Q: You are now an acclaimed, successful photographer with numerous awards behind you. How did it all start?
A: When I was eight years old, I was awestruck by Harold Edgerton’s iconic milk splash image which was on the wall of my school science laboratory. For the next few years I carried this inspiration with me. When I bought my first camera, two of the frames on my first roll of film were of splashing milk. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the ‘unseen forms of nature’ hidden within liquids and other natural elements. I have spent my life in pursuit of this concealed beauty, revealing it either by stills photography or, more recently, using high speed motion cameras.
Q: Being a self-taught professional, who mastered the medium by experimenting in the darkrooms, what would you say influenced your professional approach and your career? How did you end up in the world of advertisement?
A: Following on from my answer to the first question, I have a passion for science and highly technical approach to image making. My interest lies in producing visual communication that feels natural, whether it is at one extreme of macro liquid imagery or location lifestyle at the other. I prefer not to rely on heavy post-production techniques, and believe that the magic of successful imagery comes from capturing exquisite moments in camera. It is this approach that has had resonance in the advertising business, combined with the fact that I really love advertising too.
Q: You work with some of the most prestigious magazines and clients in an a very competitive area. What were the biggest challenges for you in this business and how do you think the industry changed since the beginning of your career?
A: Since the start of my career, there have obviously been huge technical changes in the way we capture imagery, but fundamentally advertising clients still just want a great image to promote their brand. The parameters of what defines that, and the style at any point, depends on the zeitgeist, so I think that the biggest challenge is to keep moving on, and to keep developing as a creative and staying relevant. I am also shooting a lot of moving imagery too, and I have really enjoyed learning those skills in the last few years.
Q: Is there a typical Jonathan Knowles “look” or approach that makes you unique in your opinion?
A: As a studio, our approach depends entirely on whether we are working with clients or on personal projects. With clients, there are generally so many stakeholders these days, that everything has to be rigorously planned and agreed ahead of the shoot. With personal work, we can be much more fluid, and move where the interesting images take us. Personal projects are really important for my development as a creative, and I learn a lot from time spent ‘playing’ and experimenting, which I can then apply to my commissions. I have been commissioned many times on the basis of work that I have shot for myself, and I guess that is because of the style and ’look’ that I have developed over time.
Q: Moving on to your winning project at IPA 2019, the “2049 – DiorSHOW” received the 1st prize in the advertising/beauty category. The pictures are close-ups of innovative makeup looks, creating a futuristic feel. Tell us more about how this project came about.
A: The idea came out of the fact that these particular Dior products are designed to be very precisely applied. With Jamie Coombes, the Dior make-up artist, we worked on some very intricate designs for the eyes, as well as the beautiful bold colours on the lips. I wanted the face to be completely ’subservient’ to the make-up; to almost disappear, as if the skin belonged to a robot of some sort. That was a very fine balance to get right. We dialed the skin texture up and down and eventually settled where it is seen in the final images. The shoot lighting also had to anticipate this process; keeping the intense colours in the make-up whilst flattening out the skin.
Q: What does this IPA award mean to you?
A: This award is a real career highlight, and I was especially excited when I saw that my favorite image from the series was on the cover of the IPA awards annual.
Q: Since you already reached the professional recognition others aspire to, what keeps you motivated moving forward?
A: For inspiration, I look at paintings, graphic design, album covers, magazines – not just photography. I do have a lot of photography books too, and every now and then I’ll sit down in the studio and go through them again. I draw inspiration from images everywhere. I always analyze images I see and have a general intrigue with image making. This continued interest is key. I’m fortunate that I enjoy doing the commercial work that I do, and that it takes in a multitude of areas from still life, liquids, drinks through to beauty and people; and now with the additional excitement of moving image, there is always something to be learning. Every day is interesting and different.