PUBLISHED BOOK INTRODUCTIONS
'ICONS - The PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY of CURTIS KNAPP' - iTunes app Book. 2012
Introduction by STEVE BUSCEMI
To be honest, I couldn't really put a face to the name Curtis Knapp when he called the house.
Recently my wife Jo picked up on a phone call on our home line thinking it was the car service we use informing us that our car was outside waiting. She had no reason to think it would be anyone else, nobody much calls us at home anymore, even my mother calls my cell phone now.
He was publishing a photo book and said that my photo would be in it and could he send me the other photos to look at in the hopes of me writing something for the book. ….. Later in the car Jo said, "He also has a shot of you and Vincent Gallo he wants to send."
The next day I opened an email forwarded to me from Jo via Curtis and I was very happy to see a solo shot of a younger me with long hair wearing a long overcoat that I have no memory of. I had shown up in a t-shirt, so I'm sure Curtis provided the coat. I also loved the shot of me and Vince, two friends just happy to be with each other.
And then I opened the other photos and was excited to see a host of old friends - John Lurie, John Sex, Giancarlo Esposito, Joey Arias, along with people I have long admired and have met through the years, Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Quentin Crisp, Dennis Hopper, and William Burroughs. What struck me though was that the photos themselves make all of them, even the people I've never met, seem like old friends.
I can't really explain it, but Curtis captured something personal, simple and familiar with every shot he took, and every shot had something striking about it. John Hurt laughing, a beautiful Jim Carroll staring off to the side, Madonna holding her head in her hands, or Rod Steiger in those big framed glasses, one eye almost half closed.
Every photo was fun to look at and worth studying, so many were compelling because of the unique expressions on the subjects faces, … it's clearly evident in the eyes of his many portraits, mine included, that we trusted, respected, and in some cases were very entertained by our photographer.
Thank you Curtis for the memories, and for remembering to call me.
'A PORTRAIT of M' (MADONNA) 2011
Preface by JEREMY AYERS
Curtis Knapp is a man of humor, sensitivity and skill. His humor puts his subjects at ease, his sensitivity inspires them and his skill gives them confidence. But something else, beyond these essential talents, gives the spark of genius to Curtis's photographs -- empathy. An empathy so pronounced that before his camera, the innermost stillness of his subjects is revealed, as if by magic. In that quiet stillness lies the truth of who a person is. Because Knapp has a long history of highly skillful practice, his technique becomes elevated to a sublime craft and his deepest, most masterful instincts take the helm. Knapp employs light like a poet, to show you what lies within the luminous flower, or behind the shadowed face.
Curtis's students have called him America's greatest unknown photographer. The fact that he had spent so many years abroad in Japan may have kept him from greater fame here in the states, but it also influenced his aesthetic in profound ways, there being a supernal simplicity in his work that recalls the best of Japanese art.
Curtis Knapp was personally asked by Andy Warhol to shoot what would turn out to be among the last portraits taken of the pop icon—what more do you need to know?
Knapp, a Parsons-trained graphic designer and photographer, began focusing on photography in the late '70s. His taste and eye led him to shoot the B-52s at their Manhattan debut and a host of other Downtown stars seeking Uptown fame before a move to Japan that saw him become a premier fashion photographer.
His portraiture is stark and formal, his cool gaze a perfect medium in which his subjects can, and usually do, reveal themselves. Despite his distinctive technique and a host of world-famous models, Knapp remained a well-kept secret. But once his most famous shoot became more widely known, the secret was out.
For definitive proof of his artistry, look no further than his 1983 session with recent New York City transplant Madonna. Knapp's pre-fame work with Madonna graced the first cover of a now highly collectible Manhattan nightlife magazine called Island, presenting Madonna in her very first confidently icon-appropriating pose—a true tribute to Edward Steichen's classic portrait of Greta Garbo.
Styled by Maripol, a black-swathed Madonna was in good hands with Knapp, who captured both her beauty and her '80s "Boy Toy" look, in particular memorializing the religious jewelry and rubber bracelets that every schoolgirl in the world would soon be wearing. The images were used only sparingly outside of Island, including on an impossibly rare Japanese die-cut promotional calendar, and yet they have withstood the test of time for many Madonna fans as being among the best ever taken of her.
The excitement we felt in seeing—for most of us several years after they were initially taken—these photos of Madonna looking very much prepared to take over the world only magnifies when seeing them all in one place, here, gathered in a portfolio, where they belong.
These images prove Madonna was always in love with the camera, that the feeling was mutual, and that Curtis Knapp just might be able to take credit for introducing the happy couple.
Matthew Rettenmund, author of Encyclopedia Madonnica
'PRISONS INSIDE ART' 1996 / 2000
Introduction by TIMOTHY LEARY
Curtis has spent over 15 years living in Japan. His portraiture has let him into advertising for major clients there. He has in this time received most of Japans' top photographic awards.
Curtis studies the classic photographers. He is strongly influenced by the Photo-Secessionists such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. These studies are clearly evident in his work and style. He has had such sitters as Andy Warhol, Madonna, William Burroughs, Tadanori Yoko-o, REM and Toshiro Mifune, photographing many of these people as private portraits.
In this trip home to America he executed a new series of work. He has studied & viewed TV documentaries and read newspaper articles on prisoners and their art works. This inspired him to do this series documenting these inmates and their art works of the California Penal System.
In this group of prints Curtis shows us an inside view of a world most of us will never know. And art most of us would never see. We see here inmates, Men and Women of all races, and their uses of the limited mediums available to them.
Inmates talk to each other about their art work. They discuss, compare and critique each others works. Their art and the art room is a very special place. They would never indulge in that sort of communication out in THE YARD.
I have witnessed this wonderful convict-art. Having spent almost five years in 50 jails or prisons. I can tell you that it would take a photographer a life time to photograph and document all the art works being created this week in American Prisons.
In my portrait session with Curtis, I could not help but notice his easy going manner. It is almost an effortless style he has, which puts you at ease right away. Yet he is methodical and exacting. Always with a clear vision of his finished print.
Curtis is a New Yorker with a New Yorker's straight forward style and attitude. Refreshing and straight like his portraits. Curtis Knapp was perfect for this prison project. He finds a rich subject and brings it into our view to see and study.
Thank you Curtis for shining your lens light on these rooms of art.
'FOTO PORTRAITS' 1997
Introduction by SLASH
The first time I saw his work i.e. photographs, was his book of nude Japanese models entitled "Catwalk". This book is in my opinion, truly inspired! And I insisted on having a copy.
At that point Curtis told me of his plan for this particular book of portraits that he was in the process of finishing and would I be interested in doing a session. Since I thought the Nude Japanese book was so cool, I said yes.
I went up to his studio and Curtis showed me some of the other entertainer/characters/people already featured in the exposed. Definitely some of the best portraits I've seen in some time.
Anyway we did the shooting, got drunk and had a great fucking time. Plus turned out some pretty cool photos.
At the end of the day. This book promises to be an entertaining feast for your senses.
Preface by SHOJI UEDA - 'DISTANCE'
What the portrait captures is <distance>. It is so within the senses of time and space, but it also means the <distance> which the photographer bears.
My re-encounter with Curtis Knapp came unexpectedly after three-years of distance. He's now very far from his country, and is shooting numerous cosmopolitan portraits here in Japan. These deeds themselves also represent his mind toward <distance>.
When a photographer and a sitter collaborate on a portrait the relationship between the two is so intimate, and yet there is this <distance>, so magical and enchanting, connected to neither time nor space.
His quality of creating this <ma> - what we sense in Japan as something like
Text by JOHN C. LILLY MD
Long before the origin of known language, the visual image has been a universal communicative form. Man is still learning to communicate with each other, and we are at the dawn of breaking the barriers of inter- species communication. Curtis Knapp has chosen to bypass the spoken and written word as his form of communication and deal directly with the visual part of our brains. His tool- the Camera. Since the camera came into being as a device, capturing the human likeness has been one of it's major functions. Whether a known image or a totally unknown face, Curtis is laying down a visual biography for us. It is conceivable in the century to come that many of his photographs will remain. He has a conscious desire to leave his images to our generation, and the future, as a legacy to "mans' archive".
I know Curtis has been introduced to the computer. Already he plans to use this tool to it's furthest extent. It will be most interesting to see what he comes up with in the electronic format. His mind is never shut down and he is absorbing everything and everyone he comes in contact with. This is what I define as "programming and Meta- programming in the human bio-computer."
Within the actual finished print Curtis is concentrating his main focus on the sitters likeness- the Portrait. He has an unquestionable and methodical approach to record the face of his sitters and to relate that image to the viewer of his photograph. There is often that direct 'eye to eye' contact. This is much more evident in his images than with other photographs we see every day. One can feel who these people really are. The depth of tone he achieves in his prints is at times richer than most color photographs. This is clearly a result of his studies in painting and composition. It is a tie which will forever be linked with his works. As we enter the New Century and our world moves faster & faster, it is reassuring to see Curtis is an artist rooted in classical photography. We can't say how many of his sort will be left in the future? As I have said, "In the province of the mind there are no limits...." Curtis defines this principle through his art and photography. There can be no greater accomplishment.
CATWALK Foreword by A.D.COLEMAN - 'HEAT MADE VISIBLE' 1993
Why do we restrict our concept of the mask to representation of the face? Perhaps it is time to begin thinking of the individual, the whole surface of the corpus, as a mask. For it is this totality, not the visage alone, that is involved in what the late sociologist Erving Goffman called "the presentation of self in everyday life." The human body is a complex communications technology: we use kinetics, more commonly called "body language," to express what we cannot - or choose not to - put into words.
Like actors and athletes, fashion models utilize their full selves, physical as well as psychological, in constructing the mini-dramas that erupt down the catwalk or blossom before the lens. To be as aware of one's instep as one is of one's eyebrow, and in simultaneous control of both, is an accomplishment of no small significance. It is easy to dismiss that ability as mere narcissism, forgetting that there are forms of meditation and physical discipline whose goal, after years of training, is to achieve exactly that self-awareness and kinesthetic mastery.
For a fashion model, removing all cloths and props is equivalent to a tightrope walker's working without a safety net. It enforces an absolute self-reliance: the body itself becomes both costume and mask. But these Japanese models who're chosen to stand unclothed before Curtis Knapp's camera have done more than simply strip away the garments they customarily interact with and employ their skills to enhance. They have also taken the opportunity to shed much cultural baggage - taboos against female autonomy, against nudity, even against pubic hair. In these acts of self-exposure, therefore, they have each struck a profoundly feminist stance.
It is intriguing that, as their accomplice in this collective statement, they're chosen a male photographer, born in the United States and not Japanese. Perhaps those inhibitions could not have been discarded before the eyes of a Japanese photographer - or perhaps, conversely, his inhibitions would have intruded on their self-liberation. In any case, Occidental though Curtis Knapp may be, from the evidence it's obvious he's attuned to the idiosyncratic theater of these women's revelations and sees in them what they have found in themselves: that which is female, that which is individual, that which is supple, that which is strong.
While his visual structures are consistently elegant, posed, and classically balanced, Knapp her works against the tradition of the nude in several ways. Almost invariably, he joins the faces of his subjects with their bodies, identifying and individuating them: these are the exact opposite of the anonymous female figure who populate the history of the nude in photography. And he registers their presence on infrared film, which records not the light that bounces off the surfaces of these women but the warmth that radiates from within them. What he gives us hereby is, literally and metaphorically, heat made visible: the essence below the appearance, the ego behind the mask, the energy beneath the skin.
'PHOTOGRAPHIC WORKS' 1986
Introduction by RYU MURAKAMI
Curtis, while you were taking photographs of me, I felt completely at ease. This is very unusual for me, as like most Japanese, I'm a very shy person. Yet, I was able to stand in front of your camera. I don't know how to express this feeling, but somehow I felt a great gentleness. What's more, your photographs are very natural.
I hope I'm not being rude when I say that I think the mechanics of the camera and even the act of taking photographs is nothing very special for you. To you it must be the same as eating ice-cream, having a beer in a bar or riding a motor bike, as your photographing is probably become a naturally integrated part of your life cycle. If this is so, it is a wonderful thing. I would like to write my stories in the same spirit in which you take photographs, however it is sometimes very difficult for me to do so. Of course, nobody wishes to manifest suffering, nobody wishes to see others suffer and nobody lives to suffer. Simple though as this is, few Japanese are good at doing this.
This book of portraits is wonderful, but I would also love to see Curtis take portraits of the children of Asia and Africa. Surely the children in Curtis's portraits would be smiling gently yet powerfully. Good luck, Curtis
Preface by PATER SATO
Between 1980 and 1983, I traveled often between New York City and Tokyo and I had the opportunity of meeting allot of different people. Among them was a photographer by the name of Curtis Knapp whose photos I had seen in a now defunct monthly newspaper, "Soho News". At the time I was a keen collector of favorite and interesting photos which I found in magazines and newspapers and would make scrap books of my finds. I felt that such visual experiences were the most effective way for me to feel and understand the atmosphere of the latest of New York City.
Of the visual media, it was photographs which influenced and attracted me most. More than painting, more than the cinema, the deep and strong impact of the photographs offered me much more.
It was only recently that I found some of Curtis's photographs among my scrap books collections. I happened to meet Curtis again in Harajuku Street and learned that he had moved to Japan and is now living in Tokyo. I occasionally run into people whom I knew in New York City but for some reason such meetings cause me a little embarrassment. It is difficult to explain this feeling. Tokyo and New York are so close and yet so far away. Everything in the two cities is so different. I am unable to pinpoint these differences one by one, but if I may be allowed to express it in crude and abstract terms, then you could say the two cities have a different air.
When I met Curtis again, I could feel the New York vibrations streaming from his whole body. His charm is quite obvious to those who have experienced living in New York.
As my partner took over all my business matters when I started my work in New York, I was able to concentrate all my energy on my art without any big distractions. Now that Curtis has moved his work base to Tokyo, it could be said we are in the same position but in reverse, although I do worry that there is for him a situation gap. From Tokyo to New York and New York to Tokyo, anyhow the differences are great.
Curtis has been photographing portraits. It must be difficult to get close up to the people and to incapture them in a photograph. They are, at any rate, live sessions. From the first to the last, his style is very New York. Some of his subjects are able to react to him naturally but there must be others who feel bewilderment. Sometimes even Curtis himself must feel bewildered by the situation.
He faces his subjects in a lively yet light manner, popping jokes and streaming out his vibrations. It is because of this that I feel it is not only the Subject's personality but Curtis's too which incaptured in these photographs. It is my belief that original portraits should be made this way.