Over on the SHOWstudio tumblr, photographer and director Nick Knight has been releasing some of the unseen reference images behind “War,” from the 1997 issue of Big magazine he co-curated with Simon Foxton. Knight, who has become a pioneer in sharing his process, offers brief commentary alongside a mood board that explores senseless violence and mortality interwoven with uncomfortable racial undertones, in addition to his own photographic studies involving simulated blood-spatter and a spate of dead, skinned animals.
“I became interested in a hyper violence. Violence in a pure form. I was interested in the energy, the dynamics of destruction, the moment of transition from one state to the other,” says Knight about his inspiration. “I tried to symbolise division, to express that feeling that as people we will fight over anything, any difference however absurd. I wanted to create an image that articulated only the ‘fashion’ of violence, the surface, the symbols, the poses. I wanted no social context, no victims, none of the squalor of real violence.”
Herein lies the exposure of the study of violence as a luxury, for those who experience it most intimately within their communities are rarely offered a revered platform from which to speak. Art will always be the most self-indulgent form of commentary, by virtue of the fact that time and resources are expended to explore suffering while leaving the question of its alleviation open-ended.
Of the deceased cat, kangaroo and monkey, Knight states that he wanted to “look at” death. “These corpses of skinned animals had nothing of life left in them, not even the most tiny hint or speck of their former beauty, majesty and purpose,” he says. “Nothing left, except their smell; they stank. They reeked. Every time, for years afterwards when I looked at the 10 by 8 transparencies, the stench came back to me as pungent as if each image was saturated with it. That, I concluded, was death.”
For many, death will be the only eventual salvation from the very violence Knight wishes to remove the ‘squalor’ from, and for them, the stench of brutality cannot be contained behind a closed studio door or the lid of a disposal bin—leaving us behind to continue fetishizing the cruel beauty of the inescapable.