In Paul Knight’s show Don’t be Something Strong at the Australian Centre for Photography the thrill is that there is in fact less than what you see, the images working a kind of sepulchural magic on the viewer, then slowly fading away as you leave the gallery. It took us quite some time to realise that the strength of this show is in the sequencing. Knight is a very talented young photographer who has produced several series of discreet works – cinema curtains, interiors, naked people, head shots, enclosed spaces and landscapes. They have the same, very pleasurable sense of ennui one gets from wandering through a deserted car park at night or listening to the sound of a flickering fluro tube in a concrete staircase.
Paul Knight, Cinema Curtain # 6, 2004.
Courtesy of Neon Parc Gallery, Melbourne. Image © Paul Knight.
In her catalogue essay ACP curator Bec Dean discusses Knight’s work in relationship to the cinematic spaces of Stanley Kubrick’s latter films, notably The Shining. The absent spaces of Knight’s work do have the same kind of frisson of the vast, empty halls of the Overlook Hotel but what fascinated us in this show was how the arrangement of Knight’s images seemed to imply a narrative between all the works, rather than being isolated frames of disconnected instances and moments. The images of naked people, men and women of various ages and body types, as well as in the slightly histrionic close ups of heads, there is a very conscious sense of performance in the works. Arranged with faux casualness, it didn’t surprise us to discover reading the catalogue that the composition of the images is based on anonymous pornography shots found on the web. Although only one of the works shows an actual sex act, the rest have the same allusive moment of “before” or “after” the action” that set up porn shots carry with them. It’s in that moment of narrative promise that one can sense that a narrative is about to unfold.
Paul Knight, Untitled, 2006.
Courtesy Neon Parc Gallery, Melbourne. Image © Paul Knight
By juxtaposing these shots with cinema curtains, the idea of the narrative is made explicit, expect with the cinema screen closed, it’s the idea, or the promise, that is being held back, just like the sexless porn shots. So too with the landscapes of Hong Kong, images taken from far away, revealing little about the subject except for the generalised feeling of a “place”. The opening image of the show is called Path 2004, a shot of a cave path complete with handrail, cements pathways and uplights hidden behind rocks. The idea again is very explicit – here is nature as an artificial theatrical experience. Throughout Knight’s photographs this sense of performative space recurs repeatedly, suggesting layers behind layers, repetition and revelations of space.
Paul Knight, For Ann, 2003.
Courtesy of Neon Parc Gallery,Melbourne. Image © Paul Knight
The highlight of the show is For Ann 2003, in which a sweeping spiral staircase winds down into a darkened space, perhaps in an underground hotel lobby, with a table and three chairs and a weak lamp illuminating the gloom. This image is spectacular in its unassuming theatricality. It’s all there and it’s nothing much, the kind of negative yet oddly baroque space that seems so ideally suited to cinema or the stage. In this case, For Ann suggests the empty spaces of Kubrick’s Hilton Space Station in 2001: A Space Odyssey which was of course was based on an extrapolation of just such spaces in real Hilton Hotels of the late 1960s. Knight’s image is intensely nostalgic with its cast of orange and browns, looking more authentic yet less real than what you would possibly experience yourself. Together, Knight’s images conjour so much, and yet when you walk away, they seem fade leaving you face to face with the world.