Posts Tagged Knut Skjærven

Introducing Personal Coach Program (PCP)

The Red Dress © Knut Skjærven

The Red Dress © Knut Skjærven

Personal Coach Program (PCP) for street photographers is ready.  The course runs over 7 modules during 12 weeks.
Click the photo or the link to read more about it.

© Knut Skjærven
Copenhagen, August 30, 2014


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An Introduction: Deep See Photography

Camera Work ©. Knut Skjærven.

Camera Work ©. Knut Skjærven.

There is always something else. Looking at a photograph, looking at any photograph, what your eyes are fixed at at any moment are only part of the message. Most of it hides under the surface. In the deep see.

A photograph is a momentary halt in a stream of impressions. Some coming from the outside. Others brought forward by a mind and a mindset.  Mixed in an all inclusive consciousness.

Photographs contain a past, a present, and a future. This is the extended vision that is always there but has largely been forgotten. In Street Photographer’s Toolbox we will label it Deep See Photography. As an area to encircle.

It is a way to understand photography, it is a way to talk about photography, it is an aesthetics and a way to take pictures. Street photography, as the visual stories of historic and contemporary unstaged, public life, is the scene for it.

Clever people have taught us that photography is all about revisiting the world. Have a look at the world as it once was. The old steets of Paris, the underground of New York, the wars on foreign shores. And sure, those impressions are part of the story. But not the whole story.

In the western world we tend to cut things apart.  To look more closely, to investigate what is there. On the table, cutting sharp. Maybe that is the overall challenge in our centuries of success? What we have forgotten is to put the pieces back together again. Maybe that is the overall challenge of our time?

In photography you could say that what you see is what you get. It is half way correct. The other half is buried in deep see.

The interesting question is what deep see street photography looks like? Is there a special aesthetics to go with it? Is it way to take pictures? Will we discover deep see aesthetics in the best of pictures?

Questions to be an answered.

Deep see is a way of looking at things. It is a way of thinking. An approach.

But, the internet is not for long essays. But it could be a medium for selected storter stories. Like chapters in a book, like tools in a box. They reside there till you put them to use.

So that is what this Deep See Photography will address. Posts piece by piece, or rather moment by moment. Like the pieces of a puzzle.

Stay tuned to the section: Deep See Photography. Pick it up in the links section.. This is the very first post. It is there already.

Good luck with it. Have a very good day this Monday with, eh, sunshine, actually.

January 21, 2013.© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.

NB! Posts in this section will be inspired by phenomenology.

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What Gig?

Gig Shooting. © Knut Skjærven.

Gig Shooting. © Knut Skjærven.

I want part of the game too. The gig game.

I would be inclined to say that this is a gig shot. If you agree, then tell me a) what is the gig part of it, and b) is it the trickery type or the non trickery type?

And for the really advanced: what gestalt factor(s) does it relate to and why?

I am looking forward to your suggestions :-).

Many thanks. Have a good weekend.

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

December 7, 2012.

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Itching Image: Juxtaposition

Footwork. © Knut Skjærven.

Let us  call this itching technique itching by juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition means “the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect: the juxtaposition of these two images”.

Juxtaposition then does not only mean that the two or more elements involved need to be different, they even need to be contrasting and placed together. 

To get the itching effect there must be a number of similarities between the two or more elements, as well. In Footwork above, the elements we talk about are the two women. One standing, one sitting. They must at the same time be held together by being of the same type (women), and separated  by belonging of a recognizable subtype based on styles, ages, bodily positions, footware, dresswise, etcetera.

If one of them were substituted for a man, just to take an example, the elements would surely still be different , but it would no longer be the type of juxtaposition that we speak of here. The elements of similarity needed would lack.

In street photography you can work with juxtapositions. The challenge is that you need to do it unstaged and unposed. You are not supposed to set thing up by bringing in models or extras.  You have to stick to unfolding reality is you observe it on location. Within one and the same shot you can bring together elements that in unfolding reality were never intended to be seen, nor framed, together. By doing just that you force or provoke a situation that in the best of cases might be intriguing or inching. It is such an itching that makes the picture stand out.

Juxtapositions can have many layers. In Footwork, some of the juxtaposed notions might be described like this:

older woman – younger woman//sitting woman – standing woman//light dress – dark dress//longer dress – shorter dress//high heeled shoes – low heeled shoes//mature dress style – less mature dress style// dark hair – blond hair

These things only work because what holds the juxtaposition together is that both people are women, lightly dressed, crossed legs, black shoes, bare legs, and many other things. Fell free to add your own observations.

Thanks for reading. Good luck with it.


© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. (Text and image.)

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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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Connotation: Photogenia

Cosmic Charisma. © Knut Skjærven.

It is a fascination notion. Maybe the most spectacular of them all. Speculative.

Ronald Barthes calls it photogenia and it is the fourth of his connotation procedures. But he does not really give you anything more than a clue as to what is to be understood by photogenia. He cleverly escapes the question by stating that “it will suffice to define photogenia in terms of informational structure. In photogenia the connoted message is the image itself, “embellishes” (which is to say in general sublimated) by techniques of lighting, exposure and printing.”/23.

“The theory of photogenia”, he states, “has already been developed (by Edgar Morin in Le Cinéma ou l’homme imaginaire) and this is not the place to take up again the subject of the general signification of that procedure”./23

Thank you Mr. Barthes. Thank you for this extensive explanation.

That is where he leaves his readers, in nowhere land.

What, however, after all is important is the clue that he gives you: in photogenia the connoted message is the image itself. I need to dive into the sources if I want a grip on this idea. And that is just what I will do. Therefore, I will come back with an update on photogenia. Pretty soon.

In the meantime you can work with me in solving the mystery of photogenia. Here is a sentence from an article by Jean Epstein called “On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie”. It goes like this: “What is photogénie? I would describe as photogenic any aspects of things, being, or souls whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction”.

Yes, Epstein talks about filmic reproduction, but we will talk about photography.  I’ll be back soon.


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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An Introduction Connotations

Shoe Seduction. © 2012 Knut Skjærven

Roland Barthes was a French academic famous also for his writing on photography. He did not have the patience to take pictures himself, but he wrote quite extensively about them. Together with Susan Sontag and John Berger he is one of the top three in a rather exclusive club.

In 1961 he wrote an article which in French was titled Le message photographique. In English: The Photographic Message. Among other things it holds a chapter that Barthes called Connotation Procedures. It is these procedures that shall concern us in this toolbox section.

Barthes operates with six connotation procedures. To get a feel of what connotations are all about we will deal with all six. They are 1) Trick Effects; 2) Pose; 3) Objects; 4) Photogenia; 5) Aestheticism; and 6) Syntax.

To understand the meaning of connotation, you need to understand the meaning of  denotations, as well. The two always comes together. Both words derive from latin. Denote means to mark accurately, observe, indicate. Connote means to mark/observe/indicate along with. It is that little idea of along with that is important here.

If denotations are first layer content, you could call connotations second layer content.

Related to street photography denotations are the more objective elements of a content that is there for everyone to see and agree on. Connotations could be described as the psychological impressions that comes along. Often more subjective than what is denoted.

If you look at the photograph above the denotations would be the 4 shoes on the right hand side, their shadows on the wall, the wall itself, the floor, the woman in the background and another set of objects. You could do a thorough description of the photograph to get all the details that makes the first layer content of the image.

On the other hand, you could say that this image is not primarily about shoes at all it is about elegance, it is about exclusivity and the human isolation in a modern world. That would be the connotations of the image. Second layer contents are more subjective.

There are more layers than denotations and connotations. Such third layer content could be political, symbolical or even other types of contents.

If you ask if Barthes connotations procedures are all there is to it then the answer is: no it is not. There are much more to be considered when speaking about connotations, but Barthes’ procedures makes a good start. For instance there are connotations related to colors, typography, tonal range, grain structure, etcetera.

Good luck with this section.


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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Connotations Trick Effects

The Flying Dutchman. © Knut Skjærven.

I am going to treat Roland Barthes’ connotation procedures in the same order that they appear in his article The Photographic Message in the book Image, Music, Text.  And I am going to add a little to them to point out their potential for street photography.

The first procedure he points to is Trick Effects. By that he really means trick effects: doing trickery, or faking an image. He talks about inserting an object or a person that was not actually there when the picture was taken. We know this from political propaganda but most of the times when a person is removed from an image after having fallen out of grace. Removing is in the same visual vocabulary as inserting.

Barthes mentions an image where an American presidential candidate was faked to be in the same shot as a communist leader. Thereby connoting a positive connection and even friendship between the two. The communist leader was inserted into the photograph. (We are back in the cold war days.)

Today, we would say that an image like that was heavily photoshopped by inserting an object or a person in a frame where it/he/she did not actually belong. Like in concept photography where this type of manipulation is quite alright. It will, however, not be acceptable in street photography were documentation is an important issue.

You may rightly wonder what this connotation procedure is doing in toolbox for street photography? Particularly as we speak of street photography as straight photography. Straight meaning that we do as little post production or editing as possible. Surely there is no room for trickery and faking images when you define street photography?

You are absolutely right, but as our mission here is to be loyal to Barthes procedures we have to include trick effects as one of his connotation procedures.

There is another reason which is even more important. That reason has a direct relevance for our understanding of street photography.

Roland Barthes: “The methodological interest of trick effects is that they intervene without warning in the plane of denotation; the utilize the special credibility of the photograph ( … ) in order to pass off as merely denoted a message which is in reality heavily connoted; in no other treatment does connotation assume so completely the “objective” mask of denotation.”/Page 21.

What Barthes is trying to say, is that photography of all media have a special capacity to trick people because people or object inserted into a photograph, done well enough that is, really seem to be part of denoted reality. Thereby you also manipulate connotations as in the case of presidential candidate and the communist leader.

Is that it then? Are Trick Effects of no use in a street photographer’s toolbox? Off to the next procedure in Barthes cluster of connotation procedures? Not quite, because photograph’s capacity to blur the distinction between denoted and connoted content can also be used with great effect in proper, unmanipulated street photography.

How come?

Let’s switch the words insert with include, and fake with make. Then the situation becomes very different. We manage to hold on to photograph’s capacity to be truthful to reality. Now we no longer have faked denotations that produce false connotation. We have real denotation producing truthful connotations. By substituting insert with include and fake with make we manage this.

Why is this important? It is important because I never understood quality street photography as a plain and a mostly mechanical rendering of street life. To stress the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary takes a special effort of including or excluding (not inserting or removing) things that in the rush of passing (through life) are normally overlooked. That is the overall mission of proper street photography if it has any. That is its humanistic perspective.

NB: It can often be difficult to detect if a content is inserted or simply included. The difference is critical. In The Flying Dutchman above, the boy jumping in the background could have been inserted in the photograph. It is not. The connoted message could be described as lively, playful, positive.

Taking into account that the image is shot at Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the connotations takes on yet another layer of meaning. Maybe a symbolic one. One of reconciliation perhaps. You decide.   The image holds first (denote) , second (connote) an even third (symbolize) level contents.

Thanks for reading.


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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Connotations: Syntax

The Picture Story.© Knut Skjærven

Syntax is the last of the connotation procedures mentioned by Roland Barthes.

He says: “Naturally, several photographs can come together to form a sequence (this is commonly the case in illustrated magazines); the signifier of connotation is then no longer to be found at the level of any one of the fragments of the sequence but at that – what the linguists would call the suprasegmental level – of the concatenation”./24

The Free Dictionary defined concatenation as “a series of interconnected events, concepts, etc.” Or simply “To connect or link in a series or chain”.

In spite of the difficult words used by Barthes the idea is very simple. If there is more than one image you have a possible picture story. The connotative content is then based on all the images involved and not the single ones in isolation. I don’t think it is necessary to be more difficult than that? Call it suprasegmental if you like.

Henri Cartier – Bresson would have liked this since he 9 years earlier spoke about the same phenomenon. In his prelude to The Decisive Moment (1952) he speaks about the picture story and the need for having more than a single photo to illustrate a point: “Sometimes there is one unique picture whose composition possesses such vigor and richness, and whose content so radiates outward from it, that this single picture is the whole story in itself. But this rarely happens.”/The Minds Eye/23

Often Cartier – Bresson uses more than one image to cover a story. As do most photo journalists.

There are different dimensions in this phenomenon. Both Barthes and Cartier – Bresson suggest that the syntax is within a single story in, for instance, a magazine. But what about the connotations that might emerge from all the images in a specific magazine? Or even more magazine. Could be called an editorial style. There certainly is a level of syntax there too.

What about the even more complex situations that emerges when both the viewer and the viewed, the perceiver and the thing perceived, are considered as segments in the same event? Just a question.

Definitely the last words on connotation procedures have not been said yet. That is another story. As for Roland Barthes, the story ends here.


Training Sessions:
 See Street University.

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

Library Thing: Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press, London 1977; Henri Cartier – Bresson The Minds Eye, aperture, New York 1999.

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Connotations: Objects

The Restaurant.© Knut Skjærven.

You may have noticed that the progress of the toolbox does not follow any strict pattern. There will we more inching images later but right now we are heading back to Roland Barthes and his connotation procedures. We have already mentioned two of these, namely Trick Effects and Pose. The third connotation procedure he names Objects. Now, let’s look at that.

Barthes: “Special importance must be accorded to what could be called the posing of objects, where the meaning comes from the objects photographed (either because these objects have, if the photographer had the time, been artificially arranged in front of the camera or because the person responsible for lay-out chooses a photograph of this or that object). The interest lies in the fact that the objects are accepted inducers of associations of ideas (book-case = intellectual) or, in a more subtle way, are veritable symbols …”.

Now look at the image above. It consists of two types of elements: people and objects. The people are the three neatly dressed waiters preparing for the first dinner guests to arrive. The objects are the things that surrounds them: chairstables, a grillthe pavement, part of the street in the foreground, the doors and the windows, lampsthe facade that all functions as the wallpaper of the scene. You name the others.

There is something very disciplined over this image. The waiters have a good space between them almost as if they were places there by a director. But that which really makes the image disciplined is its overall structure, and the use of spaces and tones as a visual rhythm in the photograph.

How does that rhythm come about? If you look more closely at the photograph you will see that it is composed of rectangles and squares in a patchwork of blacks and whites and greys. There is also a good spread of black and white areas that adds to the discipline of the image. This, then, is the connotative content of the picture; discipline, control, precision, style.

I am sure that you can find other words that are as good as mine, if not better.

The curious thing about objects is that they tell a story that goes far beyond their denotative value in being chairs, windows, reflections, pavement, black and white rectangle and squares.  They induce or provoke a meaning that objectively is not really there in the picture if you look at the objects alone. This type of induction is the power of connotations. It goes far beyond what you see at the surface of things.

The importance of the use off objects in photography can be taken even a step further. Let me ask some simple questions: what does this picture tell you about the food served in the restaurant? Is it neatly arranged food or do your get messy plates with food spilled all over? What does the kitchen look like, the inside of their refrigerators? I am not going to answer these questions but there certainly are inductions at work based on the objects included. And of course, the photographer’s arrangements of them.

Expectations are built.


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

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.

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