Use it or lose it – Have you got the brain for street photography?

Mar 2, 2017

Knut Skjærven

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Use it or lose it – Have you got the brain for street photography?

Mar 2, 2017

Knut Skjærven

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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It might sound like a provocation but it is not.

You should notice the little difference. I am not asking if you have got the brains for street photography. I am asking if you have got the brain for it. The single “s” in brain(s) is the difference. A huge difference.

Asking if you have got the brains for it is asking if you have the overall capacity to do photography. Asking if you have got the brain for it is asking if you possess that particular type of brain connectivity you need to have to be a good street photographer.

I realise, of course, that many have both and that some have none. Or should I say some have both. Probably more like it.

There is another matter you may want to know about. Very intelligent people in terms of IQ is not necessarily a blessing for street photography.  Nor is the opposite. If you want to do good in street photography, or any other field, the number you would do better with is an IQ of around 120. You need to target that.

Yes, I am talking about street photography and, no, this is not a medical journal.

The reason why I know these things is that I have taken an interest in neuroscience: the science of the brain. Simply to understand visuals better.

Even if I have been familiar with parts of this material for many years, lots of new stuff have developed over the last decades. This new information sheds light on what your brain is able to do, what it cannot do, and what it better do if it wants to be your little helper.

Yes, we are still talking about street photography and the question is really very simple: Have you got the brain for it?

It is not enough to have eyes in your head and be able to see in a natural attitude kind of way (phenomenology). And access to a camera, of course. Does not even have to be a Leica or an iPhone last models.

You need to transcend that and acquire a special set of eyes for seeing decisive moments or even itching images out there.

That special type of knowledge belongs to what the American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls a domain. To master a domain he’s says, there must be surplus attention available. Let me mention the full title of the book: Creativity. The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, for those who want to read more on domains.

The critical question is what belongs to the domain street photography?

Here are my best guesses: the basics of the visual language; knowledge of other pictorial areas e.g painting and drawing; the history and development of photography and street photography;  knowledge of the masters of the game; a general and updated knowledge of world and art affairs.

And more, depending what you strive for.

The idea is this: If you don’t have a pretty fair portion of this type of knowledge and use it regularly, you have simply not developed that part of your brain that is necessary for doing proper street photography. You need to develop this part, and you need to nurse it on a regular basis.

This activity will show in your brain in that certain neurons will get more active and dedicated connections will swell (at least in the learning process till things get automated). And, yes it can be measured.

If you think that this is free phantasy from my part and it has nothing to do with being a fair executer of street photography both as a photographer and a critic, you are welcome to have and hold such beliefs.

The good thing might be that you cannot loose something you never had. But then again you will never take a decent street photograph.

Think about it. Good luck either way you go :-)

About the Author

Knut Skjærven is a Norwegian photographer, researcher and journalist living in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is also an avid street photographer. In 2015, Knut was nominated for the prestigious HCB Award by Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France. You can find out more about him and follow his work on New Street Agenda. This article was also published here and used with permission.

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2 responses to “Use it or lose it – Have you got the brain for street photography?”

  1. Sidk Avatar
    Sidk

    This article is basically just over analyzing the simple fact that some people are good at some things and some people are not. Whether this is due to the brain, the heart or just too lazy to get their butt of the couch. we can’t all be mathematicians, nor should we.. the same thing applies for photography, street or otherwise.

  2. Robin Avatar
    Robin

    I agree with Sidk, and surely being good at observation, body language and an interest in people, are also key tools, so there are many skills needed to do street photography well.