Let’s Call It Defactoring

Just Married © Knut Skjærven

Just Married © Knut Skjærven

I am not sure that this is going to be the final label for it. But right now I could not find a better word. So we will call it defactor or defactoring. Such a strange terms that my spell checker will not accept it. I have to force it through.

What, then, is this word going to be used for?

We are in the vicinity of gestalt factors that you have heard of if you are reading these pages. For those going to one of the workshops in June or September, it is going to come in very handy since were are going to practice it there.

What does it mean more exactly? Here is the short story behind the word. You know from Street Photographer’s Toolbox that we work with a number of gestalt factors: proximity, similarity, common fate and the lot.

Gestalt factors is the name of distinct visual forms that tends to group in the subconscious level of perception. They work whether you like it or not as an automated mechanism that helps people to make  fast and simple understanding of visual messages. They are tool for navigating the world.

If you know these gestalt factors you are able to recognise them. As you are able to recognise them you are in a position to use them. Recognise and use. Not only when you look at images taken by others or yourself, but also when you are out in the streets seeking good image opportunities. When you are out taking pictures.

Look at the photo above. It is from a photo session in front of one of the main galleries in Berlin. I happened to be there. What interested me first was the grouping taking place with the two couples: The just married couple at the top of the stairs and their best men looking at them from the base of the stairs.

The gestalt factor proximity is at play in this shot. So is gestalt factor similarity, but proximity wins the day. Each couple is a group on their own based on closeness of the people involved. The are, however, also connected due to similarity: same age group; men on the left side; woman on the right side, etcetera.

And they are grouped by direction in the shot as well. More than one gestalt factor is at play.

Here comes my point: I could have shot this picture only to hold the two couples. But I did not do that. I included the left side of the staircase and a young person playing there. You can’t see it all since other kids are hidden behind the wall.

That inclusion is what I call defactor or defactoring. I have delibereately inserted an element (playing children) that expands the main theme of the photograph (someone getting married). By such a defactoring procedure I introduce an element of strain or opposition. The story of the picture is not so simple any more.

It is a personal priority if you want to work with defactoring elements like this. Some would have stayed with the main message of the couple getting married, and got a more harmonious message out of it. Easier to grasp. I choose to do it otherwise.

Why? I enjoy open ended images where stories are told, but you are not quiet sure what stories are told. You have to work with them.

Why should I enjoy that? Simply because they mirror real life better. Life is not always simple is it?

You need to do it your way. Not all answers are easy to come up with. Not even in photography. Not even in street photography. Nor should they be.

One of the reasons, among many, why street photography is so incredible rich to work with.

By recognising gestalt factors in street photography, you also get to know defactoring. Try it out. Now you know what to call it. Call it what it is: defactoring. That is what I will do.

Good luck with it.

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

Copenhagen, May 14, 2013.


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  1. #1 by Elisabeth on May 15, 2013 - 10:14 am

    read it 2 times!!!! but a question comes… from what i understand defactoring would bring the same effect as closure . Does it make sense?

  2. #3 by Elisabeth on May 15, 2013 - 10:17 am

    funny for i just took this one this week-end and maybe it could go into defactoring. It’s 2 of a kind but what drawed me the most taking it was the face the woman at the café made like “oh what a shame those kids are so noisy” :-). Am i seeing it right?

    • #4 by Knut Skjaerven on May 15, 2013 - 11:20 am

      Interesting, Elisabeth and many thanks for your comment.

      Let me post you a question: What would you say was the main differences between your image and the one used in this post for illustration?

  3. #5 by Elisabeth on May 15, 2013 - 11:31 am

    I would say that there is a lot more “noise” on my shot and that I am probably the only one knowing about the old woman’s face at the restaurant. While your’s is perfect and clear. But that’s why i’m your student isn’t :-)? I am correct?

    • #6 by Knut Skjaerven on May 15, 2013 - 12:09 pm

      Hmmm, I dont know about student, but I agree roughly.

      I would look at what message I wanted to convey, look at the frame content or crop and then see if parts come out distinctive enough :-).

      All of this you already know, right? :-).

  4. #7 by Elisabeth on May 15, 2013 - 6:22 pm

    Tried to follow your advice and cropped it and add some contrast. I think we see the old woman’s face better now but since i was seeing it in the first place i’m not sure i’m a good judge :-).
    Do you think we see the story i saw better? : http://www.flickr.com/photos/85881234@N05/8740782659
    Many thanks :-)!

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