Past Experience or Habit

Honouring Henri © Knut Skjærven

Honouring Henri © Knut Skjærven

Just let me remind you that this site is intended as a toolbox. It does not tell you in detail how to design and construct your house, but it gives you a set of tools that you might consider using. Does using these tools make you into a master builder? No, but it will pave the way for you as a craftsman in the art of street photography. As street photography is understood here.

Being a master builder is quite another matter.

Let me also remind you that all images shown on this site, unless something else is clearly written, have been shot by the site author. They are not here because they are particularly good. Nor for that matter because they are particularly bad.  Theyw are shown here to illustrate a point in question. That is all.

There are references to science, but we no not use science in a strict way. We use science inspirational and the verifications will not come in names and numbers and reports, but in the hope that you might find some of it useful in your photography. That is all that matters.

I should have said this in the introduction to every post on this site. Now I have said it, and it has to rest for a while as we turn to serious business.

In this post we are still dealing with gestalt factors. One of the factors is of a special sort: The Factor of Past Experience or Habit.

It is special since it introduces experience and habit to a universe that is suppose to work Below The Line in a type of unconscious automation. Now we are introducing an Above The Line matter, which is far from being automated.

The questions is: How can an Above The Line type of perception be made to work in a Below The Line universe? Let’s look at it.

The German psychologist, and probably a friend of Max Wertheimer, Kurt Gottschaldt, wrote an interesting article in 1926. That was 6 year before Henri Cartier-Bresson picked up his famous Leica in Marseille and started showing the world what street photography was all about. In an experiment Gottschaldt tested the relationship between gestalt factors and repetition.  Groups of people were shown simple forms to see if they were detected later when embedded into more complex structures.

His experiment showed was that it does not really matter how many times a group of students are shown a specific form in terms of their ability to recognise it in a larger context later.

What really matters is how the briefing of the students is done.

Translating this from an experiment with simple forms to the much more complex world of photography, it might go like this: It does not really matter how many times you have seen the photos of HBC, or any other famous street photographer, you are not likely to recognise any similar or almost identical situations of it in the real world.

On the other hand, if someone told you to look at a photo by HCB, or other famous photographer, and told you that there are similar scenes out there in the real world you will likely go out there and you will probably picture these scenes. That is the situation you want to be brought in if you consider yourself a learning photographer. (And who don’t).

Pretty simple?

Let’s make another jump.  Let’s make this issue very relevant for those attending the workshops in June or September:  If someone asked you, as a participant,  to read 16 articles on gestalt factors before you attended the workshop, not much was likely to happen, in terms of gestalt shooting, when in Berlin. Because you would  not know what to look and why you should look for anything that type at all.

However, if someone kindly asked you, as participant in Berlin, to have a look at a specific photo from anyone of the famous and judge if it could be considered an illustration of one of more gestalt factors you might indeed find it to be so. If you then were asked to find a photo of your own with the same characteristics, you might indeed be lucky there as well. Finally, if you then were asked to take a new image complying with the factor of similarity, the factor of proximity, or any of the factors, you would most likely manage that without much effort.

Back to the questions: Can past experience or habit be made to work as a type of automated function in street photography in a similar way to that of proximity, similarity, closure and the others? I think they can.

If you drill a certain quality, and are motivated enough, sooner or later that quality will internalized and effect your vision to such a degree that the quality will come to act as a visual radar for you. A kind of factor detection will occur. Detection, like in face direction. You will no longer have to speculate much about it. Situations will find you and start sending signals to you brain telling you that now is the time to hit the trigger.

Does such results only happen with gestalt factors? Of course not.  It could happen with any visual quality if you put your heart and mind and luck into it.

You should try it :-). Most people don’t.

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

Copenhagen, May 17, 2013.

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