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Nick Knight Says Photography Is Dead | Is It No Longer The Medium Of Truth?

By Kishore Sawh on November 16th 2016

You can’t grow up a young boy like me, enamored with the Pirelli Calendar and the photographers behind it, and not sort of hold them on a pedestal; every one of them, right up here (palm gestures somewhere above head). If I’m honest, the pedestal of some of those photographers have become a little wobbly, less Parthenon…. and not for their lack of merit, but perhaps what may be considered a lack of relevance. Most of them will remain pillars of the past, and the old Pirelli calendars will be revisited as we do a museum, but typically we don’t go to a museum to see the future. Yet, as there’s an exception to every rule, a Cub’s pennant for every century, an outlier, Nick Knight is arguably just that. Maybe then, that’s why he prefers not to be known anymore just as a photographer.

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It’s been years now since the prolific photographer somewhat famously said, “Film died some years ago. I don’t miss it. None of my children read magazines. Fashion will be shaped by the internet,” but it’s come up again, and at a time when there’s a resurgence (resurrection maybe) of film and the analogue. In an interview with Tim Blanks, The Business Of Fashion’s Editor-at-Large, Knight was perhaps the most specific he’s been on record yet about his feelings on the subject,

Well, I have to preface that by saying I think photography is dead. I think photography stopped years ago and we shouldn’t try and hold back a new medium by defining it with old terms. We can do things that [Eadweard] Muybridge or [Richard] Avedon or [Robert] Mapplethorpe could never do because they are so far outside their particular craft. It’s a very easy set of parameters that join Muybridge to Mapplethorpe, [Eugène] Atget to Avedon. For 150 years they did the same thing. Then something else comes along at the end of the 1980s and you could do things you could never do before. And now we’re much further down the line than that. Now I can take an iPhone and form a sculpture. And some people are still calling it photography.

…I call it image-making — please could someone get a better description of it — because that’s what I do. Because that can take in sound and movement and 3D, which I think are really part of this new art form. So it’s based on image. That gets away from the thing of truth. Photography has been saddled as the medium of truth for so many years. That’s where its criticism has always been directed, “This photograph has been manipulated.” At the New York Times, you can’t have retouching because retouching is somehow cheating. I’m very pleased that image-making has freed itself from those constraints. It’s a totally new medium and that’s what I think I do.

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And so he went on, sort of furthering the sentiment, clarifying the specifics along the way, giving pause to open-minded photographers and mortifying the rest. But before you consider your vocation, your passion, or whatever photography is to you to be something to be relegated to the history books, you might better sit and stew with it a while, then realize there’s nothing dystopian about what Knight has in mind, but the opposite. This is where I think Knight’s words are reassuring, because he doesn’t envision there to be no place for images, but rather imagery can be even more personal, even bigger than what the sensor captures.

To some extent I think all photographers associate photography was being what Knight poignantly describes as ‘the medium of truth’, but that association shackles the idea of what an image can be, where Knight thinks technology has freed it of that, and that should be embraced. It certainly leaves room for mischief, but I guess the question is how much?

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This is going to be a jagged pill to swallow for a lot of us, but I do believe it’s imperative now for photographers to think less about keeping the status quo, and more about evolving if we want to ultimately remain relevant.

How do you feel about Knight’s thoughts on the matter? Are you remaining a ‘purist’?

You can read the full interview here on The Business Of Fashion, and Nick has a great series of insightful interviews you can find on SHOWstudio and YouTube a featured below.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

3 Comments

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  1. David Blanchard

    If you are looking for “truth” in any artistic media, you are barking up the wrong tree. Try Science.

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  2. Jim Johnson

    I have been struggling for a while to describe the difference between modern photography and what I did 15 years ago. This is it, perfectly.

    We may start with a photographic process, but we make images, not photographs.

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  3. Max Bridge

    Great article Kish. I totally agree with this. Given the amount of manipulation that goes into my “photography”, I’ve often felt that the term “photography” doesn’t quite fit. I tend to refer to it as digital art, although now I write that it seems a little pretentious.

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