Nick Knight, The iPhone and Revolutionary Image-Making

by Hetty Mahlich on 19 June 2021

The legendary image-maker's spellbinding series Roses from my Garden, shot entirely on an iPhone, returns to Waddesdon Manor this June.

The legendary image-maker's spellbinding series Roses from my Garden, shot entirely on an iPhone, returns to Waddesdon Manor this June.

World-renowned fashion image-maker Nick Knight has a long-standing fascination with the rose. For Knight, blooms provide a riveting vessel of emotions to react to, just as a couture dress by one of his many collaborators, such as John Galliano or the late Alexander McQueen, will do. Knight has become enthralled by the rose, which from the sweet smelling bud to putrid rotting petals, is symbolic of a very melancholic sort of beauty. Having revolutionised fashion communication in the 21st century - he launched SHOWstudio in 2000 as a pioneering new space for live broadcasting and fashion film - Knight has always been the first in fashion to embrace the latest technologies. Apple iPhone in hand, his on-going series Roses from my Garden blurs the boundaries between photograph and painting, proposing an entirely new language of image-making.

Nick Knight, 'Sunday 7th July, 2013', hand-coated pigment print, (203.2 x 152.4 cm), (sheet 215.9 x 157.48 cm)

Rooted perhaps in his own mother's love of flora, it was in the mid-1990s when Knight was asked by the Natural History Museum in London to produce an installation of flowers and plants, (which later resulted in the book Flora). Knight then dedicated himself to making images of the rose exclusively. For over ten years, Knight has been cutting fresh blooms from his garden in Richmond and capturing them on his iPhone. Whilst a pool of sunlight enters through a skylight, illuminating his chosen roses, so commences an intimate and often arduous session between Nick Knight and the rose. These sessions last around four hours from morning to afternoon, and Knight usually shoots yellow, white and pink roses - it's in the lighter colours where one finds a far more captivating sense of depth, than say the cliché red rose, he explains. Taking thousands of images, Knight will move his iPhone camera just a few inches in any given direction for each different shot, working to making the image better. Later, he'll select one which he deems most successful and post it to Instagram, where the on-going series has amassed a devoted following.

It wasn't until the British art dealer and gallery director of Albion Barn, Michael Hue-Williams, invited Knight to exhibit Roses in 2019-2020, that Knight began printing and blowing the images up to between 6 and 8 foot. Working closely with retoucher Mark Boyle of Epilogue Imaging, Knight first processes the images through software using artificial intelligence. AI, (in this case Google Topaz), sharpens the image, filling in the gaps between the pixels by drawing on hundreds of thousands of reference images of roses. Knight feeds the images through at alternating values, resulting in different versions of the same image. After being printed, Knight comes face to face with the rose in digitised form, and marks areas to work on with Boyle with a chinagraph pencil.

Look closer at the surface of 19 of the final images which make up the updated curation of the exhibition Roses from my Garden, in the Coach House Gallery at Waddesdon Manor, and you'll find an entirely new visual language. Drawing on the lineage of Flemish and Dutch still life genre paintings - of which several make up the vast Rothschild art collection in the main house - Knight has made the rose inherently modern. His images are both painterly and brutally sharp; the image surface is an 'intricate structure that the AI has invented for us', says Knight. He is clear that photography in the traditional sense, and image-making today, are not about one decisive click of a button, as many would have us believe. Modern image-making is a series of decisive moments and decisions. These images do not intend to represent reality. They present a vision of the world we the viewer never would have imagined, let alone seen, without their creator. That, Knight argues, is what a camera is for.

Nick Knight, 'Sunday 4th June, 2017', hand-coated pigment print, (190.55 x 152.40 cm), (sheet 203.25 x 157.48 cm)

Since Apple launched their first smartphone device in 2007, the iPhone camera has travelled leaps and bounds - more people than ever before have access to a camera in their back pockets, and can make an image with the tap of a finger. Just as the SLR 35mm camera in the 1950s shifted photography from stuffy studios to the streets, where it was commanded by a revolutionary new generation of photographers such as William Klein and Bert Stern, the development of the iPhone camera has fostered a new language of image-making which is both democratic and reflective of society.

'These technological changes correspond to social change in attitude as well. They usher in a new sort of lifestyle', explains Knight. 'You can take pictures now on your iPhone that you could never take on any other camera. When you can pick up an iPhone camera, it's so light you can hold it in one hand. You can work almost in total darkness with an iPhone.'

The latest iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max models have the most advanced camera phones to date. One of the magic ingredients is the A14 bionic chip, which brings with it a unique pro-camera system via a new seven element lens. The Pro has an ultra wide camera with a ƒ/1.6 aperture, the fastest yet. This is ideal for shooting both landscapes and more cramped spaces. The new 52mm focal length Telephoto camera is perfect for portraits, and the optical zoom range ideal for capturing your own series of roses. Upgrade to the Pro Max, and you can get up close and personal with your subject with the 65mm focal length Telephoto camera. Low-light shooting is also all new and improved with the built in LiDAR scanner.

Whether you've got the whopping 6.7 inch display on the Pro Max, or 6.1 inch on the Pro, there's a whole lot of screen to work with - the Pro Max has the biggest Super Retina XDR display ever on an iPhone. They provide ample opportunity for surveying your handiwork, and if you so choose, to make edits using the in-built tools. The new Pro models also feature Apple ProRAW, allowing users to edit every aspect of the image on their iPhone or with professional photo editing apps. Apple's ever beautiful design has been vamped up with the new stainless steel band matte finish - why own a life-essential tool that's not a thing of utter beauty? Both models are available in graphite, silver, gold, and pacific blue. Knight's advice to any of the more serious image-makers? 'Make photography more important than anything else in your life.' With you everywhere you go, the iPhone makes that easier than ever.

Installation, photograph Sophia Cliffe

Built in the late 17th century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to house a vast art collection and host parties for high society- including a fancy dress affair for the Prince of Wales - at Waddesdon Manor Knight's Roses are in good company. The Baron's younger sister Alice took on the grand estate in 1898, and The Rose Garden found nestled in the 6,00 acres of grounds was planted in her memory and features over 200 varieties of the English rose - the very flower which Knight has taken exclusively as his flora subject. Previously exhibited both at Dulwich Picture Gallery and Albion Barn, this June a revised curation of the on-going Roses from my Garden series returns to Waddesdon Manor until 31 October 2021 in the Coach House Gallery.

Buy tickets here.



Essay: Roses As Resistance

19 November 2020
Amy de la Haye explores how, when combined, fashion and roses can provoke.

Video: Roses From My Garden

04 July 2020
Nick Knight explains the process behind his on-going series of roses shot on his iPhone, and creating a new language for image-making.
Image Gallery

Waddesdon: Installation Gallery

04 July 2020
Take a tour around Nick Knight's 'Roses From My Garden' exhibition at Waddesdon Manor's Coach House Gallery.
Back to top