We spoke with the legendary SHOWstudio head about his latest, a collaboration with 20 of the world’s top fashion illustrators.
On an apparently eternal quest to demolish every boundary within fashion photography, the legendary image maker and SHOWstudio founder Nick Knight isn’t shy when it comes to the unexpected and downright unconventional. His journey is often aided by the introduction of novel technology and digital processes that ultimately transform the results into hybrid images of sorts, rather than your average editorial photographs.
In #StyleShootDraw, a project Knight recently completed for GARAGE Magazine Issue 11, his futuristic style of image making is paired with fashion photography’s mythical predecessor, the once-ubiquitous fashion illustration. For the project, Knight and 20 of the world’s most talented scribes are charged with depicting a series of models in their own respective mediums, and streaming it to the public on Facebook Live. The hyper-digital meets the intricately handmade, weaving past with present, to dramatic effect.
Recently, The Creators Project spoke to Nick Knight about his thoughts on #StyleShootDraw and the relationship between fashion photography and illustration:
The Creators Project: In this project you bring both mediums together on an equal level. Can you tell me your thoughts on the representational differences between the two, and how you think each medium supplements the other?
Nick Knight: Photography and illustration are both processes that manage to achieve the same thing but by coming from opposite directions. As an illustrator, one looks at a blank canvas and begins by adding to that—with line, with color—in order to create the final work. As a photographer, I start with everything in the image but remove things I feel are unnecessary to achieve the purest expression of that piece of clothing. They are mutually beneficial because the language of fashion photography is to some extent driven by the language of fashion illustration, which is of course from where fashion photography emerged. There is a freedom in fashion illustration as illustrators are entitled to abstract what is there and can depict the body and garments as they wish. We were thrilled that GARAGE Magazine and the Chaos Fashion team recognized the importance of this ambitious and multifaceted project that brought together these two disciplines and that they supported it both on the shoot and in print.
I find I look to painting for inspiration much more than photography. In the ten years I worked with John Galliano at Dior he would inspire me with illustrators like Giovanni Boldini, (in my opinion the first fashion illustrator) Antonio Lopez, René Gruau—never with photographers. Much of my fashion ‘photography’ is now so crafted that it bears more resemblance to a painting, it’s not just record of the reality I had in front of me in the studio—it is captured with the deliberate intention to create the elements I need to work with to realize the final imagery I have in my head.
Your work often seems more typical of illustration/painting than of most forms of photography. Do you intentionally set out to make images that are somewhat ‘un-photographic,’ in the traditional sense of the medium?
I would go so far as to say that I have gone right through the barriers of the process of photography. It becomes much more exciting once you have freed yourself from the concept of the traditional photographic medium. We should look at photography as something that happened only up until the mid-90s—what we are doing now is image making, as I’ve consistently said since then. This encompasses all sorts of imagery, including GIFs, fashion films, 3D scanning—everything we do at SHOWstudio. Nowadays people most regularly see imagery on iPhones, laptops, iPads, so more imagery is consumed through screens than via magazines or billboards and it is only really since the advent of the internet that it has been possible to totally create this different medium, not restricted by the printing press and its distribution system.
#StyleShootDraw was streamed on Facebook Live, giving effectively anyone a behind-the-scenes view. Can you tell me about why you presented your process in such a way?
Live streaming, whether to an audience of ten or 10,000, feels exciting. It makes you feel connected so directly to your viewer in a way that was never quite possible with magazines, so on #StyleShootDraw, to have had so many people watching on Facebook Live and following on Instagram was very exhilarating for the whole team. Fashion photography has always been presented as exclusive, even elitist, but to share an insight into what I considered to be the amazing world of fashion felt important to me. It’s the reason I started SHOWstudio—I literally wanted to show people inside the studio.
I don’t want an edited or fabricated or marketed researched version of what I do. I want people to see that it can take seven hours and to create a single image, and that during those seven hours, a huge amount of creativity comes from the whole team. I believe live broadcast has become the new genre to experience fashion through—this is an unedited, unfiltered, raw and bold way to show fashion. That to me feels exciting!
I think there are a lot of my contemporaries who are less happy to show their creative process, but I think that will change. People won’t steal your work just because you’ve shown them how it’s done. Just because somebody wears your clothes, they’re not you. There are so many conscious and unconscious decisions involved with a collaborative process. Two people basically can’t create the same image; we are a reflection of our own personalities. Collaboration is all about sharing; it’s what I’ve always liked about SHOWstudio. The theory behind what we do is based on generosity implicit in the verb ‘to show.’