Nick Knight

The Prevailing Vernacular

photography Nick Knight
interview Christopher Michael

“I’m looking at ways people are expressing themselves, and I’m calling that art. Photography has never been something that reports reality, at best, it reports a very highly subjective feeling.”

CM How early on did your fascination with technology and futurism start?
NK I’m not much of a technophile. I don’t really feel as though I’m in love with technology—it does what it does, and I use it because it gives a means to do something. But I don’t particularly love it. I’ve never really liked cameras, they are just pieces of metal and glass that kind of get in the way. I love it for what it can do rather than what it is, if that helps explain the difference.
CM Futurism or the pushing of boundaries in image-making is that something that grew over the years or has it always been an aesthetic that you’ve loved?
NK I guess there is a bigger fascination for the future than there is for the past. I like what’s coming, rather than try to hold on to what’s passed. My interest and my energy levels are always directed towards the future. That’s partly why I’ve shied away from doing too many retrospectives or books, because you have to go back and look. It’s useful and I’m doing it now and it’s enjoyable—however, it’s not what I normally do. Life is only so long and I’ve got lots to do—the future is more exciting because it’s all of the possibilities and all of the things you haven’t done yet. Whether it’s living sculptures or whatever it is, there are all of these little things that we know little about and haven’t tried yet, but are clearly just on the threshold of being possible and those are the things that intrigue me. I don’t get much joy out of looking backwards.
CM Speaking of the unique and rare occasion you look back, how did your upcoming retrospective in Korea come about?

NK I’ve avoided them in the past, partly because I just said I’m far more interested in looking towards the future—and partly because it takes up a lot of time. To do anything well is time consuming. Also, I like my work to be a part of the sort of common vernacular, the public vernacular, so I find if my work is seen on the back of buses or billboards, or magazine covers, it becomes part of the world. If you just exhibit in galleries, you’re talking to an audience that already likes you, that already understands you and that can feel like you’re sort of preaching to the converted—I don’t like that. I like people seeing my work who don’t know anything about me and who don’t need to know anything about me because it’s the work not me. That’s been my approach for the past 40 years. However when the Daelim Museum in Seoul, Korea approached me about doing a retrospective, I thought, well I now have quite a large body of work from the past 40 years, so why not try and make some sense of it as an exercise. People are interested in it, so fine, let’s have a look. I took it on as a challenge, not something I went towards, I wasn’t seeking an exhibition—but once it was offered to me, I took it on and I’m finding it quite interesting to be honest. You have to make some sort of narrative sense of what probably has no narrative sense whatsoever. [Laughs]

Download MUSE 44 – Digital Issue to read the full  interview.