When it comes to words "fashion" and "photography," the name Nick Knight is almost synonymous — and the "almost" is due to the fact that "legendary" must be also be mentioned.
Anyhow, for the last two decades years the award winning British visionary has been creating visual vocabularies. He's photographed for W, i-D, Vogue, and directed music videos for the likes of Kanye West ("Bound 2," "BLKKK SKKKN HEAD") and Lady Gaga ("Born This Way"). All in all, he's defied the title of photography and evolved into producing cutting edge expression. His award-winning fashion platform SHOWstudio is a testament to the latter.
A master of collaboration, Knight united with Travis Scott for the artwork to Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight this month. Speaking on the making of their wicked work, Knight spoke to REVOLT about how it all came together and just how it was working with the G.O.O.D. Music live wire.
When did you first meet Travis Scott?
Nick Knight: On the day of the shoot, that very morning. He was supposed to come to SHOWstudio 2 years ago, but sadly plans changed last minute. I know him though my son, Calum and Matt Williams and the people around him, like Kanye West. He also narrated the "Seven Deadly Sins" project I made for Edward Enninful to celebrate his 25 years in the fashion industry. I also wanted him to work with Daphne Guinness for a project but the schedules couldn’t meet. So I only met him in person on the day of the shoot.
As one of the world's most iconic and influential photographers, what was it about Scott that incited your collaboration for Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight?
I had heard about his stage performances, how physical he is, how he moves unlike any other rapper currently around. And that excited me. I tend to work with people whose music I love like Kanye West, like Kali Uchis and this was true for Travis. I had seen the music videos that he had put out already and was intrigued. I knew from talking to Matt, from talking to Kanye that Travis was probably the most exciting thing in rap music at the moment and from listening to his records, I would tend to agree.
Working with people who are having their first huge success, when they are finding their first visual identity is incredibly exciting. It's a very different working process if the person's visual identity is established. Travis is only just becoming particularly well known and there’s an energy behind that that makes people be more courageous. But I don’t only look to work with emerging artists, in fact I don’t work with many music artists at all. I find it best to maintain only the really important relationships — I don’t want to feel like I don’t give each enough attention. I also feel nourished by working with these amazing people. Collaboration with Lady Gaga, with Kanye West, with Travis Scott — these people bring me a lot of creative nourishment. I prefer to work with only two musical artists a year- similarly in fashion, I would work with only two or three designers a year.
How important is collaboration to you?
It's the real reason I do what I do. The joy of what I do comes from access to other people minds. To see the world through other people’s eyes, to see what they love, why they do it, that’s incredibly special. Never work with someone to impose your own will on them. The aim is to understand their dreams and from that, to show them what they perhaps hadn’t thought of. The fun comes from being privy to things you wouldn’t be otherwise. Imagine seeing through the eyes of Rembrandt, of Picasso, of Tolstoy — the real greats. The people I work with now are our contemporary versions of those incredible creative minds. But like when writers do biographies, I'm not trying to simply put across a portrait of the artist, I'm trying to illustrate their dreams and their desires.
When working with a young star like Travis Scott, how do you have an idea of what you want and how much do you have to go all out for them?
Once you try to understand things through Travis' vision you understand what he wants. Understand who you're working with and then you understand what they want. But you always go all out; I always want to create the best image in the world, something that has never been done before. The best way to have an idea of what you want is to understand what they want — you have to desire their desires.
How did the photoshoot for the artwork come together?
Travis came to the studio and gave an incredibly energetic performance. He was literally launching himself into the air, running from the back of the studio and jumping. He was physically putting everything into it — working with someone who works so physically for you is amazing, it’s a fairly emotional experience. We worked for 3-4 hours, which is relatively short — when I worked with Lady Gaga we did a 14-hour session — but in that time he did everything he possibly could for me to get that image. It was easy under those circumstances to let images form. It seemed like the equivalent of an action painting – Travis just gave off this frantic, exuberant, colourful energy. We knew we had lovely shots straight away, we really did very little to the original files. The images we ended up using are very much how they were- not including elements such as the wings, obviously - but the white eyes, the smoke, that was all part of the original image. We were creating amazing imagery at a pretty startling rate.
What was the vision and inspiration behind the cover?
Travis himself is the inspiration. The title of the album was inspiring, yes but really its just Travis, it’s his persona.
Having worked with a who's who of collaborators over the years, what was it about working with Travis Scott that stood out?
His energy, he almost turned himself inside out to get the shots. He really had no physical boundaries; he physically threw himself into that session with total determination. There wasn’t an ounce of energy saved.