Yesterday, I had the greatest pleasure to attend world-renowned fashion photographer Nick Knight’s still life exhibition Roses from my Garden at Waddesdon Manor (a Rothschild House and Gardens), in partnership with Albion Barn and Michael Hue-Williams.
The show itself takes place in the Coach House Gallery, a short walk on from the Manor House within the gorgeous gardens. The exhibition is comprised of 18 images, the exquisite skills of Knight’s iPhone photography is of course of primary interest to us.
Richmond based Knight, started photographing roses that he had picked from the garden of the small house that belonged to his parents. Working with his iPhone with natural light, gave him greater freedom, he discovered that he could move around his subject at will, not being limited by a tripod and heavy camera. He also enjoyed working solo on this project without the usual input of a designer or art director when working on fashion shoots.
The photographs for this exhibition span ten years of creation by Knight, commencing in 1993. The scale of the blown up Roses (some between 6 and 8 foot) perfectly reveals in the life and times of each flower, each petal, each stem. Decay and demise is an attribute to these still life captures, the palest colours of rose showing the greatest signs of each. Almost mimicking traditional 17th and 18th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, each bouquet is relaxed with asymmetrical rhythms and a willingness to overlap the flowers to create a more natural sense of depth.
As each new iPhone model was released, Knight upgraded and continued to refine his process of capturing this series. Each photo shoot extended often over a four hour sitting, at his kitchen table and from the thousands of images that he shot within each session, he would select one to work on. Once selected he applied an Instagram filter, Sierra or Hudson and sometimes Ludwig are his preferred. He makes adjustments with colour and contrast before running the photograph through Topaz Labs, sharpening unfocused areas. From there he sends the file to his retoucher, Mark Boyle for additional work with software using artificial intelligence and also additional layers. Each image is then printed in the United States and posted to him in London for the final stage of editing with a chinagraph pencil whereby he sharpens the edges of petals, emphasising the painterly qualities of the flowers.
“After we did the first one I was really surprised at what it had done to the image, if you step back and look at these images they’re very reminiscent of the Dutch and Flemish flower painters of the 17th and 18th century, there’s a romance to them: they’re soft and gentle. But if you stand close to them, you can inspect the structure the AI has invented and see they’re actually quite mechanical, brutal and tough. And I love that“, he said.
Each photograph is titled with the day, month and year it was captured and it is possible, when looking closely to tell which images had been taken with earlier iPhones. The definition of the petals have become softer. Knight said “I’m slightly worried the iPhone is getting a little too contrasting and vivid for its own good – that sort of subtlety you could achieve a couple of iPhones ago was probably better, but I’m not sure“.
Knight has a very popular Instagram account with over 795k followers. He has explained that when he first started using an iPhone he received a lot of backlash on social media but he doesn’t see it that way. He sees the traditional camera as a barrier, in-between the subject and the photographer but loves the fluidity of the iPhone to break that down.
Waddesdon Manor is the perfect backdrop to this beautifully saturated exhibition. The exhibition itself runs until 31 October 2021 and entry is free upon presentation of a grounds ticket of£15. Booking is recommended and to do so, go here.
Waddesdon Manor is a National Trust (NT) property and all NT members get free access to the House and grounds. Waddesdon is also an RHS partner garden and RHS members get free access to these beautiful grounds.