Paul Greenfield MFA, ARPS

Karen Knorr (1954)

The Wedding Guests

Karen Knorr HonFRPS is a German-born American photographer who lives in London.

In 2018 she received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society.

Knorr was born in Frankfurt and raised in the 1960s in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the 1970s, she moved to Great Britain where she has lived ever since. Knorr is a graduate of the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), and has an MA from the University of Derby. She is Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts.

Knorr's work explores Western cultural traditions, mainly British society, with widely ranging topics, from lifestyle to animals. She is interested in conceptual art, visual culture, feminism, and animal studies, and her art maintains connections with these topics.

Between 1979 and 1981 Knorr produced Belgravia, a series of black and white photographs each accompanied by a short text, typically critical to the British class system of the time. Subsequently, she produced Gentlemen (1981-1983), a series consisting of photographs of gentlemen's members clubs and texts taken from parliamentary speeches and news reports. In these series, Knorr investigated values of the English upper middle classes, comparing them with aristocratic values. In 1986, the series Connoisseurs was made in color. The series incorporates staged events into English architectural interiors. Between 1994 and 2004, Knorr photographed fine art academies throughout Europe, which resulted in the series Academies.

In 2008, she traveled to Rajasthan and took a large series of photographs, predominantly showing Indian interiors, often with animals from Indian folklore inside.[1] She subsequently became a frequent traveller to India, visiting the country 15 times between 2008 and 2014. She mentioned that most of the buildings in India were never photographed, and they are not less interesting than common tourist attractions.

From 2014 to 2015, one room of Tate Britain hosted an exhibition of her photographs of "posh west Londoners in domestic settings and portraits of members at a gentlemen's club" (Belgravia series).


From Amazon's website:
Karen Knorr is an award-winning photographer whose work has developed a deep engagement and fascination with taxidermy, objects, and spaces, in a conceptual practice that continually and consistently disrupts the institutional gaze. Knorr s vision and the techniques that she utilises make her akin to a painter rather than a straight photographer, she shoots using a large format camera, yet spends many hours in her studio on the digital (post) production of a single image, moving and inserting, editing, enhancing, highlighting and intensifying colour; Knorr s keyboard and computer screen are her palette and paintbrush, the final photographic print that the viewer sees via the gallery is her canvas. This volume presents readers with a magnificently illustrated overview of the full range of her 35 years of work, from Punks (1976-77) to India Song (2008-2011).

Karen Knorr and linguistic messaging
Karen Knorr, whose monied family lived in Belgravia London, gives the viewer a more nuanced look at class and wealth. As a young artist, she was greatly influenced by Roland Barthes ‘seminal essay The Rhetoric of the Image where he describes the different possibilities of the image and text relationship in advertising.’  (Knorr 2015).
In his essay Barthes added the linguistic message (meaning text message) to that of denoted and connoted messages, and in Figure 14 (page 22) the text signals that the owner’s sons have the right to be wealthy.
As with all of the artists cited in this essay, Knorr is sending messages to the viewer. However, she has extended the photographic medium with the use of humour and by using animals in scenes normally occupied by humans, together with some subtle sarcasm in the linguistic messages. Interestingly, (Kubicki) thinks of Knorr as more of a painter,
Knorr’s vision is also important, there is no doubt that her originality and the techniques that she utilises make her akin to a painter rather than a ‘straight’ photographer.

Figure 14 ‘I would like my sons’ by Karen Knorr

Back to Top