"He’s the man Lady Gaga calls when she wants to outdo herself."
Make your career your “voice” and “invest in yourself as a business.”
Famed photographer Nick Knight and storied hairstylist Sam McKnight are masters of two very different crafts, but both strive to push the boundaries of beauty in their work. For Knight, that could mean shooting models who require only one name (such as Kate, Naomi, Linda, Christy, and Gisele) or more unconventional subjects (like disabled, aging, or curvaceous women) who challenge the public’s preconceived notions of perfection. He’s the man Lady Gaga calls when she wants to outdo herself. “We were struggling to put the tour together so quickly, and we wanted to do something very video-driven and very interactive, and I thought if I am going to do a video-based show I need someone who can create videos and visuals who is really a genius,” Gaga said in an interview with Vogue Hommes Japan. “So I just called Nick and said, ‘I’m in trouble. I need to phone God to help me get all this done in time.’ So naturally I called God, I called Nick Knight.” In an effort to break new ground and experiment with new technology, Knight started a website dubbed SHOWstudio in an effort to “give fashion film a platform” and “allow people to see the process and understand art better,” heexplained in a video on his site. Knight told The New York Times, “When I’m producing a piece of work, I’m looking for something I haven’t seen before, and once I’ve produced it, I’ll want to see something else.”
Similar to the legendary lensman, Sam McKnight continues to challenge himself: “I continually try to evolve and move out of my comfort zone. I try to do the best job I can, and then a bit more.” He’s crafted everything from Rasta ponytails (Chanel) to gold-leaf-lined parts (Dries Van Noten) to fox-fur mohawks (Fendi) and never fails to innovate every season. The mane master also counts catwalkers (including all of the aforementioned supers), fashion royalty (like Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford), and the late Princess Diana among his list of loyal clients. Prior to becoming a mainstay on the backstage and celebrity circuit, however, he trained to be a teacher at a college in Scotland—skills he’ll have a chance to call upon again in his four-month online program with Mastered beginning in September (sign-ups are starting now). A course with Knight will also commence at the same time—giving 800 students a rare opportunity to learn from two men who have truly “made it” to the top, refine their portfolios, and expand their professional networks. Here, both explain the lessons they’re hoping to relay and the biggest conceptions about their “glamorous” jobs.
Which aspects of your job are you most excited to talk about with your students?
SAM MCKNIGHT: The idea of working as a team—makeup artist, stylist, photographer, etc.—to create an image.
NICK KNIGHT: The attitude of understanding that we are creating imagery that has never been seen before. That this is a new beginning of a brand, new form of image-making, and we have to understand it is not photography but a completely new medium that is incredibly exciting.
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about being a fashion photographer?
NK: That in 2015 what we do is still photography. It’s not—it’s image-making, which is completely different.
Sam, what about for you as an editorial and backstage hairstylist?
SM: That it’s glamorous. It’s very hard work—it’s early-morning call times; prepping on your day off; and often small, hot backstage areas.
Nick, how do you know when you’ve got the shot during a shoot?
NK: I’m looking for a visual harmony, much like writing a song or melody. You just know when it is right.
Sam, if you had to identify one thing as your signature, what do you think it would be?
SM: I think it’s giving an undone or deconstructed feel. When something is too perfect, I tend to want to create a destroyed element.
You’ve both worked on countless editorials and campaigns. Is there an experience that stands out as the most memorable?
NK: It is always the next shoot that is the biggest excitement in my mind. Shoots are like answering questions—once they are answered, I move on to the next. I never want to or need to go back.
SM: I had the great honor of doing Princess Diana’s hair for a Vogue shoot and remained her stylist for seven years. Being a session hairstylist has brought me so many opportunities, which I have tried to embrace.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
NK: Happiness is not the reason to create images. Fame and money are false goals and should not be motivation for creating any images.
SM: Invest in yourself as a business—whether that’s cultivating professional relationships or investing in equipment such as wigs or hairpieces.
Is there one thing you wish you had known before you embarked on a career?
SM: I took a great risk leaving the salon to concentrate on studio work. I wouldn’t do anything differently. “Learn as many hair skills as possible” is a piece of advice I would give.
NK: No, I love what I do. It’s my voice.
Was there a point in your career when you realized you had made it?
NK: I simply don’t see what I do in those terms.
SM: When my mum met Princess Diana. I had done tons of Vogue covers and editorials, but that was what clinched it for Mum.