The Wordbook

T H E  W O R D B O O K



Rendering people in a street shot on such a distance, that they look more like tiny ants than anything else. If so, the shot looses the character of having human beings as a bearing element. Not in all cases but in many.


Like in the theater a backdrop is a background that are there for a reason. It sets the stage or the context or the mood of a situation.

Think of a painted cloth that is hanging at the background of the stage.


You have balance in a photograph when the weight on one side equals the weight on the other side.


Being art of, in stead of simply being part of, means that a person or an object is part of a whole in an artistic or creative way.


A bipolar composition is a composition where the two sides have about the same strength and are divided and balances by a central vertical axis.


A part of a photo, like for instance a figure, is said to have breathing space when the part stands free of any disturbing elements. You give it room to breath.


A way of thinking and doing that are NOT based on preconceived models but on an investigation of what you have before you.

Well known within science, including psychology. See also TOP-DOWN.



The central horizontal line or area in an image.


The central vertical line or area in an image.


See perceptual center.


The very middle point of a frame.


The perceived centre. Also called the dynamic centre.


A spatial system that springs from a center.


Concentric means, in this context, to have a common center.


Common fate, in street photography, means a cluster of people occupied with the same objective in the same way. (Updated 190114).


Line or movement going from the lower left corner to the upper right corner of a photograph. Sometimes associated with an optimistic mood.


Line or movement going from the upper left corner to the lower right corner of a photograph. Sometimes associated with a pessimistic mood.


An larger, enclosed area with a degree of uniformity. (Inspired by Kevin Lynch).


A spatial system that challenges what springs from a center.


You make a fast and frugal decision when you make a decision that is both fast and based on a limited amount of conscious information. Fast and frugal decisions are decisions made unconsciously during the first few seconds of an encounter with an art work e.g. street photograph.

As we use it here, for the fast and frugal decisions to be accurate, it must be based on extensive and relevant experience and knowledge by the beholder.

In New Street Agenda we call this type of decision for an FFD or simply a fast and frugal.


In this context, a FIGURE is a term for the main visual element in a photograph. Is does not have to be the largest by volume but often it often is. It will, however, always have a certain largeness.

On The Academy a FIGURE is always a human being, or a cluster of human beings, if the cluster is likely to be perceived as ONE unit.

If you need to verbally explain who or what your FIGURE is, you are already in trouble. Don’t tell. Show.

In some photographs there may be figures almost competing for the charge of the photo.  When that happens it might be a good idea to speak of a First Figure and a Second Figure.

You can also speak about a Natural and a Forced Figure. A Natural Figure is a subject or object that naturally take charge of an image. A Forced Figure is when you deliberately select a subject or object as your figure and reducers everything else to a ground. Yes, that can be done but is will not come naturally. It needs an act of will.



Not much used in street photography but is often associated with the divine.


Particularly good for story telling.


Particularly good when you want to make a statement.


The FIRST FRAME of a photograph is the outer borders of it. The CROP, so to speak. The FIRST FRAME is, in fact, the whole picture.


A SECOND FRAME is a visual framing that you decide to have in your photograph to direct extra attention to the FIGURE.

There are plenty of ways to do that.

You can quite literally have your main man or woman stand in a doorway or look out a window. The door or the window will then be your SECOND FRAME.

Or you can do it more refined with lights, or shadows, or lines, or simply clearing the space around the FIGURE.


Gestalt factors tell you that there are certain visual constellation that speaks directly to your subconscious level. Groups and formed without you knowing it.

Two gestalt factors are mentioned below. There are more, but we will wait with them.

You can use the knowledge of gestalt factors both in analysing street photographs, and evidently in making them.


This factor tells you that things or people that, in one way of other, have similar traits will be perceived as a GROUP. (Innate level).


This factor tells you that things or people placed close together will be perceives as a GROUP. (Innate level).


This factor tells you that things or people moving in unison tends to be regarded as a group (innate level).


Having established a FIGURE in a photograph, the rest of the image is the GROUND.

Ground is not defined as something you stand on e.g. a floor. However, a floor, if there is such in the image, will always be part of the GROUND.

Unless, of course, you define the floor as the FIGURE, but that never pass on The Academy.


The inner horizon of a street photograph is everything of a psychological nature that connect to a photograph, including the perception of it.

The interesting thing is that the Inner Horizon also includes the perception of the Outer Horizon, as that needs to be perceived as well.


The outer horizon of a street photograph is everything of a physical nature, that connect to a photograph.


A identifier is a significant visual element, or a visual structure, that visually marks out a group or a class of similar elements or structures.


Something that is present before you. For instance a photograph hanging on a wall. Or a print that you hold in your hand. (Phenomenology).


Something that is not present before you. For instance imaging a photograph hanging on a wall. Or imaging a print that you hold in your hand. (Phenomenology).


Fundamental notion within phenomenology. It suggests that consciousness is always consciousness of something. Thereby fundamentally linking mind and matter, man and world. Goes well with the idea that art, or the world in general, is always partly created by the perceiver.


An Itching Image is a photograph that lingers with you. It clearly is a shot that goes beyond plain street documentation as it carries the footprint of a creative photographer.

Creativity is defined as the ability to combine old material in a new way.

Itching Images contain a combination of unique relationships, that would not have been rendered in a picture if it was not for the presence of the photographer.

You can not always explain why a photograph is an Itching Image. Many times it effects your subconsciousness directly and you might wonder why it lingers with you or it hits you.

Here are some Itching Models/Themes:


Plane Integration is an Itching Theme or Model that if executed well, might lead to an Itching Image. In Plane Integration you have two or more separate planes in your photograph. You integrate the planes by having a common denominator that, consciously or unconsciously, links the two or more planes. Common denominators might be of different types: colour, form, direction, size, tonality, pattern, whatever. But, they must be visually articulate and  distinctive to work.


An Itching Model or Itching Theme is a visual recipe within street photography, that may lead to an Itching Image.


The act, or the state of, two or more objects or subjects placed close together particularly to stress their contrast.


A significant figure to which all other relate or orientate. (Inspired by Kevin Lynch).


A mission statement is a brief statement about where you want to go with your street photography.

If you have a mission statement you have a road to walk and you can describe a project for the fulfilment of your mission.

Good idea to have a mission statement, to think about it and maybe write it down for yourself, at least.


A NODE is a visual and visible crossing or a junction or other point of strategic interest that helps create a lively photograph.

In human beings NODES are often connected to the bending of and position of limbs. Not only in the isolated individuaL, but also related to others.

Bodily contractions like, for instance, folding of arms, and bodily expansions, like raising arms over the head will also work as NODES. (Inspired by Kevin Lynch).

So will faces.


Whenever there are two or more possible readings of an image, guess what: The reader will go with the most obvious one.

Related to the ongoing November Challenge it reads like this: Whenever there are two or more possible FIGURES, the reader will go with the most obvious one.


Streets, roads, lines, curves, or other structures, that people visually travel by. (Inspired by Kevin Lynch).


A percept established by perceptual induction means that it is indicated or suggested by the visual context. Is does not have retinal presence.

See also retinal presence where the percept has a physical existence.

Source: Rudolf Arnheim.


Basically all street photography is referential since it refers to something outside itself. A photograph of a person refers to a real person.

We will use the term differently.

A referential street photograph is a photograph where there is a forced  internal reference. By that you should understand that two or more people are forced into a visual relationship by you the photographer.

That is a creative handling of parts since you bring together what in reality does not belong together.

You don’t just document. You create.


An percept that have retinal presence means that is has a physical existence and thus can be picked up by the retina of the eye.

See also perceptual induction where a percept does not have such a retinal presence.

Source: Rudolf Arnheim.


Sideways thinking means thinking outside the box; original, creative and alternative ways of handling things. Often set apart from from more logical thinking.

Difficult for many but quite natural for some.


Sideways photography is based on sideways handling of photography. Outside the box photography.


The ability to see outside the box and catch things that are not the most obvious.


A slowbody is a human being, male or female, who basically don’t know the meaning of (pro)acting.

We are not talking about Paul Newman or Marilyn Monroe here, but of acting in the very simplest fashion of the term e.g. taking or holding or responding to an initiative.

Slowbodies are many, some say they are the majority. Slowbodies will miss the train wherever they are leaving, if they know how to locate the railway station in the first place.

Slowbodies comes in different shapes and fashions. Be aware how to spot them. They are holding the world back :-).

There are plenty of slowbodies within street photography.


A spread is a street photograph where you use the whole frame to make an even spread of people.

A spread should not have a single distinct figure or a distinct ground, but be a positive and constructive merger of people with similar visual significance.

In a spread you strive for a good separation between each human being in the shot.


The ability to recognise an interesting and well composed street scene instantly, meaning in the blink of an eye.


Synchrony means that things happens at the same time. On The Academy we add a little to that meaning and ask that things also are of the same type.

Obviously this is a floating notion, but the closer the similarity and proximity are, the better it is.

Try to make it itching and humorous.

See also UNISON.


Tension is a distinct, dynamic state created by one of a few tensioners.


A tensioner is a distinct human being, or object, who/that goes against the overall fate/destiny of a photograph and thereby creates a distinct tension.

A tensioner can also be plural, meaning it can be more than one (but few) distinct human beings or objects who/that creates the tension.

A tensioner can also be called A Single Swede.


TOAK is short for Two Of A Kind.


A way of thinking and doing that are based on preconceived models. Well known within science, including psychology. See also BOTTOM-UP.


Being of the same type, the same time and of the same form. See also SYNCHRONY.


A VECTOR is a connection from one visual and visible object to another. They are the glue that binds things together.

VECTORS are of different types:

A person in physical touch with another person or object is a PHYSICAL VECTOR. Like one person holding another persons hand.

A person looking at another person would be a MENTAL or PSYCHOLOGICAL VECTOR. Like one person looking at another person.

There are other types as well, for instance VECTORS based on composition or graphics of a photograph. For the time being we call all of them for VISUAL VECTORS.


Visual agnosia, as it is used in this context, is the lack of ability and/or knowledge to see and too read visual content and dynamics in street photography.


The visual syntax is way visual elements are arranged to make a visual message.


VOLUME is the visual size of an object.

We know that elephants, in real life, have large VOLUMES, and mice occupy small VOLUMES.

That might change if you have them both in a photograph. Have a mice in the foreground near the camera and the elephant at a distance, the mice will have larger visual volume than the elephant.

To be continued …

 Updated, August 8, 2014

  © 2013-2014 Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: