Caroline Knopf was born in the South, and the South’s rich storytelling tradition permeates her work as a photographer and teller of tales through the lens of her camera.
Photography is also a family tradition, her grandfather was a war photographer, documenting the Japanese surrender at the end of World War ll; her father and grandmother captured life through the camera as well.
Upon arriving in New York, her work soon caught the attention of a market looking for an inventive and narrative vision. This led to many longstanding relationships shooting for, among others, Neiman Marcus, Conde Nast, and Elle. Her work has been selected by The Women’s Caucus For The Arts as an important storytelling tradition and voice as well as a dedication to Women’s empowerment through art.
Her work has appeared in gallery and museum shows in New York, Paris, and Japan.
Her broad technical knowledge is well matched for her eye for detail and love of fashion. The past meets the future in her creation of timeless images. Knopf’s vision is both an accomplished and singular one in the field of photography today.
As Knopf says, “The ideas behind an image originate with a piece of clothing, a painting, some glimpse that captures my imagination and the pictures unfold in my mind like the pages of a book.”
Knopf lives in Brooklyn, New York, although her work and ideas take her far and wide, always in search of a new, enchanting story.
Fashion photographer Caroline Knopf follows in her family's footsteps
Caroline Knopf is a daughter of the Lowcountry, a graduate of the College of Charleston and a resident of Sullivan's Island who occupies one of the few remaining creaky old beach houses. Aesthetics always have been important in her life. For years, her mother was responsible for the gardens at Boone Hall Plantation. Her grandfather was a World War II photographer who documented the Japanese surrender. Her father, too, was a photographer. Knopf didn't recognize her destiny at first. She accompanied her new husband, Mark Stetler, to Atlanta where he would learn the fine points of photography, then to New York City, where Stetler apprenticed with the likes of Richard Avedon. But soon she was taking her own pictures, then getting work, then developing a unique style. Today, Knopf is a sought-after fashion photographer whose images tell stories, blending past and present, emphasizing the beauty found in unlikely places.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional fashion photographer, and how did you get started in the business?
A: I graduated from College of Charleston with a psychology degree, met my husband who was in the Navy, married and moved to Atlanta so my husband could study photography at the Art Institute of Atlanta. As he worked on his portfolio projects, I was alongside. One Christmas he gave me a present of a portfolio and told me, “You are a photographer and just don’t know it; go make your own images.” I began assisting photographers from New York City and Paris. I went to local designers for clothes, movies houses for lighting and grip, and befriended the modeling agencies.
Q: The photography industry has changed pretty radically over the decades. Everything’s digital now, and media platforms are transforming as we speak. How have you coped with these changes? What are the big challenges for professional photographers today?
A: When I began in photography, you had to make choices before shooting for the final look. Choice of film, color and processing, as well as the type of camera affected the final look of the image. With digital, the pros benefit from faster turnaround and immediate gratification on how the image is looking. With this said, an overload of imagery is out there and everyone is a photographer with their iPhones. The value of photography has gone down as it becomes more common, and the time to make great images has decreased as more shots are achieved at a faster pace. I think creativity and viewpoint will return the exclusiveness of photography. For me, one of the biggest changes was that the image on the screen became open for a democratic discussion. I find it is important to foster crew interaction, but also to create an intimacy with the model and hold fast to the image I am guiding my team to create. Often, shooting untethered provides a freedom similar to shooting before digital.
Q: Tell me about a particularly memorable shoot, when everything went very well (or very bad).
A: Paris has always been a place for memorable shoots. One of my favorites was a two-day shoot at the Lido in Paris. We combined models with dancers from the cabaret for a fashion editorial and received a special invitation to the dinner and show center stage. Another editorial project took me to London, Paris and Milan for two weeks doing street castings of cool kids from each city. We had stylists pulling from the collections in each country and finished with a 1950s boat tour of Venice!
Q: Your pictures often are very dynamic, with lots of captured movement, props, details and bright lighting. How did you settle on your particular style, and how do you achieve it so consistently?
A: The clothing always sparks visuals of images, like existing pages of a book. I like to create images that ground themselves in the past and the present to achieve a timeless quality. My viewpoint has always come from things I love in art/literature/nature. Anything could turn into a concept for a shoot.
Q: Aesthetically speaking, in what ways has your job affected your personal life? I mean, during a shoot you are super focused on the way everything looks, right? Are you similarly obsessed at home?
A: I come from a family that includes photographers and artists, so photography has always been present in my life. When I am on a project, personal or professional, I do immerse myself and take it further than the original possibilities or idea at first suggested.
May 14, 2017 | Adam Parker