A & P Research | Karen Knorr

“One of the most imaginative photographers at work today, Knorr’s photographs combine a profound sense of place with concerns that range from the sociological to the allegorical. Her earliest series, which uses imagery and text, are ironic and humorous examinations of the British class system of the Thatcher era, which address the conservative values and lifestyle aspirations of London’s high society.

Belgravia, Knorr’s first series, was taken over a two-year period, from 1979-1981. With a family home in Belgravia, Knorr was familiar with the cosmopolitan neighbourhood, and photographed its residents in a collaborative way. The resulting portraits are presented with text, reading as a satirical critique of the image above. Speaking about the work, Knorr notes that, ‘…the photographs are not about individuals but about a group of people and their ideas during a particular time in history. They are non-portraits in that they do not aim to flatter or to show the truth of these people. People are not named and remain anonymous’.”


Karen Knorr’s photography fits in well with the theme of prosperity. In the series ‘Belgravia’ she has documented the people of Belgravia and their homes. I have selected some of the ones that appeal to me most and that I think will help me to document my own version of ‘austerity.


This is a good context photograph, she has included some of the houses that would be the kind of places the subjects of her images would live, as well as a nice car. The shadows of the fences and housing show that it was taken on a sunny day, sunshine is something that is associated with going abroad and with good health etc. If the project had been focussing on the less wealthy population of London it would perhaps have made more sense to take an outdoors context image on a rainy or cloudy day to make the area appear more dismal.


The subjects in her photographs are well dressed, this man is wearing a suit, demonstrating their ability to buy expensive clothing. Whether or not it is a coincidence I don’t know, but the subject in this photo appears to be imitating the pose of the small statue standing in the fireplace, exaggerating his grandeur.


The symmetry in this photograph is effective, the book case in the centre of the image separates the two women and diving the photo into two sections. The large book case and vast selection of books suggests a good education, something that may not be as present in a series about less wealthy people. The size of the curtains and the fact that you cannot see the top of them suggest high ceilings and large rooms. The two women look as though they could be mother and daughter which would suggest how wealth is passed on through the generations.


Again, the use of symmetry in this photograph is effective. with the man in the photograph being the only thing that is not repeated on the in the other half of the image. The man in the photograph is covering half of his faceIt could perhaps be interpreted as a photograph showing how despite wealth and material possessions, money cannot buy happiness.


All of the photographs in this series are taken front on, with the subjects either agains the background of their living room or bedroom. They are also all in a square format, which exaggerates the symmetry within the space.


This is one of the few photos in the series depicting a couple. The positioning of the subjects is interesting, the man is sat in a chair in front of the woman, facing towards the camera but looking away. On the other hand the woman is stood behind the chair, her body facing away from the camera and mostly hidden from view. This could perhaps be representative of the gender roles of the time, women expected to stand behind their husbands and behave demurely. The mirror in this photo has been used effectively by Knorr to reflect the chandelier that would be behind her.


To me, the most interesting element of this photo is the zebra rug. The use of black and white photograph makes this element of the photo stand out well. It is a clear symbol of wealth and power to have animal skins as rugs, the large elephant tables either side of the photo are also impressive. The proportions of the objects in this photo are very large, the subjects look small in comparison.


I like the use of negative space in this photo. There are far fewer possessions in it that in the other images in the series. There is quite a cold feel to this photo, it doesn’t represent a place of comfort and warmth that you would normally associate with a bedroom. There are no bed sheets on the bed and only the one picture on the wall. The lack of colour in the photo also adds to how plain the setting is. I think that a photograph of a bedroom belonging to someone considered more towards the ‘austerity’ end of the scale would be very different. They would be more likely to have their personal belonging lying around and the rooms would look as though someone actually lived in them.


I like that Knorr has included a pet in one of her photos because I think that the kind of pets that people own, specifically breeds of dog, are good indicators as to their wealth. In this image the photographer has exposed for both the indoors and the outdoors, this provides the viewer with more context. Again, the furniture in this photo does not look very comfortable, as though it is mostly for display rather than use.


I have definitely taken some inspiration from Karen Knorr’s work, how she has a constant theme throughout and her style remains the same, her pictures work well together to paint a portrait of London’s ‘privileged minority’. She doesn’t chop and change between subject matters and instead focusses on one a few particular styles of photograph.The use of symmetry to frame a photograph is something I would also like to experiment with in my own project.


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