“I really feel like when I’m taking pictures I know they are good when I become emotional, when I choke. I know there will be feeling in a photograph when the experience for me taking it is a bit too intense, I’m too involved.” - Paul Knight in Excerpt Magazine (no. 3)
Given the photographs Paul Knight takes, it’s hard to imagine the experience could ever be anything but too intense, too involved. Since 2007, Knight has been photographing couples during intimate, often sexual moments.
Some of Knight's photographs are taken from the end of a bed. The images are folded and creased so it looks like the couples have morphed into a single, strange creature.
Others are taken from a camera hoisted overhead, and the results are both more and less intimate. From this point of view you hover above the scene and it's less like loitering at the foot of a stranger's bed or leafing through a box of private keepsakes.
At the same time, the photographs are sharper, more explicit and more detailed. So much so that sometimes it feels like you’re looking at cells dividing under a microscope.
I remember your photographs of empty interiors. Now your photos tend to be all people (there's almost no physical context; beds, a shower maybe but not much else). Why did you switch? (What is it about seeing people in a photograph that makes us feel so damned much?)
In many ways the images of the interiors were always about people for me, then it seemed logical at a certain point to look at the object directly and use the language that that subject affords. There's a circular relationship between viewer, subject and the photograph/image as an object that interests me very much. This feels heightened when the reflection is in a closer proximity to the viewer. People in some ways are just a sea of memories, so the synergy, the Rorschach effect with an image is stronger if we can see ourselves.
I imagine that your photos of intimate couples are taken from a camera mounted to the ceiling above the beds, and you use a trigger cable (but correct me if I'm wrong). How then, do you know when you've taken good photographs? Is it a feeling in the room? Is it when the couples have forgotten you're there? Is it your reaction to the photographs later?
Yes I've made a rig which is hoist above the bed and holds the lights and the camera - I stand next to it on a box to work the camera. You can tell when you've taken a good image. I'm not looking through the camera on these shoots, just changing the darkslides and working the shutter. It's the combination of a few things, composition being a big part, the structure of the image, the compression of space. It's like theatre too, it's when something appears authentic that's important, you can judge that and feel it. The edit afterwards is important too as it's the extension of the edit in taking, I normally try to work it down to three shots that feel connected to each other.
What became of the Proposition project in the end? [Knight proposed the questions 'would you have sex with a stranger? / 'what's your opinion?' to the public and in the process documented a range of conversations about contemporary sexual behavior and morality. The project was the subject of an ABC documentary that aired last year].
The Proposition project is now where I always wanted it to be, caught somewhere between fiction and real experience. The original idea was to do the project as a generator for the content of the doco, so that the project would only exist in that space, unfortunately the production was hell bent on 'reality' and kept trying to force the project into that space and towards outcomes, I fear they made that project look like the effort to make a finished work from a preplanned sketch. My approach to the idea and the subjects was very different, much looser. I simply wanted the conversations to get caught between realms, lost if you will, not bolted down. So now I'm letting it get lost to time I suppose, towards fiction.
Where are your interests currently taking you?
I don't think I'll ever get over looking, I'm starting to realise that. The photograph in its traditional and nostalgic form is very important. I want to be articulate in all positions of looking; as form, object, function and feeling. I'm working towards a more metaphysical and complex repetition and to understand the photograph and work as a very fine fissure between things, between form and expression.
Paul Knight features in the Centre for Contemporary Photography’s fundraiser exhibition (26 – 29 September), together with a sample of Australia’s best contemporary photographers. View the full list of works available for purchase here, and a selection below.
>> Maura Edmond