we salute you nick knight!
Last night’s recipient of the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British Fashion awards will always will be part of the fashion vanguard. We get the master photographer’s thoughts about 30 years in the business, the speed of fashion today...
You can't speak about true innovation in fashion without speaking about Nick Knight. The photographer and filmmaker has managed to remain at the forefront of fashion imagery for the past 30 years witha unique vision and creative clarity all his own. Who else has managed to work with Kanye, make videos for Gaga, shoot for British and French Vogue, W Magazine, V, 10 and of course i-D.
When i-D Founder and then Editor-in-Chief Terry Jones met a young Nick in the early 80s and commissioned him to take straight ups for the magazine, it marked the beginning of defining partnership and Nick went on to work for i-D extensively throughout the 80s and 90s, In 2000, he set up pioneering fashion film site SHOWStudio, working with most influential names in fashion and pioneering digital video content in the industry. He's created iconic imagery for fashion's most avant-garde designers such as his long-time partnership with Yohji Yamamoto, as well as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. He's been awarded an OBE by the Queen, had his work exhibited by the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Gagosian Gallery, The Saatchi Gallery and The Natural History Museum and is an honorary professor at the University of the Arts London.
Last night he picked up the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British Fashion Awards for his contributions to the global fashion industry. Nick has, is and always will be part of the fashion vanguard, constantly going beyond was potentially possible and making iconic images a reality. We salute you Nick!
Congratulations on your Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator. How did it make you feel when you found out you'd be receiving the award?
Very pleased and very proud actually. These awards actually mean a lot when you get them. It's a funny business that we work in, with out a lot of feedback, there's a feeling of being alone a lot, so it's a really lovely feeling and I am very proud to be receiving it. I am actually quite chuffed!
You are such an integral part of the i-D family and so essential to the DNA of i-D. What has i-D meant to you and your career?
I first came across i-D when I was still at college. I enrolled in a college in Bournemouth then came straight back up to London with the few photographs I had and just went to every shop I liked the look of, like Hyper Hyper and Kensington Market, and said 'can I take pictures of your clothes?' then someone directed me towards i-D. I went to see Terry at his house on Sheriff Road and he explained the idea of straight ups to me. He said 'we take people as they are on the street, how they naturally are' and that's what the core of i-D is. So I went back down to art college and took pictures of my friends back in Bournemouth which were a variety of different types of people, a lot of rockabillys at the time, I sent them back to Terry and they were published. I remember I published this photo of a girl who wrote poetry and liked flower power and I photographed and interviewed her briefly and I also photographed an ex-roadie for the Rolling Stones who was quite big and quite frightening and i-D managed to make something amazing of it. That's what i-D used to be like back then, it was very handmade, everyone put it together in the attic of Terry's flat. It just felt very much in touch with what I was doing, I had just finished photographing Skinheads, a project I started when I was in Bournemouth and so it felt like a continuation of that for me, a platform for me to photograph the people I wanted to photograph so that's how my relationship started, photographing the people around me. I was able to go up to someone in a club and say 'can I photograph you for i-D?' i-D always gave me a platform. That's the great thing about photography, it's a passport into someone else's life.
Do you have a favourite i-D cover of yours or one your remember shooting in particular?
I remember shooting them all. I wouldn't say I had a favourite cover, some have personal memories attached to them because they were those sorts of covers. They weren't models, it ranged from girlfriends to people I just liked. The early covers I did were of people I just met out and people I liked the look of. It's not like now where it was the latest singer to come out of California, it wasn't about sales. With my Sade cover, I didn't know her, but a lot of the people I knew had an emotional connection to.
From fashion film to photography, music videos and installations… you now you have the luxury to choose your projects and what you dedicate your time to. How do you choose what you take on?
To be honest, I have never taken jobs on that I didn't want to do. I have always, throughout my career, turned down 99% of the work I have been offered because it's not right. You can only ever do a good job if you are working with your all your heart.
Apart from SHOWStudio, fashion has struggled to master the medium of film. How do you think the role of fashion film will evolve and grow?
I always think it's funny when people retrospectively talk about the past and what things were like. I think things don't tend to be better, they just tend to be different. It's very similar to what we see around now. I think in 30, 40, 50 years time, fashion film will be a fully recognised medium. It takes a while to get it right, we still don't know if fashion film is as simple as an animated GIF or a 30 second video. For me, all it really needs to be is a piece of clothing shown in movement and I believe there is no more narrative in that then there is in a great fashion photograph but we have approached fashion film differently. So in the same way we look at a great Richard Avedon photograph or great David Bailey photograph, it's a girl on a grey or white background essentially but she looks amazing and you want to have that piece of clothing or be that girl but if there were four or five more frames of her, it would be a piece of fashion film. Why all of a sudden does there need to be another narrative? The narrative is in the clothing, that's what it has always been in fashion photography, it's implied or dictated by the clothing so fashion film is the same. The clothing shouldn't be worn by actresses, or dancers, it needs to be worn by fashion models. It's really fashion photography in movement.
You are very active on social media and you have a very curated output when it comes to things like your Instagram. What role do you think social media plays in being an image maker?
It's enormously important. I was doing a shoot yesterday with Amanda Harlech on SHOWStudio for V Magazine. We were in the studio with Molly Bair and Cierra Skye, I was photographing the girls, and I had someone behind me doing Periscope, someone doing Instagram, we were live broadcasting for ShowStudio and two cameras broadcasting for Mastered, the online fashion school I'm working with. There were about ten different cameras, so it's a very different event than it was say 20 years ago, when you went into a studio and only six people were there. I like showing the creation of a fashion image and that performance; Snapchat, Twitter, whatever it is, they are all mediums to be able to get that out there. To some degree, the very moment you create a fashion image is unique and I am really happy to have many outlets to show that. You used to go into a studio and 3 months later you'd see the picture!
Do you think fashion is becoming too fast?
Well I think there are obviously problems, obviously if you go back to when Alexander McQueen committed suicide, or the pressure John Galliano was under, it can be immense and very overwhelming. John was creating a collection a month, that's a huge amount of stress to put an artist like him under. Fashion designers are artists, the same way painters or sculptors or poets are artists, and they are sensitive people who are very affected by what goes on around them. That's why we love them and want them to make the clothes that we love because they have a vision and are acutely aware of what goes on around them. They are sensitive in both good and bad ways so I think there is an issue where if we continue to push and push and push our artists to go faster, we aren't going to get such great clothing, the people in the industry won't be doing their best work. So it does need to slow down and things need to change.
There are different ways of looking at it. The old way is gone. For example, I don't mind the speeding up in creating a fashion image but when I see extremely talented and vulnerable people making the heads of these massive companies lots of money, that's exploitation, all to make people more money, it's very upsetting and we will have to deal with the consequences of that.
So with the social pressures and the on going pace of fashion, how do you become a true innovator?
Well first of all I would say it's always been like this. Pressures just move around and change. When I first started I started in 1979, there were three magazines you could go to, Honey Magazine, Cosmopolitan etc. as this was before i-D and The Face, and now you have a huge plethora of magazines to support your imagery so now it's a lot better than when I started. I really don't like it when people say it was better or worse in the past, it was just different. You can be a self-publisher now, you can get your iPhone, upload your image and hit publish. I used to have to convince a whole lot of people that they could make money from my images. Your work is a lot more accessible but so is your potential audience, I think you just have to work for your time. What's the point of thinking about what used to be? It's about understanding the world we live in, using the internet, using social media and using it the best you can. The most important thing is to trust in your instincts and be yourself. If you're failing in your self-belief, you won't be able to make a career out of this as you have to trust you are doing things right. Innovation is merely doing things that are you. Find the things you are truly interested in and trust yourself. If they may be relevant, they're relevant, if they are not, they're not but find your audience.
What else do you want to do?
It's just the tip of the iceberg. I have hardly started! (laughs).
Text Lynette Nylander
Main image credits Photography Nick Knight, Styling Simon Foxton [The Art Issue, No. 28, August 1985]