I have finally been to see this exhibition by the fashion photographer Nick Knight (Knight 2020 A). The images (which literally are photographs of roses from Knight’s garden) are inspired by the work of 16th and 17th century still life painters like Jan Brueghel the Elder and Jan van Huysum. So this is an exhibition that is both painterly and traditional in a classic sense and modern at the same time.
Knight has made an explanatory video of the exhibition and of the process of creating and finally printing the images (Knight 2020 B):
While I love Knight’s images for what they are, the things that interest me about this exhibition from the point of view of current coursework are these:
Knight spends hours, sometimes, choosing and arranging his blooms, contemplating them from different angles, thinking about composition and watching the light change across his arrangements. There is quiet, patient attention here, a reminder that really good images do not come from thinking that one can stroll in, snap away and wrap in half an hour. Absorption in the process matters, just as it did for the painters whose art Knight is following.
The ‘studio’ is Knight’s kitchen. The light is all natural, from windows – no other lights were used. The only props are his own glass vases. This is an object lesson in how a little can be all you need.
All images are made with an iPhone, nothing else. Knight’s workflow consists of making an iPhone image, running a copy through Instagram filters for colour changes and tonality, then sending both files to a professional retouching studio. There, the files are combined, sharpened (and I would guess exposure curves are adjusted), enlarged hugely to a final print size of 8 ft or more, then retouched again to remove artefacts and blemishes from the enlargement process. The results were printed in California, proof images were marked up by Knight, there was more retouching and proofing, and at last a final image was made.
This combination of classic still life art and the most modern technology, knit together with painstaking attention to detail, is intriguing. The result strikes me as very effective, bringing to a different genre Knight’s mastery of light, tonality and composition from his many years in fashion photography.
As Knight has pointed out, one needs to judge these images on their own terms. The brushstrokes and washes of traditional painting have been replaced by their new digital equivalents rather than omitted or forgotten. It is noticeable that the images have not been enlarged to be ‘sharp’ and indexically accurate but to be rich, luscious and painterly. From close-up the images can look blurred and indistinct but from about 8-10 feet away they look perfect.
A final lesson is in humility. I was fortunate enough to meet Nick Knight who was there, at his own exhibition, on a cold wet Wednesday, miles from home and months now after the opening, surrounded by hordes of children and National Trust visitors at Waddesdon Manor. And yet he was happy to talk and explain his art to anyone who asked. I think that shows awesome dedication and a willingness to share. Knight said to me that today ‘is a very exciting time to be in photography’. Partly that is because of the new possibilities that technology now allows, but partly it is because there are inspiring figures like Nick Knight out there to show the way.
KNIGHT, Nick. 2020 A. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.
KNIGHT, Nick. 2020 B. ‘Roses from My Garden’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvaU7rtV9LI&t=237s [accessed 28 Oct 2020].
Figure 1. Nick KNIGHT. 2020. From: Nick Knight. 2020. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.