Talking Photographer, or Image maker or Generalist or Artist…
I like Nick Knight’s work, I particularly liked ‘Flora’ and I think his ‘Blooms’ are even better. This guy produces incredible work.
It was interesting to hear Knight speak, (on video, thanks Eric!) and define himself and his work, at the University of the Arts, London. In conversation with Colin McDowell, fashion writer and academic and Frances Corner, head of college at the London College of Fashion.
Knight proposes that photography as we knew it (analog) is dead and so he no longer calls himself a photographer but perhaps a generalist or an image maker. Fair enough.
It was fascinating though to see the academic and the commercial bump up against each other and the stereotypes spill out. It made me think about how photographers are portrayed lately and how it seems to be an insult unless you are of a particular breed.
The commercial photographer embraces new technology and distribution methods whereas the academics think it is important that new photographers get to grips with the technology of the past. I agree with McDowell that a knowledge of what went before probably gave Knight the ability to be what he is today but I also agree with Knight that learning about reciprocity failure might not be crucial to being a good iphone photographer, and that using an iphone doesn’t necessarily make you a bad photographer. (Although personally I hate some of those crummy effects!)
The question of whether photography is an art seems to have died down or maybe it has been circumvented and replaced by questioning who is a real photographer and can a photographer produce art or is the best photography really made by artists using the photographic medium.
Academics seem to be torn between two thoughts. One that a photographer must use arcane technologies, never digital, to prove they are ‘real’ photographers if they are to be accepted into the art world and on the other side artists that use photography including digital are the ones that really should be represented in the ‘photography’ gallery. Work that is not intended for the gallery wall they find hard to place.
This I find borne out by the proliferation of photography classes dealing with the camera obscura, photogram, and of course the ultimate traditional technique, the pin hole camera. Comparing two very different photographers, Nick Knight and Tom Hunter, we can still see that even though they use opposite technologies and subject matter they are still clearly photographers, making images.
I like Tom Hunter’s work and this series, Prayer Places, taken with a pin hole camera, photography at its most basic. Hunter is an image maker/photographer and his nod to the past does not, in my opinion detract or in fact make his images. The images are the thing and the process whilst an integral part of his concept does not become the sole reason for his project.
In the meantime if you visit MoMA and view their New Acquisitions in Photography you wonder whether the work is by a photographer at all. It feels like an art installation rather than a photography exhibition. It is not the medium or the technique that is the issue, it is the subject matter. Mariah Robertson’s piece ’11’ questions ‘the materiality of photography’. The piece claims to be a photograph but it has nothing much to do with how we see the world, not even tangentially, it exists to explore physical, material, process only.
Knight talks about the old photography being about silver and the new being phosphorus, glowing from a screen, but his images use process to talk of subject rather than the medium.
Nick Knight might be a generalist, an image maker and an artist but to me he is the epitome of a photographer. It doesn’t matter whether he uses analog, digital, videos or live fashion, when he talks about getting ready to shoot, how for each photograph you start at the beginning again, the intuition, perception, waiting with terror and excitement for that moment, not seeing it, but feeling it and desiring it… well that sounds like a photographer to me!
Watch the whole talk and give a thought also to the tone and discussion of banal and money!
NIck Knight used to say that asking a photographer what camera he used is like asking a writer what pen he uses, and yet recently all we hear is that his latest work is produced via iPhone. The technology of his latest shoots is now of more interest than the actual images and here is the crux of the matter, we are now all amateur photographers – even Nick Knight.