On the Edge: Knut Skjærven

On the Edge: Knut Skjærven

The Reception © Knut Skjærven

After all your wondering and wandering you will eventually realise that you have been given the chance of taking only one single picture in your lifetime: That picture holds all the others in it. That is the gist of your photography.

Q1: Please state your name and occupation. Where do you live?

A: My name is Knut Skjærven. I live at the outskirts of Copenhagen. I am a Norwegian. I always stress that since there is a difference being a Norwegian and being a Dane. The reason I mention it is that it reflects on your being in the world and also the the way you act as a photographer.

What is my occupation? Mostly a do what you see here. I write and I take pictures. Trying to do it in a photographic way. Freelancing around. I dropped having a regular nine-to-five job some 5 years ago.

Talking about education and experience I have worked in advertising, as a person dealing with buying and evaluation advertising campaigns but I have also done content analysis, business development o, I hope, professional level. And lots of other interesting stuff. I feel that I have always been very privileged. 

My core area is visual communication.

Q2: Welcome to On the Edge. You will have to pick one of your best street photographs and you are asked to refer to that photo only during the interview. Would that be ok with you?

A: Thank you. My pleasure entirely.

No, I have no problem selection a single photograph for this interview. I must admit I could have chosen many. I am fortunate that I enjoy what I do photographically and have a number of favorite shots. This is one of them. Technically no the easiest.

Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Knut ?

A: Certainly there is a particular reason for taking this photograph. I took it because the scene was there and I had the opportunity to take it. And it fitted in with what I want to do as a street photographer.

I enjoy what I call: Small Coin Photography. As opposed to Big Bill Photography. I don’t need big drama photography. Small gestures attacks me more.

It was taken, must have been Berlin around 2010, in the gallery area around Auguststasse in Mitte. Close to midnight. I only had a spit second crossing the street and there they were. All of these folks enjoying a summer evening.

Technically is it not the best of shots. Had to deal with extreme lighting conditions. Outside it was close to dark, and the inside was lit by strong spotlights. I am implying is that technical issues are not that important to me.

The reason I come back to this photograph is that I enjoy the luck I had being there. It is like a piece of music where all the single tones make up a melody.

If I had staged this it would not have come out very differently. The sweetness of street photographs is that nothing is staged. Look at the two dogs, who obviously have spotted me, the faces and the placements of the people in it.

And it has a sense of humor, which I find important. I could and would not do without a sense of humor.

Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, can you describe it?

Do I have a style?

Considering that even not having a style is just another way of having I style, I probably have a style.

I have been wondering recently why I prefer certain types of street photograph and not others. It might very well have something to do something with how and where I was brought up. Being Scandinavian you are per definition democratic – without any effort. That hase been installed in you since childhood. You want to let things unfold the way they unfold. Not to much interference, on the person level at least.

I am sure being a phenomenologist, as I consider myself, you tend to build your world from the button and not from the top. What you see is what you get but not limited by the sense of physics. There are much more to your vision than what is actually in front of you.

Let me add that I am also influences by the French New Wave with movies director like Jan-Luc Godard ( 1930 – ) and Francois Truffault (1932 – 1984). Not to forget the Italian Neorealism, which stressed the importance of everyday life.

All of this was actually part of my formal education. It is only recently that I have begun to realize how important these experiences are. And how well they fit with the European, particularly, French inspirations in street photography. HCB among others.

Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!

Street photography for me is a creative, respectful and unaltered rendering of social real-life.  Primarily as you find in urban settings. Street photography is more of an approach than anything else. I only try to capture what is already there.

Q6: Give me some basics. How long have you had an interest in street photography? Do you have any mentors that you have learned from?

Here I can be pretty specific. I started doing street photography in June 2010. In Berlin. That was the third G Summit I arranged for members of The Contax G Pages. I needed a project. Simple as that.

During the first two G Summits held in 2008 and 2009, I had no idea of what I was doing or what I wanted to do. I came back from those summits with thousands of pictures that I hardly ever have looked at later. Very expensive, very time consuming and very futile. Remember it was all analog. Lost of films to develop and weeks of scanning. Lots of time and money mostly wasted.

Taking a project made be able to focus on certain themes leaving all the others out. That was when street photography started.

Q7: Let’s talk about equipment. Some have an almost religious addiction to it. Long lenses, short lenses, rangefinders, non-rangefinders, compacts. Leicas, Canons, Nikons, analog or digital. What is your opinion of this? What is your preferred gear? Don’t be boring when you answer this, please.

A: Let me be brief on this.

There is a great comfort and psychology in working with a type of equipment that you feel good with and enjoy using. This does not only apply to photography only but for me to everything else also. I would rather wear an old shirt that I am comfortable with than a fancy new bought on sale.

Most of my street photographs have been captured with a small Leica X1 or a Leica X2.

I have recently started using my old Contax G2 with its Planar 2/45. I also have a Canon 5D Mark II and three Carl Zeiss lenses: 35, 50, 85mm.

My preferred gear is all of these depended on the task at hand. All excellent gear.

Boring enough for you?

Q8: Are there any particular reason why you call yourself a street photographer? Many people capture landscapes, seascapes, birds caved in. Do you take such pictures as well?

A: Yes, I call myself a street photography at times because most of what I do fall within that category. I don’t think I need excuses for that either as many others seeming think they do. Street photography is in low rating  by many.

I don’t regards street photography as a left hand activity anyone can do. Done with passion, some knowledge of the world,  and a portion of luck is it the most amazing type of photography I can think of.

Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.

A: Yes I do: Photography is deliberate drawing with light. Stress the terms “deliberate”, “drawing” and “light”.

Plain picture taking is roughly the opposite.

Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photographs are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?

A: I am not sure that I think that is true. Anyway, both versions will work well. I enjoy black and white street photography because there is filter of universality in it that I don’t find in colour.

Black and white photography is one step away from reality and thus one step closer to it.

Does that make sense?

Q11: Do you think that street photography is a serious type of photography? Can anything good come of it? How do you see this?

A: Do I really have to answer that?

The name of my website is Street Photography and Other Life-Changing Events. That is how I see it.

Yes, it is dead serious. Don’t mind what some curators say.

Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?

A: Same answer that I just gave for the other question. Move one step up, please.

Q13: Your vision? What is your vision for European street photography? What is the vision for your own photography? I am not going to ask to see into the future, but tell me anyway.

A: My vision for European street photography is that people should join to develop it. And I am happy so say that people do. Initiatives are scattered around.

Facebook and other social media might be good for promoting ideas and photographs but those media don’t make the trends, they at most follow them. No news or innovation come from those corners.

As in every other area in and of this world there are a lot of dilettantism around. That will not go away. No use complaining about it because it will not change. Just state it and move on. There are plenty of brilliant and serious people around. Find them, join them.

Seeing into the future? There is one way: You must do as best you can.

Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?

A: Ah, finally an easy question. The most important thing with a photograph is that it is only a photograph but that it contains the rest of the world in it. Say that a couple of times and you will realize that this goes for all photographs. What you put into it is your stake.

After all your wondering and wandering you will eventually see that you have been given the chance of taking one single picture: that picture holds all the others in it. That is the gist of your photography. You only have that single chance.

Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?

A: I don’t see any other likely candidates. Do you?

Thank you very much, Knut . Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?

Thank you for this opportunity. Will you join me? Going back to Paris are you?

See more of Knut’s photographs and approaches at his webgate New Street Agenda.

© Knut Skjærven.  All rights reserved.
November 13, 2017.

#theedge  #ontheedge  #newstreetagenda  #oneverystreet   #knutskjærven  #knutskjaerven #streetphotography


About author

Knut Skjærven

Knut Skjærven is a Norwegian photographer, writer and researcher working out of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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