pm

    Thinking twice about it, it could be considered as intended for i knew the girl was often staying here. Was was unexpected was me passing by :-))))

    • #7 by Knut Skjaerven on October 6, 2012 - 12:54 pm

      I have to comment on it a bit later. For me it is running time and it is only raining slightly .

      The Q&D answer is, yes, there is CT (as there always is), but it is not distinctive or decisive.

      Think of it as positioning in advertising terms: You place a car in front of a grand castle and photograph the two together with the intention of having a transfer from castle to car.

      In your picture what is the castle and what is the car?

  4. #8 by elisam75 on October 6, 2012 - 4:22 pm

    So if get it well there must be a dominant subject/object in the picture. Like in communication we talk about emetor and receptor?

    • #9 by Knut Skjaerven on October 6, 2012 - 4:36 pm

      What communication would that be? I know only the human one :-).

  5. #10 by elisam75 on October 6, 2012 - 6:46 pm

    🙂 !!! I got one to make you you laugh cross transfer at first degree :-)))))) :
    Hope you’ll like it 🙂

  6. #11 by elisam75 on October 6, 2012 - 7:03 pm

    More seriously, i wonder what is your thinking about this one for intended non harmonious transfer: ? I was watching the boy looking so sad on his board. Like he had the whole world on his shoulders. And then an joyful family came in the scope. They were laughing. I croped the shot so that only the smile of the man remains in the bottom left corner.

    • #12 by Knut Skjaerven on October 7, 2012 - 8:41 am

      I think that actually the best advice I can give you is this: Look for a castle, and look for a car.

      If you find both in the same shot you have a potential cross transfer/rub off photograph. Of course both should be distinct. Don’t hide any of them down in a corner or behind a curtain :-). Where no one can see what you are doing.

      In my initial brief shot the waste objects are the castle and the passing lady the car. See?

      • #13 by elisam75 on October 9, 2012 - 11:12 am

        On which one?

  7. #14 by elisam75 on October 9, 2012 - 10:15 am

    I’ve been looking for castle and cars :-)))))))).
    I picked-up a few of the last shots I took this WE and some over the last weeks that i thought could approach the idea better. I have to admit this is a tough one!!!! :-)))).
    I’ve put them here:
    I hope i’m improving :-).

    • #15 by Knut Skjaerven on October 12, 2012 - 9:59 pm

      Sorry for the delay Elisabeth. I had to spend some time on The European and that took ALL my time for a while. The worst is over and will have more time for my favorite project. This one.

      Yes, you are on the right track, I would say. However, when I look over your images I would suggest that you are very n a r r o w in your handling of the theme.

      I would suggest that the next step could be to find situations where castle and car comes out more d i f f e r e n t.

      It is true, a man sitting on a bench and one standing in front of him contains a transfer, but as they both are members of the same category and social class you don’t go to any extravagancy here. I would say if anything it is like you have places a castle in front of a castle and asked them to transfer. What is there to transfer? Basically both connote the same.

      So the task must be: try find a more different couple (also in category). A situation where it is more clear that one will gain by sitting on the lap of the other. In Strictly Ballroom the underground station is the castle and the young lady is the car. The lady becomes as clean and mysterious as the underground station she is standing in. She even falls into the line structure of the station in her very upright position. They are two of a kind and yet different enough so that a transfer can take place and have a meaning.

      No more. Let me read this over tomorrow :-). Have a good night.

  8. #16 by elisam75 on October 15, 2012 - 3:52 pm

    Sorry for the delay in the reply too :-)… I’ve been busy too … chasing rainbows in Scotland a few days :-). It has been more scenaries shots but I had the opportunity to take some street ones at the airport. Many thanks for your advice I think I try understand it more visually reading your words. I have to make forget about the concept and picture it rather. I need to make some shots clearer in which i shouldn’t have to ask myself, will it work or not. With strictly ballroom and your expIanation I realized I was more looking for a sort of contrasting transfer while in your photograph the woman is just melting into the station. Will redo it all again. Sorry for taking so much time. Thanks so much for your help and support.

    • #17 by Knut Skjaerven on October 16, 2012 - 10:26 am


      I remark that you seem to make this into something very difficult and complex. It is very easy and you experience it every day, for instanced, in television commercials. It is called positioning. Goes like this:

      Take a piece of neutral soap and show it in an exclusive bathroom or in a the hands of a famous actress. The soup get a rub off to fame and fortune :-). You want to have it.

      Take the same piece of soap and place is on a dirty floor in a not at all good looking bathroom with rats piling abound. The soap get at rub off that is the opposite of fame and fortune. You don’t want to have it.

      Just as with the car and the castle. The bathroom is the castle and the soap is the car :-).

      Hope that cleaned up things a bit. As I said easy, not difficult.

      Have a good day.


  9. #18 by elisam75 on October 17, 2012 - 11:33 am

    Thanks so much for your answer! It’s getting clearer and clearer now! I’ve out yesterday to make some new shots and will try again today :-)!. Would you believe me if I told you I’m supposed to be working in marketing :-))))).
    If i get it better this shot would have been closer to any I proposed yet? :
    Thanks so much for your support and patience 🙂

    • #19 by Knut Skjaerven on October 17, 2012 - 12:01 pm

      Yes, I would believe you :-). Don’t spend to much time on this. Just move on :-).

  10. #20 by elisam75 on October 18, 2012 - 7:54 am

    I had another try… : Hope this works better. I keep moving with the other sessions while persevering :-)…

  11. #21 by Elisabeth on October 22, 2012 - 7:36 pm

    Hi Knut! Persevering… another try on this 🙂 ….
    What is your thinking about those shots for transfer?:
    Need for a haircut.
    opposite reflexion
    Have good evening!

  12. #22 by elisam75 on October 26, 2012 - 7:13 pm

    other tries for cross transfer…. :-). I’m not giving it up :-).
    Have a good evening!

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