ON STREET PHOTOGRAPHY and other life changing events


Simple Is Not Stupid / New Street Agenda

The Dancers © Knut Skjærven

Make It Simple.

I will not add Stupid (KISS) even if that might be a good catchword for what is at issue here.

But simple, is definitely not stupid in street photography.

Let us refine the argument with yet another time lending an ear to brilliant Rudolf Arnheim (1904 – 2007) in his book Art and Visual Perception. Arnheim talks about simplicity and the two different ways of it:  absolute simplicity and relative simplicity.

Child’s drawings may be absolutely simpler than renaissance art. Certain minimalist street photographs may be simpler than a photograph comprised of many and different objects.

Another distinction has to be made: complex and complicated photographs. Complex is good, complicated you will want to avoid.

A simple photograph may well be complex, but it can never be complicated.

Many of the best street photographs you will encounter are both simple and complex, because they draw on many levels of meaning.

Add to that they might engage a fine and stringent composition.

Moving from simple to complex (and avoiding complicated) is a question of structuring or order things.

Rudolf Arnheim calls this order for orderliness and he pairs it with another word new word: parsimony. 

This pair of words you will want to go to your mind and your heart, so let me repeat them: orderliness and parsimony. They are words to be remembered.

Initially this may sound very academic, but the usefulness for street photography is immense. Trust my words.

Parsimony is another word for Occam’ Razor and as we use it here, it means that when there are two or more ways of reading a street photograph, your audience will go for the most effortless reading.

Combine parsimony with orderliness and you get simple even in very complex photographs. You get good and interesting street photography.

Do NOT combine them and to get complicated. You get mediocre and non-interesting street photography.

Look at the photo accompanying this post; the dancing couple. What you hopefully find is a simple, but yet complex image. Complex adds to it. It does not take away.

Parsimony is reading the dancing couple without conflicts or even disturbances.

Orderliness is having structured the rest of the image (the ground) in such a way that it supports and enrichens the dancing couple.

All for now.

French translation (to come).

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. 13/01/14

This is a draft chapter to the workbook New Street Agenda. There is a workshop connected to it: New Street Agenda, Berlin June 12 – 15, 2014. If you are interested, please ask for more information at mail@theuropeans.eu or use the contact form below.

Good luck with it.

This post is in category New Street Agenda.



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This entry was posted on January 13, 2014 by in New Street Agenda, The Workbook and tagged .

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