A night with Nick Knight

Last night, as part of London College of Fashion’s Inside the Industry series, I was lucky enough to meet Nick Knight. Waiting in the queue was electric. Normal people might be excited by Iggy Azalea or Kim Kardashian, but nothing will make a fashion student squeal with joy more than an industry icon. We all knew that this was a BIG DEAL, and several times I heard someone shriek, “OMG, I’m so excited”.

Greeted by rapturous applause, the image-maker, and Director of SHOWstudio, calmly took his seat to be interviewed by loveable Colin McDowell and Head of College Frances Corner, OBE. Wearing his signature single-breasted black suit (“I don’t want to look like what people imagine a fashion photographer to look like”), Nick has an aura of relaxed self-confidence.

Prompted by McDowell, Nick started at the beginning of his career. He never aspired to be a photographer but, surprisingly, wanted to study medicine. However, he revealed, laughing, “The art students were a lot more interesting than the science students”. Painting on negative film to the horror of his tutors, and early projects such as Skinhead, the fashion photographer was always, as McDowell put it, “a creative renegade”.

Today, Nick prefers not to think of himself a photographer, but as a generalist. When McDowell quizzed him Nick reasoned, “I just don’t work with negative film or a camera anymore”. Digital photography, he believes, democratises image-making. He claimed that fashion magazines have held too much power for too long, “I could wait for Alexandra Shulman to decide to publish me in Vogue, which has a circulation of around 200,000, or I could upload an image to Instagram and get half a million views.”

“There’s so much you can do on an iPhone, and I like that”. He explained that he’s just shot the latest Diesel campaign using the Mega Photo app, and that the accompaniment book for the upcoming Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House was shot on his mobile.

On the subject of fashion, Nick describes it as a complex art form. “Fashion is accessible to all,” he proclaimed, however he is adamant that the fashion world is, “much more exciting than what you’re being fed (through magazines and the media). There is an awful link between fashion journalism and advertising because nobody says what they really think.”

One reason Nick started SHOWstudio was because he believed that what he saw in fashion magazines was not as interesting as what he saw behind the scenes. In particular he recalled a shoot with a teenage Naomi Campbell dancing around to Prince in a Yohji Yamamoto jacket. Although the final images remain the atmosphere from the day is lost. Since then he has recorded every single shoot (they’re now streamed live through SHOWstudio), the majority of the footage has never been released publicly. I’d love to dig through this archive for an exhibition/film/documentary!

Nick is painstaking about what he chooses to do in his career, “I seek out people I love because otherwise there’s no point”. One of the most exciting people he has worked with was para-athlete, Aimee Mullins. The fact that Nick was on unfamiliar ground with Aimee was just as exhilarating as working with legends such as McQueen and Galliano. “Everything I do, I do with the same commitment,” he stated.

Asked about his favourite shoots he said that Gemma Ward is the most beautiful person in the world, “She is so otherworldly…I would have happily only shot her”. Also, he stated that photographing Lady Gaga was like watching a performance, “I was just trying to keep up…She’s not Gaga by luck or chance.” One student queried who his favourite subject was, he replied, “The best person I’ve photographed will always be the person I photograph next”.

It’s easy to assume that the unconventionally charismatic and self-assured photographer (or generalist) is brimming with confidence, however he admitted that he still gets anxious, claiming that taking someone’s photograph is “terrifying”. “The first image I take is always terrible, and it’s humbling to always have that initial failure,” he said.

One shoot he describes as “absolute crap” was a cover story, for political/lifestyle George magazine, with Robert De Niro. “After watching Taxi Driver and Cape Fear, you look into De Niro’s eyes and see a psychopath. I was so scared when photographing him”.

Personable, brutally honest and extremely intelligent, Nick stated that he would never retire. “To do what?” he asked. Nick’s the type of person who’s passionately always looking for what’s new and what’s next.

“The future of fashion is with you guys; it’s in your hands…Trust yourself. Your way is right, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise”

Keep an eye out for the video to be posted here (there’s also considerably better images!) Also my colleague, Lorraine, amazingly live tweeted the event, which has been Storify-d here.