Paul Knight Photography

I have no memory of how or why I became interested in photography but in my early teens (1940s early50s) I had a Kodak box camera and was developing and printing in the wash house where there were 2 doors and no windows. The interest must have been more than passing though, because in 1960 when I arrived in Japan on a UNESCO grant, I quickly bought 2 Asahi Pentax cameras and multiple lenses. Hard to believe now, but then £1 NZ was worth more than 1,000 yen and the cost of living was very low. The little money I had managed to put together in the first year after university and training college, made me so wealthy that I did not actually manage to spend it all.

I have never been a professional photographer but during a 5-year period in Japan I was often able to spend 1 or 2 days a week taking photos. After a while, I had work selected for exhibitions and was at least able to earn from sales enough to meet expenses. I think that because my eyes were from the outside, what I saw and aimed to record also seemed different to the Japanese and to the local photographers with whom I sometimes travelled and competed.

Since the end of 1969, I was teaching Japanese and related subjects at Massey University in Palmerston North. and used my photographs on the covers of texts and other publications, for the labels of CDs and as graphics in multimedia programmes for learning Japanese.

Influence of Japan:
In New Zealand I had previously been photographing in a fairly unimaginative sort of way. But time in Japan certainly opened my eyes to the potential beauty or aesthetic interest to be found in the environment and tools of daily life. For example, I later bought handmade pottery from artists whose plates, bowls were made for use in the kitchen but could equally be admired in a glass case. Nearly 60 years later, they are still with me in daily use or on stands to be admired. I have vivid memory of drinking sake in a private home from a cup which was 6 centuries old. Clunky New Zealand Railways crockery used to be a joke. On the train in Japan I bought drinks or food in containers apparently made with pride from wood, lacquer, bamboo, straw or other local materials. Compared with the brown paper bag or newspaper wrappings to which I was used, the contrast certainly changed me. It is testimony to the aesthetic value placed on how things were wrapped or contained, that some time ago Japanese wrappings were the sole subject of a Japanese government sponsored exhibition which toured Art Galleries in New Zealand.

The Physical Environment of Japan also was new and different to me. At first, I noticed the lack of bright colour contrast, compared for example, with the standout colours of houses in a New Zealand suburb in the afternoon sun. Instead, Japan was characterised by soft light, hazy skies, sharp seasonal changes, new shapes and textures and generally subtle shades of colour. In particular, my eyes were captured by bamboo, maple, weathered pines, various land and water grasses and the blending of natural and man-made elements in the daily environment. Mist, rain and cloud became elements of beauty, whereas for me in New Zealand, they were a pest, meaning that cricket practice or the Saturday game would be cancelled as they often were.

M.I.L.K. (Moments of Intimacy, Laughter and Kinship):
Wajima is a small peninsular town on the Japan Sea coast of Japan. It is known for the production of lacquer ware and for products of the sea, especially seaweed. I spent 3 or 4 days there looking for photographic opportunities. The Morning Market was fertile ground and it was there that I managed to get the picture which, nearly forty years later, was selected for the M.I.L.K. collection. My photo of two elderly ladies and the
background of dried fish was one of the 300 photographs selected from over than 40,000 entries worldwide for the international collection. The selected photographs were exhibited to critical acclaim at the Grand Central Terminal, New York and at the prestigious London Science Museum as well as in other cities around the world, including Auckland.

Since moving to Levin in 1999, I have concentrated more on native flora and fauna as well as villa style architecture. In 2017, “Confessions from a Heritage Architect” (ISBN978-0-473-320850) was published, featuring my photographs of Villa-style architecture, interior and exterior. Text by Mona Quinn, (Callidus architect).