Capturing the moment has become a mantra and inevitably a way of life for Lifestyle and Advertising Photographer Jason Knott.
We join him on yet another ‘expedition’ as he covers the lifestyle of a former Ambassador and his close family on a secluded island in the Mediterranean Sea to find out more about his life, work and new direction in his lifestyle photography.
He may be a world-renowned photographer, but Jason Knott’s background is in fine art and graphic design. Yet, while a student, he found he was answering more and more of his tutors’ briefs through photography. The turning point is something Jason remembers fondly: “One day a lecturer asked me ‘Do you think you are on the right course?’ I never looked back.”
Photography was clearly in his blood from a very early age. Jason admits to still owning his first camera, a Kodak Brownie Flash 20, bought when he was about seven years old. He still has the first photo he took with it, too – a Lochness monster on the back of a float lorry somewhere in Scotland. It stands proudly next to a couple of his favourite awards. “Just a little ‘shrine’ that makes me smile once in a while,” he says.
Jason’s love for his art is evident – the camera is, for all intents and purposes, a natural extension of himself. He agrees. “To me the camera is just a tool, like a pencil or paintbrush, a necessary piece of kit to get what I see in front of me down onto a sheet of blank paper. Through a process of elimination, I moved through the different mediums until I found the one I could express myself best with – the camera.
“If you are capturing moments in time, those moments tend not to get repeated, so if you are messing about with your settings on a camera that moment passes you by and it’s lost for ever. I still remember the great shots I missed; it makes me feel unwell. So yes, the camera does have to become an extension of you. You don’t think about the process of taking the picture you just think about the moment.”
When Jason first started out, he worked mainly for record labels, but he was lured by rather attractive advertising rates and the world travel, and, at an early age, he was signed up by a London agent. He now works for many of the world’s leading companies, from Bacardi to VW.
Jason soon became well known in the trade for being able to work in the most adverse weather conditions and situations.
“As with the clients, all weather conditions will produce a stunning shot if you work with them rather than trying to fight them,” he explains.
“For me, it’s about honesty. A stormy shot out to sea can have the same beauty as a tranquil crystal-clear lagoon. I become so focused, I tend to dial out my surroundings. In the past, I’ve wandered onto runways, nearly been hit by trucks and fallen from boats when in that zone.”
Jason has what he describes as “a healthy amount of stress” at the production stage of a shoot, but once the elements are in place he relaxes. His producer plans shoots to the very last detail so that they run seamlessly and don’t waste a minute of the client’s time, if time is an issue.
“I am very chilled on set and this comes across in my work,” he says. “I love photography, so why would I spend most of my waking hours doing something that stresses me out. Being stressed on set just makes the sitter uncomfortable and it interferes with your ability to problem-solve.”
Jason’s producer also happens to be his wife and it is his trust in her abilities, judgment and work that ensures he can concentrate on what he is good at – taking beautiful pictures. “I tend to live with my head in a different place to where my body is at that moment in time. Mel is my rock and my sanity,” he explains. “Over time, we have found our places in the working relationship. It’s great to share my adventures with someone, because most of my travels tended to be alone until we met. This isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle and that takes time to get used to. It’s not 9 to 5 and every week is totally different.”
The industry’s “look” changes with the times, so Jason found his work became almost reportage as opposed to the large format, almost formally composed style of his early years. And as lifestyle photography became a larger part of his work, he found it refreshing to go back to the very basics. “A camera body with a cracking lens on one side and your chosen film stock on the other,” he explains.
Lifestyle photography, in portrait form, runs alongside Jason’s advertising work. “I love the contrast between jetting off to shoot a tight structured brief for Coca-Cola one minute and, the next, I’m experiencing a timeframe in a total strangers real life to document those parts we choose to capture on film for ever. There is not just one portrait at the end of the day but more of a polished portfolio of images.”
Depending on the wishes of the client, Jason will capture a particular moment in the client’s life to remember and pass on to future generations as a record.
Depending on the wishes of the client, Jason will capture a particular moment in the client’s life to remember and pass on to future generations as a record. He approaches the shoot itself as if he were directing one of his films. “The clients play out scenarios rather than a shoot that is more of a sitting,” he explains. “It’s not about acting but merely being themselves. The chosen location is just as important, whether that be the client’s home, second home, yacht, favourite retreat or just their own special place.”
Jason often tries to help the client be themselves, since it is only then that the work becomes “honest” and he is guaranteed the shoot will not fail. “We are not talking about styling and wardrobe here but personality,” he says. “To me, everyone has a story, you just have to listen and hear. Not many people take the time to listen and really hear.”
With Lifestyle Photography I usually find the clients have reached a goal in life or achieved something, and they wish to record and document ‘where they are at’ at that time in their lives
It’s not just anyone Jason is photographing. “I usually find the clients have reached a goal in life or achieved something, and they wish to record and document ‘where they are at’ at that time in their lives,” he says. “This can mean anything from flying around in helicopters following the client on their speedboats or staying back in the shadows taking on a more voyeuristic style of photography. One of my strengths is versatility. I’ll tailor the look and style of the shoot to the client. Two shoots are never the same.”
“My shoots tend to be very relaxed affairs and most of the time the client cannot remember the shot being taken. So when they see the end product it always results with them smiling in acknowledgement and surprise when they realise how much of their inner self has been captured on film. It’s quite touching.”
Jason’s life is filled with interesting and exciting stories, but are there any he would have loved to have documented from the past or which he would like to document in the future? “There are too many people out there to choose one in particular,” he replies. I want to shoot as many as possible. I love the extremes from the opulent to the ‘have nothings’. That said, if I could go back in time, I would have loved to document some of the great photographers at work. A story on Norman Parkinson would be up there, to see his approach to capturing his moments. We all have our own working methods but it’s fascinating to me to see how others work. On set on my ad shoots, the crew are obviously freelance so work with others and it’s always great to find the areas where you are similar or so different when doing the same tasks.”
Jason is focused on the future and his aim to be “doing what I am doing now – I love what I do”. He has loved his journey thus far, although he wishes he had been a bit more honest with himself at times and a little more forgiving of himself. He does, however, acknowledge those who gave him the support. “Such a long list and it’s still growing. I guess I’d like to thank my father for setting me up with a darkroom and cameras in my early teens when times were hard to give me that kick start. Pete, my old lecturer, who helped with my transition from designer to photographer. Richard Prescott and Spencer Rowell who I assisted and am still in touch with from time to time, and my agent, Niall Horton Stephens, who has worked with me for many years as we twisted and turned to stay up there in the industry. And Mel, who has been there for me at my highs and lows and hopefully will be there for many many more to come.”
“Capturing the moment, for me, is when you press the shutter and whoever or wherever the image is seen, the viewer can put into words what you saw at that moment. No words are necessary.”
For further information about Jason Knott’s work, go to www.jasonknott.com.