It is quite rare to bump into the same person twice in a city of 1.7 million inhabitants. Especially in this way.

I am drinking a milkshake in a doughnut place. The best place is by the window, that way I can watch life flow by.

Shake it, Pistachio!

Suddenly a girl on the other side of the glass stops and waves to me. She points to her camera, I nod, and she “shoots” me. My weapon is close by so I “shoot” back at her. A peaceful duel.

I didn´t really catch her face but it was an enjoyable little episode in the life of a gentleman photographer.

ShakeHands trnspA week later I am sitting and drinking tea at a place without doughnuts. This time there is no window between me and the human lava flow; I am in the middle of it.

A girl comes up to my table, opens a thick envelope, takes out a contact sheet and points at it: “That´s you.”

Ah, that´s her, my shooter! What a coincidence in a big city. Or fate? Being familiar with The Love for Three Oranges I don´t let her leave right away. I “shoot” her again, this time with a better camera.

Now she has a face, a beautiful one.

And I say to myself, this is what photography should be like.

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Which eyes, which ears?

If you have more than one pair of shirts or trousers you can choose: which to put on today?

Sometimes I feel like that with eyes. With which pair eyes should I view this or that picture, or even you?

A propos photography it is easy enough to say: only show your very best pictures. A good advice, but if I don´t know which are the very best, and if they are good from different viewpoints, then the advice doesn´t help much. Then things get confusing — or let´s say thought-provoking. Or, since provocation is not really intended, thought- and reflection-engendering.

I just showed a photo of mine to two friends. One of them has been active in photography since a long time, even wanted to make photography his career. The other friend is a layman when it comes to photography but a master when it comes to things spiritual (those are my words, he would never say such a thing).

The first friend´s verdict: marvelously odd, and therefore good!

The second almost screamed at me: What are you trying to prove here? You are just being pushy and self-assertive. If I saw this photo in a gallery I would think “I never want to see anything more from this guy”.

Thought-engendering indeed.

From the second friend I gather these grains of wisdom: don´t try to be clever or try to force people to see more in a picture than there is. Don´t try, let! Invite people to / into the picture, but don´t force it down their throats. Let it have a life of its own, stand on its legs, without your ego intruding as some kind of party crasher.

Which reminds me of something I myself wrote as criticism against a writer who, as I then put it, subscribed to the sado-masochistic credo vis a vis the audience. Namely: You are an insensitive bunch, therefore I must be violent and scream at you, use obscene words, etc. Less will not wake you from your coma.

Now I find a similar critique directed at me. I would rewrite it a bit, though. It´s not so much a question of being violent but, possibly, too “smart”. Too brainy and calculating. Then again, being brainy and calculating possibly IS a form of violence (intellectual violence).

I am not the only artist that succumbs to calculation, but that is of course no excuse for doing it.

“Smart” photographs, trying to make the viewer think and figure out things, I don´t really know what I think of them. But I DO know that I don´t like the kind of art that is a bit like an invitation to a MENSA club: “If you figure this one out you are very clever and can pat yourself on the back.”

Maybe mescaline is the answer. I am reminded of the reactions to different paintings and musical pieces that Aldous Huxley gave under the influence of mescaline (in “The Doors of perception”).

I am now talking of different ears, not eyes. This is what Huxley said about Alban Bergs Lyric Suite: “Learned Katzenmusik. Who cares what his feelings are? Why can’t he pay attention to something else?”

I suppose there are Katzenphotos as well.

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Let go of your darlings

There is no need for our usual, macho / martial use of language. No need to KILL our darlings. Just discard them, or “delete” as my camera says.

I notice with myself — and suspect I am not alone in this — how hard it can be to part even from pictures I never would call “darling”. The reasoning in the bestseller “Clear your clutter” by Karen Kingston — namely: If the thing does not make you happy when you look at it, it lowers your energy, so get rid of it — can be applied to photographs as well.

When I ask myself “Why have you kept thousands of non-successful pictures of birds?” I don´t know what to say. It´s not like there was a reason for it. It just happened that way. I kept them in some naive hope that they might come in handy some day (the same reason we hold on to books, CD-s and hundreds of other unnecessary, energy-lowering things in our homes).

Last year I took a crash-course in throwing away things. The reason I have not applied this to photos is that they take so little space. But when hard disks fill up you realize that even photos take space.

Just as noise competes with and steals from signal, the poor or mediocre pictures steal from the stunning ones. Besides, it is an almost dangerous sentimentality that makes you (at least me) hold on to things quite obviously imperfect, if not downright lousy.

Let go of them and save only the very best. The REAL darlings.

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Why learn the rules if you are going to break them anyway?

Learn the rules so you can break them is such a boring piece of folk wisdom.

Why learn the rules in the first place then? Photography can be such a redneck conservative domain, respecting, even worshiping all these FINE RULES.

As a truly modern writer wisely observed: “All the rules that the sphere of painting discarded already a long time ago (Renaissance rules about proportion, etc.) have been taken over by photography as the Sacred Word.” Amen to that.

If you learn the rules in order to be able to break them, the risk is that you will turn into this all to common anomaly: The law-abiding, well-behaved anarchist (LAWBAN).

Just trust your eye. If you have an artist in you, your eyes already has “rules” inside it. The eyes and your inner esthetic / chaotic sense will guide you. If you don´t and then try to add rules from the outside — see the former paragraph.

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Men are jpg, women are raw

Binary distinctions, like in the headline above, have a great attraction. Everybody likes to say that they REALLY can distinguish between good and bad, black and white. The other, less flattering side of the coin is that then they only see two colors….

Anyway, how are men like JPG and in what way are women RAW?

Shooting in JPG, most people say, is limiting. What you see is what you get, but not much more. With RAW format, however, many things are hidden in the picture. These little secrets and surprises can be brought out later, during the editing process. What you see is much less than what you can get.

I am mainly writing about faces now. A man has one face (two if he is a drag artist or cross dresser.) But a woman often has no face at all.

That might sound shocking, and is of course a bit exaggerated. (Face spying, I mean face detection couldn´t work on women if that was totally true.) It is better to say that she has many faces, none of which can be called her one, real face. Which is the real color of the rainbow? (Perhaps the color of air…)

I am for example thinking of beloved A. P. Montata, who at one moment is a child, then a wise woman, deep as a river, a practical, super efficient no-nonsense businesswoman, a worried soul, or a free spirit beyond looks and words. All of her different facets has a different face. And voice. And emanation.

This certainly doesn´t sound like a JPG.

No, this is the mysterious RAW copy out of which derives, flies, floats a whole gallery of small identities, a cluster of feminine beings and creatures.

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How good is the photo?

My old question “What is a good photograph?” has been left behind, replaced with other questions. For example “How good is a photograph?”.

How does one measure the “goodness” of a photo? You tell me. Please tell me, if you know. My impression is that goodness, value and rating depend quite a lot on random and mysterious factors.

Some of these factors the photographer can control himherself. Within every artist (and in many people I wouldn´t call artists) there lives a salesman, small or huge, successful or incompetent. The Inner Salesman tries to get good ratings and many “likes” for the work of his Artist, thus raising hisher status.

But does higher status, more public exposure and more “likes” mean a better picture? In a very pragmatic way, yes. But it´s an awful thing to be that pragmatic. Then, yes, by all means eat shit, because millions of flies can´t be wrong.

If we want to go beyond populist pragmatism, where to turn? We can ask the experts, connoisseurs, professors, photographers, the knowledgeable folks. Maybe they can tell us which picture is okay, which merely good, and which extraordinary.

We can look in photo books, surely those who chose the pictures must know good from mediocre? We hope so.

But still there are many other factors to reckon with. Names count. (And of course we often don´t know how a Name became a Name.)

There is a story of an experienced writer commenting on the new novel of a young aspiring colleague. “Things this bad you can only write if you are already famous!” Which means that after you are established, a Name, you can do quite mediocre or even incompetent things; you will still get thousands of “likes” because the mere fact of you being a Name blinds at least the large audience to the values or non-values of your latest oeuvre. (Just check out the banalities that Paulo Coelho posts on Twitter.)

Age before beauty, name before intrinsic value.

Talking of intrinsic value, the book “The Drunkards walk” by Leonard Mlodinow must be mentioned. It is a fantastic, eye-opening and also hope-inspiring book. Read here what is says about “intrinsic quality” in music.

The book points out to what great role chance, Lady Fortune and randomness plays in making things or people “great”. This must surely also be relevant in photography.

Some expert or arbiter of taste once thought that a certain picture or photographer was great (maybe they were friends), and after that the picture or photographer has continued to be great. Nobody today honestly think that it or he is great, but tradition is often driven by momentum, and until some freethinker or iconoclast comes along, that greatness will stick.

I almost wrote stock, which was a lucky coincidence. Stock photography must be good in itself. It is anonymous, devoid of name, thus status., therefore it must stand on its own legs. Nobody accept a lousy stock photo (or clip-art), but with a famous name attached, or some learned comments from some professor or other cognoscenti, one can get away with almost anything.

This picture, for example, is supposedly “one of the greatest photographs of all time”.

The Steerage

I question that it would be that great without all the paraphernalia attached to it, the mental “crutches” that uphold it. (See the whole wordy Wikipedia article about the photo here.)

If this picture was new, shot by a total unknown, I doubt that many people would turn round to look at it, more than to say “it looks old”.

This, however, I find to be a memorable (if not fantastic) photo.

Also found when Googling for “the greatest photographs of all time”. I hope it is not arranged. If it is, perhaps the young communist was never shot but died of old age, in bed, perhaps with a lovely young woman beside him. But if so, does that take away from the photo an sich, the intrinsic value? That is another question. What I am sure of is that the question “Real or staged?” will keep our interest alive.

More anon, perhaps.

(More about Photography)

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The hunt, the theft

There is something slightly vulgar in the hunt for a great picture.  Probably many of us look down on paparazzi, but we ourselves might be just as much hunters, although of a more refined kind. Our prey is not celebrities but flowers, sunsets and interesting pigeons or crows (my own passion).

Also because of this I distrust intention as a prime factor in photography. You WANT something, and your are going to GO AFTER IT, and you won´t stop until have that picture NAILED. To much willfulness in this., too little cooperation and too much ego. Too little Lady Fate (Luck). Why not let the “motive” come to you, fall in your lap?

Of course I am guilty of this, too. My excuse it that some hunts are less aggressive and less bloody than others.

Stealing is another photographer´s sin. We laugh when we hear about “primitive” people fearing that their soul will be stolen if they are photographed. How do we know it isn´t? Nowadays we have laws restricting the taking of street pictures, maybe the same idea of stealing is somehow involved.

I read the other day about the great Christer Strömholm (he took the picture of the not cute cat), how he established friendship with his models (not professional models, that is something else). It seems he got rid of the element of theft that way.

One of the best ways to avoid both hunt and theft is to take pictures of your beloved. You model is willing and looks on you, we hope, with love. However, these pictures will be too private for general viewing.

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Intention in photography

To the questions “What is a good photo?” and “What or who is a real photographer?” I have, from two professional sources, gotten the answer that the crucial factor is intention.

A good photo is a photo which was intended that way, and a real photographer is someone who shoots with intention.

The more I think about this, the less I agree. To begin with, a photo can be intended in a certain way and still be boring, only eliciting a yawn, or a laugh.

Exactly as intended!
Yes! Exactly as I intended.

This thinking also excludes Dame Fortune, the goddess of luck, from the whole process. Even the best photographers in the world, I am convinced, have dealings with this Lady. Can we assert that in street photography we intended that gorgeous couple to step in front of us just when we walked by?

Some of the most boring but “beautiful” (BBB) pictures are full, overfull, of intention. I almost said bad intention, because most every factor is controlled, which means that there is really no air, no breathing room, no place for Nature, chance, luck and other unaccountable factors to enter.

So, no, I don´t agree that intention is the magic factor. However, if we split the process into several steps, then I can agree in part.

And let´s not just split into steps, but personalities. I see in my own photography a small family working together:

1) The Impulsive Amateur (child)
2) The Careful Editor (father)
3) The Arbiter of Taste (you know who)

I am sure many photographers have no amateur at all in their family, but I do.

I sometimes have a clear intention when heading out to take pictures, but most often don´t. I feel like a hunter leaving for the dark forest, with the wife shouting after me “And be sure to bring home dinner for the whole family, you hear!?”

Yes, I go hunting and I never know what I might catch. Intention plays a very small part for the Impulsive Amateur in me.

However, when I bring home my prey, look at what was caught in my net, I change identity from The impulsive Amateur to The careful editor.

Now there is much more intention involved. I choose to keep some pictures, throw away others, change some to black and white, and so on.

But in this phase also I don´t want too much intention. I try to be friends with chance and luck. It was the same when I worked with synthesizers and created many great patches just by twirling knobs randomly. (And of course listening to the results.)

[I suddenly realize I am the same with strolling. I don´t want to know too much about streets, where they are, where they lead. That way, I explain to myself, I get to see many places that people with pigeon-like talents of orientation, people seemingly with maps in their heads, never get to see.]

So even here I leave some place for luck and chance.

The third role, Arbiter of Taste, is kind of an extra step, but it decides what you, the viewer, get to see. There is even more filtering here, this is the smallest hole. Only what I think is very best comes this far. And of course I revise what I think is “very best”, I get more and more picky.

As the writer of Bluffing in Photography wrote: “Professionals have one great advantage over amateurs. They hide or destroy the majority of their work.” This is the job of the Arbiter of Taste.

To be continued.

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Not cute!

We have seen tons of cute animals online, not least on Facebook. These sweethearts are so lovely, but not really memorable, not as photographs.

This poor little ugly duckling, however, not cute at all, I will always remember.

I guess Christer Strömholm must have had pictures of cute cats as well, but wisely he chose to show us something else. I feel more love towards this little monster (though happy not to get scratched by him) than towards any cuddly cutie pie.


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Narcissus with a lens, or, Don´t fall in love with your own pictures

Richard Strauss was not a great composer but, as far as I know, a great conductor. He once wrote some advices for conductors. My favorite: “You should not perspire when conducting. Only the audience should get warm.”

This can be applied to many things, among others photography: “Don´t love your pictures, let others love them.”

Of course one can love one´s pictures, but not as a mother loves her son, with much partiality. Then you will see what you want to see. And preferably one wants to see what others see, or what one would see in a picture taken by somebody else (not a son).

Oh, how we love our pictorial “sons” and “daughters”! Sometimes love them even more because… the stupid, ignorant world doesn´t love them at all ;-(

I was once very much in love with this shot of mine, which I now find uninteresting (partly because I take better pictures now).

Maybe it had to do with the presence of a bird (tends to excite me every time), or the restaurant where the bird was spotted (a favorite hangout). Somebody who is neutral to birds or who has never been to or doesn´t like Café Vian will not be in the same way partial.

As a composer I am better at standing apart and not falling in love with what I do. After having composed let´s say 20 bars of music, I record it with my MP3-player. Then, while listening to it, I distract myself by doing tricky hand patterns or counting backwards. In this way I “forget” that I wrote the music and hear it with at least a relatively neutral ear.

I have no such tricks as yet for photography. But I think that is what is needed in order not to fall in the trap Narcissus fell into.

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Photo – presentation

I have always been unable to let a camera alone. Several kilos of old analog pictures testify to this fact.

You wouldn´t want to see them, though. I was not a “natural”, whatever that is. Not as with music or words/ thoughts.

But some four years ago I felt an urge to develop my creativity with images. Sometimes I´ve said to myself that I want to be a “real” photographer (no longer so). I have tried to fathom the mystery “What is a good photo?”. I am not longer interested in neither the “real” or the “good”.

Actually I am! To 100 %. But those questions no longer fire me up.

Here you will see some of my photos, and some of my musings about photography. I have felt a great enthusiasm at the outset of my journey of discovery in the pictorial domain, in many ways very unlike the domains of music and thought.

Enjoy or suffer, but above all LOOK.

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