Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Motorpoint Arena

Interview: John Knight

1 August 09 words: Dom Henry

John Knight’s era-spanning work encapsulates the fragile beauty of Pre-Raphaelite art with cutting-edge photography, creating a fascinating twist on art history...

John Knight’s era-spanning work encapsulates the fragile beauty of Pre-Raphaelite art with cutting-edge photography, creating a fascinating twist on art history...

What was the inspiration for your Pre-Raphaelite themed works?
The beauty and the familiarity of those paintings, which I’ve seen since I was a child. I loved the stories behind them too, like Pandora’s Box and Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shallot. Having wondered if it was possible to produce something similar, I tried one in the studio. It was hard work to get it right but when I finished the first one I liked the look and it spurred me on.

Did you find them challenging to create?
Two challenges arose in doing these. Firstly, the realisation that the Pre-Raphaelites manipulated their images, which was a shock to me. It’s especially obvious in Leighton’s Flaming June, in that you can’t reproduce it physically. You literally can’t get a model to do that pose, believe me I’ve tried! Leighton had an idealised idea in his mind and created the painting to fit that idea, not what he saw in front of him. So they were Photoshopping in their own way. The second challenge was the detail in the pictures. Getting the props and the background correct took a lot of work, along with finding a model with the right look.

What got you into photography?
I got into it through jewellery. About ten years ago I had a growing collection of costume jewellery and I thought it would be a good idea to write a book about it. I didn’t want to have the jewellery photographed on a black cushion. Fabulous pieces deserve to be worn and shown on a woman as they were intended. Not knowing how to go about it I hired a studio and a model for couple of hours and had a go at it. It was much more difficult than I imagined. Through trial and error I got more experienced at shooting jewellery, put together a little studio at home and started collecting props like a period wardrobe and equipment. I then realised I was into the photography as much as the jewellery.

What drew you towards fashion?
I’m always drawn to classic detail and design and I’m a nostalgic person... I’m very sentimental. I have a strong attraction to the art deco period from the 1920s and 30s, which is where most of my costume jewellery and fashion collected used to come from. So that’s the style I started to get into, collecting vintage outfits and jewellery.

What was your big break?
I found some old vintage items with the Jaeger label, after using them for some photos I sent the pictures to Jaeger. They liked the pictures but disputed whether it was Jaeger. A trip to London followed and they agreed they were genuine, got very much on my side and got me doing images of vintage Jaeger items for their archive. Similar initiatives gradually got me more work and I started to get referrals. I haven’t looked back since.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now