Interview: Nick Knight on Moving Fashion

published on 25 September 2005

Nick Knight speaks to Penny Martin about his curiosity for new and different media, and the motivations behind the Moving Fashion project.

Nick Knight speaks to Penny Martin about his curiosity for new and different media, and the motivations behind the Moving Fashion project.

Interview: Nick Knight on Moving Fashion

Penny Martin: What were your motivations behind the Moving Fashion project?

Nick Knight: When a designer produces a piece of clothing it is to be seen in movement. Over the years, I think designers have had to accept that's not how their clothes would be seen. Hitherto, fashion has almost solely been represented by the still image. To some degree, I would argue, this has compromised the representation of fashion. But with the advent of the Internet, the garment can now be shown in the way that it was intended.

One of the basic reasons I started SHOWstudio was in the realisation that with the web you could download very short bits of film - thirty seconds, a minute or two minutes - very easily. When we ran a short series of films by the photographer Guy Bourdin, entitled Compulsive Viewing, it was evident that his stills work translated perfectly into film. I was very curious to find out whether that was something unique to him, or whether the vision of all image-makers would transfer to moving image as easily. How image will transfer to different media is one of the central curiosities that inspires SHOWstudio.

Penny Martin: How does creating a motion sequence differ from distilling all your ideas down into a single shot?

Nick Knight: Very simple ways. Photography is a reductionist medium where you are trying to reduce everything down to one moment. With a still, you are only getting one version, one angle of it. You are picking up one quality of it. You can't show more than one aspect of the dress, if you like, or piece of clothing. You know full well that not all of the things that are nice about a piece of clothing are going to come across in that photograph.

A piece of film is a sequential event and therefore a narrative starts to impose itself much more quickly than it does in stills. You can also add sound to film, which is an enormously important part of media we see around us. Image and sound coupled is very emotionally charged.

Penny Martin: Not all image-makers approach narrative in the same way. What is your hope for how those we've commissioned for Moving Fashion will approach their thirty-second shot?

Nick Knight: I think what I'm hoping for this project is to see that particular 'moment' when you're working on a shoot and people say "that was 'a moment'"; something unique that passed, a flash of fashion clairvoyance, a split-second where everything about that dress and the atmosphere of particular season crystallised.

That, in essence, is what fashion photographers do.

When I work, the medium is not that dominant in the piece of work. It's more or less there - you choose whether it's film, stills - but I'm more interested in the message. I'm never bothered about what camera or lighting I use. It's not that I don't care about what's going on, it's just so low down on my list of things I'm trying to express. It's a bit like if you asked a writer what pens they use. So putting the medium, be it films or stills, at the forefront of this project is not really useful.

We haven't called this project 'Fashion Film' we've called it Moving Fashion. I think the inherent idea is that we're trying to move fashion on and that we're showing fashion in movement. The interesting thing for me is to see who deals with that concept and who doesn't. It's a natural step for photographers to think the natural progression is from photography to film. I don't agree with that. Image-makers are increasingly engaged with a new medium, which you can loosely call 'moving image'. This is neither film nor stills. What I'm asking people to do is to express fashion in movement: it's subtly different from asking someone to make a film.

Penny Martin: How do you think the Moving Fashion contributions will differ from the fashion films we have previously screened on SHOWstudio?

Nick Knight: I tried to be more precise with the brief, which is why I said each film should be thirty seconds long. Before, we screened films as part of an overall project. This was specifically about movement in fashion.

Penny Martin: Do you expect photographers' films to look similar to their stills?

Nick Knight: When you look at fashion images, whether still or moving, what you're seeing is somebody's set of opinions, how they feel about what's in front of them, their life or their values. Those opinions will not change, whatever the medium.

It's not solely photographers that we have approached. We've invited a wide range of figures from the fashion community to contribute to this project including models, make-up artists, designers and stylists, because the entire industry will soon all be dealing with moving fashion as opposed to still fashion. There are now screens wherever you go, at airports, buses, shops and petrol stations; the motion image medium is already omnipresent. Mobile phones can already download films quite easily. It is very short-sighted to think that still photography will be the dominant medium for fashion. The fashion industry has to take that on board and take steps to deal with it.

Digital imagery has undergone quite a lot of criticism lately - particularly in Suzy Menkes' article 'Digital Eye at the Centre for Fashion Hurricane' published at the start of Paris Fashion Week, in which she wrote that the detail of fashion is flattened by video.

Penny Martin: Do you think that's a justifiable argument?

Nick Knight: There are so many exciting things you can do with fashion on the Internet. I'm surprised at her response. It's a little bit like criticising television in the first week of broadcast, saying its not going to fulfil everything that radio did. Suzy's comment sounds like she hasn't researched her subject fully, that she doesn't really know the possibilities out there. We have a very new exciting medium, something quite different to anything we've dealt with before. It's exciting, more immediate. It has far more potential than yet another glossy picture in a magazine or another grid of catwalk shots.

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