Sight by Nick Knight | Walpole editorial
This may come as a surprise, but I like to think that photography is not primarily about sight. A lot of people say it’s what you see but in my experience it’s more about what you feel. I often think I have a mild form of synaesthesia, a condition where you mix up the senses and taste sounds, smell colours, see scents…
Strangely, when I am looking at things, I almost feel that I am hearing them. When I’m making a fashion film or an advertising image or whatever it might be, I’m looking to tune the image until it is harmonious. As a result, all the adjectives I use to describe my own work tend to be those you normally use to describe sound.
While my primary approach isn’t necessarily visual, even though of course you are looking at things constantly, I find myself letting go of reality and trying not to respond to the physical reality that is in front of me. When I’m waiting to take a photograph, I’m waiting to respond to something, a desire, a hunch or a perception. It’s the sense that you are waiting for something to come towards you and that you are creating energy.
Quite early on in the process of trying to make sense of what I do, I realised that there is a moment where I don’t see at all. This happens when you click the shutter and the flash goes off. Too much light is caused, which then compresses your retinas so you don’t instantly see what you have taken. So it occurred to me that there must be a moment in which I am predicting, even if it is for just a split second, the future. In this respect, my work is of another time.
I think fashion is something you are predisposed to. My father worked for NATO and our family moved to Paris in the 1960s. I remember my mother’s incredible sense of style. Yves Saint Laurent had just opened his first Rive Gauche boutique and she bought a turquoise-coloured mini dress and a matching feather boa. Fond memories like these have always stayed with me. Fashion is the most accessible art form we have. People don’t just randomly choose something to wear each day. It takes a conscious decision to say something about yourself through your appearance, and self-expression is an art.
I believe in the age-old adage: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We all fall in love with different people and we all think that person is the most beautiful person in the world. The same is true when working with my fashion clients. Your taste and what you like is usually nothing like theirs. For a long time I worked with Alexander McQueen and continue to collaborate with John Galliano. Both of them have/had a very different vision of what is beautiful. I always enjoy the collaboration process with designers, whether it’s Gareth Pugh or Craig Green or Yohji Yamamoto. The trick is to get inside their heads, to question what they like about the world and try and see beauty through their eyes.
Nick Knight OBE, is a visionary British fashion photographer and founder and director of award-winning website SHOWstudio.com. He is fêted for his ground-breaking creative collaborations with leading fashion lights: Kate Moss, John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen.