“It’s a way of capturing an image for where we live now, for how we live now, and how we work now,” says Nick Knight of live-streaming fashion shows.
Digital fashion started in earnest in 2000, when photographer Nick Knight launched Showstudio.com. The site hosted the first-ever live fashion show the following year – a project called Sleep, in which nine models, dressed by stylists, retired to separate rooms in the Metropolitan Hotel in London for a night’s sleep. At midnight, Showstudio.com viewers started logging in to watch the models on webcams as they tossed and turned, becoming gradually more unkempt. Knight then captured stills from the footage and uploaded them – pixellated stills, from which viewers could see form, colour and texture, but no definition. It was considered one of the most exciting fashion photography concepts in modern times.
Before our phone interview, I watch Knight on a live stream editing photos from a Victoria’s Secret shoot. “I started shooting today on a [medium format camera],” he says, “then gave up and started shooting on my iPhone because I just couldn’t get the sensitivity to light. The iPhone 6 is incredibly sensitive to light.”
For Knight, the image is never about the technology that’s used to make it. “You don’t care what paintbrush a painter uses, and you shouldn’t really care what technology a photographer or an image-maker uses. It’s about what you’re trying to say. It’s about your appreciation, or your love, or your desire for what you’ve got in front of the camera.”
His 2012 Instagram shoot, for example, was inspired by the craze for memes and gifs, and features supermodel Cara Delevingne and a plethora of #cute animals. His shoot for the Isabella Blow Fashion Galore exhibition at Somerset House was shot on an iPhone; his Diesel Tribute shoot, starring kids cast on Tumblr, was also shot on iPhone and edited using photo apps.
“One of the most famous images of the 20th century – the assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas – was shot by an amateur on an 8mm film camera,” he says. “Images engrain themselves in your mind, and that has nothing to do with how they were created.”
Knight dismisses the claim that images made using iPhones and apps are “not proper photography”. “It’s a new medium, he says, “and I feel strongly that we have to embrace it.”
Most fashion brands today stream their catwalk shows live, a trend that Knight started in 2010 with what was to be Alexander McQueen’s last fashion show. Halfway through the show, Lady Gaga (who Knight has collaborated with several times) tweeted the link to the stream, and the site crashed from the volume of traffic. “At that moment, the fashion industry witnessed the ability to go from an audience of 20,000 to an audience of 10 million.” It made a sobering point to the industry, “which at the time was rather slow to get online”.
Knight’s fashion shoots have opened the industry to a world that might not have been accessible otherwise. Once solely the preserve of the elite, fashion shoots only ever revealed an end product, an image from a catwalk, seen in a magazine three months later. But SHOWstudio has pioneered the trend of documenting the process of at various stages.
Showstudio editor Lou Stoppard says: “One of the best things about Showstudio is that while watching a live stream, people feel involved in a discussion – like they’ve been invited in.”
“It’s a way of capturing an image for where we live now, for how we live now, and how we work now,” says Knight. “It doesn’t matter how I make them; the images mean just as much to me. And I hope to my audience as well.”
For more on Nick Knight’s Showstudio, visit the website