Visitors to Photo London's Master of Photography: Nick Knight exhibition are greeted by the silhouette of a model wearing a Yohji Yamamoto red bustle coat. The striking 1986 monograph is one of Knight's most iconic and well known fashion images, included in the space at Somerset House alongside photographs like Susie Smoking (1988), and model Lily Donaldson caught in a cloud of paint wearing John Galliano (2008). In short, the exhibition is a mecca for fashion image lovers, but it's also a lesson in how Knight has thrust the very practice of image-making beyond traditional terms.
Sixteen works span from the 1980s, including fashion photographs created with hero designers like Martine Sitbon, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix and Alexander McQueen, to Knight's most recent work, a domineering 3D printed sculpture featuring the artist and designer Michaela Stark and models Dodo Potato and Jade O'Belle. An inherently modern play on the female nude and classical sculpture, the installation is surrounded by Knight's forays into artificial intelligence and fashion film.c
There's Knight's on-going Roses series which translates the language of Dutch still life painting, prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries, into modern terms. By photographing roses grown in his own garden with an iPhone, Knight has worked in two-fold on this project over recent years. Roses from My Garden imagery has been run through a form of AI, whilst as for the Rose Photo Paintings, Knight worked with the printer Allan Finamore to introduce heat and water during the printing process so that ink appears to be dripping beyond the picture plane creating a hybrid photograph-painting. On the walls up above, visitors will also see Knight's recent landscape series. Exploring the surreal in-between space, Knight is driven by treading the line between reality and fantasy.
Pursuing new forms of beauty is a recurrent theme in Knight's work, whether that be through the sitters he chooses to photograph, often taken from the thresholds of society, or the technologies incorporated in his work. Back in 2016, Knight collaborated with the designer Matthew Williams on an installation which meditated on the destructive beauty of the firework. Setting off fireworks in a plexiglass cube filled with dark smoke, SHOWstudio filmed the explosive artwork. Knight and MACHINE-A's founder Stavros Karelis then took The Sound of Light's Own Destruction into its second stage for the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) in 2019. Continuing to explore the theme of containing beauty inside a physical form, the plexiglass box was reimagined as a celestial globe.
As fireworks exploded into violent blasts of light, the globe transformed into a pulsating orb. Unveiled at Photo London, a new previously un-seen edit of the film from CIFF, soundtracked by Roly Porter, is streamed in a dark room at the back of the exhibition as a mesmerising close to the show.