The promotion site for New Street Agenda – Personal Coach Program (PCP) is ready. Click the link, or the image above, to go there.
PCP is a new and unique program for those who want to understand how visual communication works and apply the new knowledge to street photography. Or for that matter to other areas of photography.
When you enrol in the program you will have your own site that only can be seen by you and The Coach. PCP runs consecutively over 12 weeks in 7 separate modules. Other arrangements can be made.
Please ask questions to PCP by writing in directly to Knut Skjærven at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copenhagen, August 27, 2014.
© Knut Skjærven
Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography.
Review by Knut Skjærven.
Yes, it was a rare case of a decisive moment. The right time and the right place.
How else would you explain the two email messages with the same content landing in my mailbox at the beginning of June this year? On the same day. As if wanting to make their point with some importance.
The mails arrived from Zeta Books and obviously the publisher tried to get my attention for a new book that had just been published. The name of the book was Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography. The author was Chan-fai Cheung, Professor and Chairman, Department of Philosophy, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
How could the publisher know that I was in the process of studying the texts and pictures of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Was it not Cartier-Bresson that invented “decisive moments” in photography? Was he not the brilliant executor of “kairos photography”?
Here was a new book with the title Kairos knocking on my door.
The title is taken from Greek. The Greeks have two concepts for time, “kronos” and “kairos”. “Kronos” is the linear passing of time from a past, to a present, towards a future. “Kairos”, on the other hand, deals with decisive moments in time. Cheung sais: “Kairos … means the right time, opportune and seasoned time.” 
The two emails certainly got my attention. I downloaded the ebook version the same day. I guessed that it was probably quicker to get my hands on a hard copy of the book from the author than from the publisher, so I approached Chan-fai Cheung that very evening. A week later I had my hard copy. (You will need a hard copy of Kairos, since the virtual version does not give justice to the many photographs that are included in the book).
Emails were sent from China to Europe and back over the next days. Chan-fai Cheung asked me if I would like to review the book for a philosophical journal in Romania. Sure, I said, and later I almost regretted. After I started reading I realized that the written essays were not exactly Sunday entertainment. Particularly not for a right brained, wonnabe photographers like myself. Chan-fai Cheung seeks, in Kairos, to contribute to the ontology of the photographic image. No more, no less.
And that is a very ambitious task.
It has been many years since someone connected to the phenomenological movement, tried that. There is of course Roland Barthes with his now famous Camera Lucida , but that book was written 30 years ago. There is Vilém Flusser with his Towards a Philosophy of Photography . Not to forget trials by Hubert Damish , Andre Bazin  and Siegfried Kracauer .
And then there are masters like Susan Sontag and John Berger , who have made lasting contributions to the understanding of photography, but neither of them is explicitly related to phenomenology.
What triggered me was that Kairos was a combination of written essays and photographed essays. The many photographs (183 in all) come without explanations, which could be demanding in a world of fast perceptions. Many people seem to have lost the abilities to “deep read” photographs. If they ever had such an ability.
Today we tend to merely look at photographs and regard them as commodities that aren’t meant for a second look. Cheung’s photographs deserves more than that, particularly in the context of Kairos, where the images are published for a reason. Having the photographs presented without comments in as set up like this, is a daring move.
The written essays are: Hans Rainer Zepp: The Reality of a Photograph.; Kwok-ying Lau: Interplay between the Visible and the Imaginary; Chan-fai Cheung: Phenomenology and Photography; Doors and Windows; Funerary Sculptures and 30.000 Feet From Above.
I consider Cheung’s essay Phenomenology and Photography to be the core essay in the book. There the author indicates the intentions for his overall project.
The other essays elaborate on and opens up the core essay from different angles: Hans Rainer Sepp in his in depth analysis of one of Cheung’s photographs; Kwok-ying Lau investigating an approach to phenomenology and photography in a series of notes. And there are Cheung’s own additional essays, Doors and Windows, Funerary Sculptures and his short introduction to 30.000 Feet From Above. Not to forget, of course, the many visual statements in the photographic sections.
The essays make a nice portfolio of themes that takes you around in the varied world of phenomenology. Not all of them with the same importance. I find, for instance, that the last essay: 30.000 Feet From Above, is included more for the sake of the colourful pictures than for its contribution to phenomenology. In terms of photography Cheung simply can’t hold back. That spirit shines through the whole project.
I like such a straightforward, enthusiastic dedication.
In most chapters photos and texts are held together by a common theme. This is the case, for instance, in the sections of funerary shooting, and doors and windows.
In the core essay the photographs come uncommented in a great variety of themes and styles. From slices-of-life, to architecture, to close up flower shooting, and more. You sense Chan-fai Cheung’s great, great interest for visual statements and the high demands he makes on the readers/viewer to have the texts and the photographs come together as coherent messages.
Apart for my admiration for the project combining phenomenology and photography, Kairos presents many challenges. Particularly when it comes to closing in on important “ontological questions”. This is not the time or the place for any lengthy discussions of these matters, but let me mention some of them briefly.
In the preface the term “kairos” is set apart from from “kronos”, as it should be. Cheung continues: “… if photography is seriously considered as art, then the clicking of the shutter by the conscientious photographer for a particular phenomenon through his photographic seeing is what Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment”, i.e. kairos. All creative photographic works are products of kairos.” 
Such a definition is not what Cartier-Bresson had in mind when he described “decisive moments” in his famous essay from 1952. 
“Decisive moments” refer, first and foremost, to specific genres of photography e.g street shooting, people shooting and photo reportage. In addition, decisive moments need to be strikingly decisive to qualify as kairos’. Complying to rules of classical visual composition, and visual clarity, are other key parameters stressed by Cartier-Bresson.
I miss a chapter explaining how and why Cheung’s definition of “kairos” fit, or does not fit, to Cartier-Bresson understanding of “decisive moments”.
Another thing: Cheung borrows key terms from phenomenology. Two of these terms are “reduction” and “bracket”. The author sets these terms to work in a very specific way: “Reduction”, in Kairos, is the framing of a photograph. Related to the individual frame, “bracket” is a further reduction meant to eliminate unnecessary elements surrounding it. The second reduction, the bracket, is done with things like aperture setting, shutter speed, ISO, choice of lens, and position of photographer.
My question is: when adapting such key terms from phenomenology to a technical, photographic use, what are the terms that will substitute the “old” uses of these terms? There is a world of difference between a phenomenological bracketing of the natural attitude to turning wheels and handles on a camera. My worry is that the understanding of “reduction” here has gone too far.
Furthermore: Does the photographer leave the natural attitude when he looks through the viewfinder of a camera? Cheung says:” Photographic seeing is seeing through a view-finder of a camera. Hence is it in essence a restricted seeing and not seeing in the natural attitude.” 
I don’t agree that looking through a viewfinder of a camera implies that you abandon the natural attitude. Many things in our world, in fact most things, are based on a restricted seeing (like for instance driving a car), but that does not make such seeing phenomenological.
As much as I enjoy Kairos, I am in serious doubt about the uses of some of the central terms and definitions. Challenges, like those indicated above, needs be overcome for reasons of clarity. They can be overcome.
What is important is that Kairos has emerged at a crucial point in time. We take more and more pictures due to the digital revolutions, and to the low prices on adequate equipment. Today everyone is a photographer. Look at the amount of photography that goes into social media like Facebook. Look at the growth of flickr. Look at the amounts a pictures being sent via cell phones.
Yet, there is little understanding of what photography is, and what photographs do. Are we all brilliant executors of kairos all the time? Hardly.
The impact of the increased amounts of visual communication surrounding us has, so far, not been seriously investigated by phenomenologist. Phenomenology needs to take a stand and contribute to this area with insight, research and communication. The description, and understanding of photography plays a very important role in this. The task is huge, and it is badly needed. It is there to be taken.
Maybe now is the right time? Kairos could be a book to trigger the new interest we need to have in photography.
Illustration (the book page 102):
If I should pick one single photograph from the book that I particularly enjoy, it must be the one shot in Sicily in 2005. This image is one of the most beautiful in the book. At one time it holds great brilliance, and greats secrets. Presence and absence. An invitation to enter. An invitation to phenomenology.
Knut Skjærven lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was educated within philosophy, aesthetics, phenomenology, film and the visual arts at The University of Bergen, Norway, and Copenhagen Universtity, Denmark.
Apart from his business career within advertising, sales and business communication, he has worked as a free-lance writer and photographer for many years. He has written numerous articles and two books within the areas. One on phenomenology and film.
Knut Skjærven, has initiated, and runs a number of blogs, where he combines phenomenological insights with photography: Barebones Communication, WordPress 2007; Berlin Black and White, WordPress 2010; Photos of the Danes, WordPress 2010; Phenomenology and Photography, WordPress 2010.
 Chan-fai Cheung: Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography, Edwin Cheng Foundation Asian Centre for Phenomenology.
Hong Kong 2009, preface.
 Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida, Vintage Books 2000, London.
 Vilém Flusser: Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Reaktion Book 2007, London.
 Hubert Damisch: Notes for a Phenomenology of the Photographic Image, in Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg, Leete’s Island Books 1980, New Haven.
 André Bazin: The Ontology of the Photographic Image, in Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg, Leete’s Island Books 1980, New Haven.
 Sigfried Kracauer: Photography, in Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg, Leete’s Island Books 1980, New Haven.
 Susan Sontag: On Photography, Penguin Books 1977, London.
 John Berger; Ways of Seeing, BBC and Penguin Books 2008, London.
 Chan-fai Cheung: Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography, Edwin Cheng Foundation Asian Centre for Phenomenology 2009,
Hong Kong, preface.
 Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment, in The Minds Eye, Aperture 1999, London, pp. 20-43.
 Chan-fai Cheung: Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography, Edwin Cheng Foundation Asian Centre for Phenomenology 2009, Hong Kong, p. 009.
Copenhagen, August 26, 2014.
© Knut Skjærven
See the printed article in Studia Universitatis, Romania 2010. The article starts on page 137.
Welcome to the September Challenge on New Street Agenda: The Academy.
The theme for September is Plane Integration. It is an Itching Theme that I first found in some of the early pictures from Henri Carrier- Bresson. Apart from being a trail blazer for hand held, candid photography, Cartier-Bresson was also something of a trick artist. Some of his well knows photographs are actually executions of Plane Integration as we have baptised it on New Street Agenda.
Remember his shot from Greece with two ladies walking in front of a house with likewise two ladies made in concrete on the second floor of the house? That would be an example of a Soft Plane Integration (Athens 1961). Here are a few others photograph they might suggest the same technique: Tokio 1965 and shot from Leningrad 1973. You will them all on this site.
I use the term Soft Plane Integretion, because Cartier-Bresson, as far as I know, never developed it as a specific theme but he had elements of it in some of his photographs. And so have many other of the old masters.
In this challenge you want to strive for a Hard Plane Integration. That means that you have to be very specific about it. The Reader, that you see above is a hard integration as is specific and cropped to the point. So it is meant to be, anyway.
It is an extremely good idea if you prior to shooting for this challenge spend time detecting photographs of this type in Cartier-Bresson portfolio. Or in those of other masters of street photography. We have, in other words, added a bit of research to this challenge. Use the internet or ask around. That is part of the September challenge.
For the short definition of Plane Integration, please see The Wordbook that are there for that reason.
Plane Integration means the integration of planes.
Some additional information before you run to the streets: In street street photography you can talk about flat images and deep images. In flat images you only have one plane. In deep images you have more planes. An other word for plane is ground. You can talk about foreground, middle ground and background. An image operating on all three grounds have three planes in it. Other would say that a photograph has different layers. As we use them here, these are the terms for the same phenomenon.
In the September Challenge you are asked to operate with two planes only. A foreground and a background. Like in the photograph above.
The two black chairs and the woman constitutes the first plane, and in some distance behind if you find the second plane, which is the shelf with CDs. There is a repeated pattern integrating the two planes. This repeated pattern is the squares that you find a) in the woman’s blouse; b) the two black chair and first and foremost in c) the CDs on the back wall.
You may not have noticed this repeated pattern but let that scare you. Integration of this type mostly works below the threshold of consciousness. Meaning, it effects your unconscious mind. Now that we make a point of it, I am am sure that you see it.
The integrating element don’t have to be squares. That can have any form or shape that you like. Could be colours, could be circles, could be direction, could be almost anything. In your challenge solution for September the integrating elements have to be articulate. For all to see and for Occam to agree on.
Here are the challenge specifics. Take a picture that
a) consist of two distinct planes and two planes only.
b) has both planes in a right angle from the camera perspective. Don’t try to do more fancy work than that.
c) has a clear separation of the two planes.
d) has an articulate and sharp handling of the theme.
e) is cropped so that it only contain the basic theme.
Please remember that The Academy is a training ground. You are meant to deliver a photograph according to this briefing and nothing else. It is the execution of the briefing that is important and not the usual race for best picture. If you can deliver both that would indeed be brilliant but luck comes later.
Also: This group is supposed to be member driven. You should only participate in the challenge if you also take an interest in what others do. Don’t post a photograph and sit back to have other do the job. Comment on their work as you expect them to send words on your photograph.
Admins will comment on some images. Not all.
The takeaway from the September Challenge is this: Plane Integration, as a shooting theme, for street photography will stay with you in the future. You will know what it is and how to shoot for it.
All pictures have to be shot in the challenge period. That is from you read this briefing to the last day of September. If needed, precisions will be made to this description along the way.
Have a good day. Good luck with September.
Copenhagen, August 22, 2014.
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
A couple of months ago I did not know anything about it. Things sometimes come slowly. This time for a reason.
It is not a muscle as you know it from your arms and your tights and your fingers. It is more like a network of capacity that connects different parts of your brain to perform a task. That task could be to register and recognize and evaluate a visual expression, as you find it in a photograph.
This network acts much like a muscle. When you neglect it, it dies away. When you activate it, it starts to work for you. On its own.
You talk about being able to do fast and frugals (See page *). To run on autopilot (See page *). These rely on your visual muscle functioning and being properly trained.
Put it to use, train it, it gets stronger and more reliable. Quite literally you get better at whatever it is you are doing.
If you have but little beforehand, you get something. If you already are well equipped, you get stronger. No matter what activity and process you want to improve. Could be looking at a photograph. Could be even browsing reality itself.
Confronted with a picture there is a chain of actions that is triggered. First the registration of the object (if it is an object), in the retina. Then the signalling to an area at the back of your brain, to pick up the raw data. Then tiny arms reach out to other areas and bring in the full capacity of both you body and brain to get a grip of what the photograph is all about. Perceiving a photograph is a tall order even if it seems so easy.
Did you, by the way, know that the far larger part of you perception of any visual is based on your unconsciousness? Some say 95 percent. Did you also know that about 30 percent of your total brain capacity has been set aside to handle visual stimuli? Not touching, smelling, hearing or tasting. But seeing.
The conscious part of your perception and the unconscious part of it work in tandem. They support each other to make out the whole picture. It is a combination of below the line and above the line perception. With below the line as the locomotive.
That aside. What you need to take away from this knowledge is this: First, be aware that you rely on your unconsciousness to a much larger extent than you could have imagined. Second, as your unconsciousness draws on the whole battery of acquired knowledge, experience and training you will always perceive what you see a little differently from others. Sometimes very differently.
Third, and maybe the most important is you can train your visual muscle to work for you. Even if you are hard wired to a certain disposition, such a hard wiring can be modified.
This will not happen over a weekend even if you set your mind to it. More likely over a lifetime.
Copenhagen, August 20, 2014.
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved