Archive for category The Toolbox

One More Word On Defactor

Strange Encounter.© Knut Skjærven.

Strange Encounter.© Knut Skjærven.

One thought takes another. One word takes another.

So here is one more word on defactor or defactoring, that was introduced yesterday.

Defactor relates to the factor of closure, the human ability to fill in missing information so as to create a message that is easy and understandable.

One way to illustrate how closure works is just to have half a person in a photo and let the viewer fill out the missing parts. This is done all the time, and in street photography there is no problem cutting people in halves. Only if is a clumsily done does it confuse.

Here are a couple of examples where closure is executed by the perceiver. They are all from The Europeans: The Statement (half a body is missing); The Silent Reader (half a shoe is missing); and Dirty Dancing (legs plus more are missing). Most people will not have problems reading these picture at all. We are use see bits and pieces in photography.

But closure is also of another sort. A non tangible sort. It does not have to deal with present or non present limbs or other physical objects. Closure has also to do with what is not there. Look at the picture above. We all see what is there, but we can only guess on the reasons why. We wonder (well, some do) about what story is in fact told here. It is a blind date, are the two persons there for one another at all, is it an poster from a fertility clinic as one (male) reader once suggested? Something quite other might be going on.

We don’t know, do we? Nor is it strictly necessary to know.

Look at the images once more. Yes, is an example that well could illustrate the factor of closure. It also a picture where defactoring is happening. The man in the background has been included in the frame to make a suspense of not knowing. To create a tension, an opposition in, or to, the main theme. We have added an element (the man) to induce strain and opposition in the message.

I am getting there. Question: What is it that defactoring does to a photograph? To a street photograph? Does is close it? No, on the very contrary it opens it.

Is defactoring explainable in relation to the factor of closure? Yes, but it flashes an additional side of the coin. That side that tells you that some street photographs are more open than others. Some images more energy of closure to be performed than others. That could well be the general situation: Defactor or defactoring opens up images for a larger variety of interpretations.

Yes, there will be another post on open and closed images. Soon.

Good luck with your own handling of this theme. Give it thought.

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

Copenhagen, May 15, 2013.

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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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Bringing Things Together

The Silent Reader © Knut Skjærven

The Silent Reader © Knut Skjærven

I am going to bring things together.

I will cluster two different sites: Street Photographer’s Toolbox (The Toolbox) and The Europeans. That way I don’t have to do things twice. Nor do you.

The first site holds a lot a text. The second site holds only photographs. More than anything they should be considered as chapters in the same book. That is what they are.

One of the the themes in The Toolbox is how to use gestalt factors in making what we have called Itching Images.

Itching Images are photographs that in one way or another stands apart from mere street documentation. They are the proper street photographs as we define it in this context. When you look on photographs from old masters you will see Itching Images all over. Being itchy is one of the hallmarks of street photography.

Time has now come to see how this works in practise. How are gestalt factors used in real photography? I am going to suggest how the gestalt factors are used in a number of images. Being well aware that the images used here for illustrative purposes bear no comparison with masterworks of the past.

Here are a few things you need to know:

1. Street photography, or photography in general, is no strict science so what are suggested here are suggestions only.

2. Statements made about a photograph are never right or wrong. They could, however, be more or less reasonable and well argued.

3. Many more things could, and should, be suggested about the same photograph. Here we deal with one, or few, dimensions only.

4. Not all photographs in The Europeans are categorised in gestalt terms. Nor should they be.

5. More photos will be tagged with along the way.

6. This cluster is particularly made for those attending The Workshop(s), who are presently working on a task along these lines.

Here is what you could do:

Selected photographs in The Europeans have been tagged with 1 or few of 7 gestalt factors. You have to open The Europeans, find the CATEGORIES in the blogroll at the left side and open the drop down menu to see how it is structured.

CATEGORIES contains two sets of information: a) the location where the shot is taken, and as of now b) the gestalt factor that it suggested to support it. Each photo has been marked with up to 3 factors. When you follow a particular tag it might look like this.

Please remember: Moving from lines and dots in the original gestalt research, which by the way is about 100 years old, is definitely a jump. So flexibility and interpretation are needed. Very much so. It is all a question of executing common sense and good reason.

Here is an example: The photograph above has been marhed with two tags. Besides its location tags, that is.

The tags are The Factor of Similarity  referring to the fact that there are 3 people in the shot. One real person and two others in the pictures on the wall. Here clustered in one photograph.

The other tag is The Factor of Common Fate, indicating that literally the three people have a certain fate in common. That common fate could be described as aloneness, or being in a solitary situation. Other words could be used for it, I am sure.

Could other gestalt factors have been tagged as well? Yes they could. But these two seem to be the most obvious.

If you want to see other pictures tagged with the same, or other categories, just go ahead and press the tags. You find tags beneath each photo in The Europeans. So far only a few are tagged with gestalt factors. More will come, but all photos will not be tagged this way.

May I suggest the following? Start tagging you own best images. If nothing else then only in your head. Start looking at the works of the masters of street photography. See how they made Itching Images by using gestalt factors instinctively. Not all of the time, but definitely some of the time.

Good luck with it.

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

Copenhagen April 30, 2013.


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The Toolbox As Gestalt Factor

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

Yes, it is a good morning.

I just solved a problem that has puzzled me for a very long time. Or someone solved it for me.

Preparing the work slides for the first workshop in June, I had met this challenge:

How could it be that gestalt factors, normally considered innate ideas governing the reading, and the possible making, of street photographs, suddenly could pop up with a factor based on past experience or habit?  I could not get that to fit.

I needed to go back to where Max Wertheimer explains this. He sais: “Unlike the other principles with which we have been dealing, it is characteristic of this one that the contents A, B and C are assumed to be independent of the constellation in which they appear. Their arrangement is on principle determined merely by extrinsic circumstances (e.g. drill).”

He continues: “Often arbitrary material can be arranged in arbitrary form and,  after a sufficient drill, made habitual.”

This was just amazing. All became clear.

I don’t think for a minute that a toolbox ever can be an innate idea automatically passed on from generation to generation, but I do think that this toolbox, as any other toolbox in any field or craft, can be internalised to such an extend that the tools in there execute automatically as a spine competence.

Is that form of learning not what we all strive for? Being competent at something and executing what we are good at with the least of efforts?

I think it is.

Now I know that Street Photographer’s Toolbox can in fact become a gestalt factor for street photography. It is only a questions of drilling. And that is just what we do.

Feel free to engage in the task suggested in the first slide above. And then do the drilling. You have to find out how. Get into the habit.

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

Copenhagen April 5, 2013.


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Gestalt Factors: Make It Easy On Yourself.

Summer Song. © Knut Skjærven.

One of the most amazing things I have found dealing with visual communication are the gestalt factors. There is no doubt about it.

I use these factors every time I am out taking pictures. Or rather they engage themselves in the process. All by themselves.

I don’t use much energy on them since they have, long ago, settled as part of my second nature. They are part of the invisible rucksack that I always carry along when taking pictures.

Gestalt factors can easily become part of your rucksack too, but first you need to know a little about what they are and how they work. That is what this section is all about.

I am sure that you know many of the factors already since some are pretty common. Sometimes, however, is helps to work things over in your mind yet another time to make sure that things are there to support you when you need them. You will want them in your rucksack too. I am sure.

Over the next weeks I will describe these factorsI will make them useful for street photography and for this toolbox. The section will consist of some 10 different posts. Each dealing with a specific gestalt factor. This post is the intro to the section.

Why are the gestalt factors so important? It has to do with that very human condition that is called making things easy on yourself.

When a viewer reads an image he/she tends to do that with as little effort as possible. That is the mechanism that makes him/her cope with a world of constant information overload. All of us make perceptual shortcuts when we look at, or read, pictures. Photographs included.

As a reader of images this goes all by itself. As photographers it is a good idea to tune in on the way people read images. To understand the shortcuts and to use them in building photographs.

Gestalt factors overrule what is actually shown in the photograph and tell the mind “ok” I am going to read this photograph this and this way. You as a photographer are disconnected from the party. That is, unless you know a little about how human perception works.

There are good words for this process. When you read an image you decode it. When you make a photograph you code it.

There are much more to coding and decoding than gestalt factors, but at least they are part of the complex.

There are two important things that you need to know. Knowledge of gestalt factors comes with a double benefit. Knowledge always does.

The first benefit of knowing gestalt factors is that you are in a position TO USE  them in your street photography. The second benefit is that you are allowed NOT TO USE them. Knowing these, and other tools, your artistic freedom will increase.

Now, let us take a brief glance are Summer Song, the photograph that accompanies this first post in the gestalt section. What do you see in it at first glance?

I am pretty sure that the first thing you noticed was not that there are 13 windows in the house at the back of the image, and that 4 of those are hardly visible or not windows at all. I am also pretty sure that you cannot give me the number of grass straws in the lawn in the front part of the picture. I am also pretty sure that you would not say that the picture consists of 8 different people doing different things under open air.

You are most likely to say that in this shot you see 4 groups of people. Pairs of two.

If my anticipation is correct you have made it easy on yourself by ordering and grouping the information in the photograph. The decoding is based on closeness and similarity, which are two of the gestalt factors we are going to deal with in later posts.

This is what gestalt factors do: based on visual patterns they order and prioritize things for you. They shortcut myriads of information into understandable wholes that you grasp immediately. Saves both time and energy.

By knowing gestalt factors you can use them in your photography. You don’t have to, but you can.

Knowledge of gestalt factors will, with very little effort, become a part of your rucksack. I find working with gestalt factors very exiting. I think you might too.

Good luck with it.

Additional posts in this section: gestalt factor introduction; gestalt factor proximity; gestalt factor similarity; gestalt factor closure; gestalt factor direction; gestalt factor good curve; gestalt factor objective set; gestalt factor habit or experience; gestalt factor Prägnanz.

Library Thing.

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Gestalt Factor Direction

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Direction in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Gestalt Factor Closure

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Closure in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Gestalt Factor Similarity

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Similarity in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.

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Gestalt Factor Proximity

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Proximity in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Connotation: Aestheticism

Docklands. © Knut Skjærven.

This is actually one of the very few places where Roland Barthes refers to the great master of French street photography: Henri Cartier – Bresson. The article is written in 1961 and Bresson was at his peak of performance as a photographer.

In describing his fifth connotation procedure Aestheticism, Barthes uses these words: “Thus Henri Cartier – Bresson constructed Cardinal Pacelli’s reception by the faithful of Lisieux like a painting by an earlier master. The resulting photograph, however, is in no way a painting …”. /24 (Here is the photograph in question).

In the sentences before this rare reference to Cartier – Bresson, Barthes says: “For if one can talk of aestheticism in photography, it is seemingly in an ambiguous fashion”./24 When photography try to turn painting it could be a) either a trial or an aspiration suggesting that photography, like painting, indeed is an art form in its own right; or b) “to impose a generally more subtle and complex signified than would be possible with other connotation procedures”./24

This is then the ambiguity that Barthes is talking about: the aspiration to be art, or to invoke more subtle connotations. Fair enough.

The reference to Cartier – Bresson is very convenient. Cartier – Bresson’s dream in early days was, in fact, to become a painter, and he chose photography only as a second option having tried his way as a painter with no great success. Cartier – Bresson was indeed familiar with the rules of composition and he stuck to the classic guidelines all of his life. It is said, that he even had a little notebook with him in which he kept sketches of famous paintings as an ongoing inspiration for his photography. A brilliant idea if that is the road you want to take as a photographer.

The big question is: What could be the connotative effects of for instance Cartier – Bressons road to photography leaning as he did on classical guidelines for composition. Here comes the answer, or at least one of them: the connotations embedded in such a procedure is that of harmony, beauty and pleasantness. But also control. All of them Cartier – Bressons trademarks as a photographer.

It would be absolutely wrong to say that Cartier – Bresson was a copier of master painters, but is would be absolutely right to state that he indeed used classical rules for compositions in his photographic work.

To use a similar path to photography, or for that matter NOT to use a similar path to photography, both require knowledge of the matter. Knowledge of painters’ ways, knowledge of compositional structures. How else could one hope to connote anything bases on aestheticism.

This discussion brings us back to more practical matters: One of the ideas of Street Photographer’s Toolbox is, indeed, to disclose and discuss basic rules of composition. Not to become painters, but to stay photographers.

Have a good day.



Relates posts in this section:  Introduction; Trick Effects; Pose; Objects; Photogenia; Aestheticism; and Syntax.

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.

Library Thing: Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press, London 1977.

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