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Knit Club



Knit Club is the first book by Magnum-member American photographer Carolyn Drake made in collaboration with a publisher, following three successful  self-released books. Published in 2020 by TBW Books, this book was recently named one of the best photobooks at the Rencontres d’Arles. It is the editorial result of a work that involved not only the photographer, but also part of the Water Walley community, a small town in the state of Mississippi. Drake and her partner, Andres Gonzalez, (also a photographer and author of the breathtaking American Origami, FW: Books, 2019), lived there for some time.


Courtesy Carolyn Drake/ Magnum Photo

Drake has always been committed to the creation of photographic projects that observe and investigate the relationship between socio-political reality and the individual, criticizing and questioning established habits, practices and mechanisms.

Knit Club is the result of a long inclusion process which made the photographer part of a circle, the "knit club", composed only of women of different ages, who gather not just to knit, but also to share points of view and existential paths. Like in a secret club, whose rituals are mysterious to the uninitiated.

It is not the first time that Drake's reflective and compassionate gaze - in the etymological sense of the term, from the ancient Greek συν + πάσχω: feeling together - is addressed to the feminine world. Internat, for example, a project published in 2017, is dedicated to the disabled young girls of an orphanage in Ukraine. The photographer has actively collaborated with them, inviting them to engage with the work of the ethnographic and peasant artist Taras Shevchenko, as shown by the image that opens and closes the book.

Drake's research has always inhabited the field of sharing: the American photographer is interested in the place of encounter between author and "model", artist and photographed subject, in order to question the gap between the two and to reposition the photographer within this relationship. Drake’s approach resembles that of an ethnographer, aware of the diversity, not antagonistic but creative, between her own Welthanshuung and that of the world she observes and then writes about.

Paraphrasing the famous definition of Nicolas Bourriaud, we might consider Drake a relational artist, for whom the dialogue with the photographed subjects is not only a structural part of the artistic practice, but takes on primary importance:  what emerges, also by statement of the author herself, is the specificity of the process itself, the spatial, temporal, dialectical and, last but not least, selflessly existential path, necessary to strengthen the relationship between Drake and the other women.

Nicolas Bourriaud, in his magnum opus Relational Aesthetics, talks about transitivity,  mainly intended between the artist and the public, but goes even further, with a citation of Jean-Luc Godard affirming that "it takes two to make an image ”. Here the Godardian "make" is synonymous with a poietic quid, linked to the sphere of craftsmanship or, rather, of the action and modification on reality entailed by this act. "This proposition may well seem to borrow Duchamp's, putting forward the notion that it’s the beholder who makes pictures" - says Bourriaud – "but it actually takes things a step further, by postulating dialogue as the actual origin of the image-making process: at the outset of this, negotiations have to be undertaken, and the Other presupposed..."

For Knit Club, the author spent a lot of time just carrying her camera, without using it; before shooting, she waited as long as she was not perceived like an intruder anymore, like someone looking from the outside at a world Other. In this existential as well as professional process, the objectivity of someone observing and reflecting upon a world from an external perspective, inevitably fails. This detachment however would be mostly functional to a scientific work, while a photographic-artistic project benefits instead from the passionate communication between the author and the subject.


Courtesy Carolyn Drake/ Magnum Photo

Knit Club consists of various portraits of the women who shared this journey with Drake, of the photographer’s self-portraits, as well as interior and exterior views; Drake's subjects, including herself, are often photographed with masks covering their faces. The mask, a metaphor for the veil and the cover, for a semantic and often surreal shift, is linked both playfully and tragically to the person, right from its etymological meaning. It is indeed the central element of the book and contains within itself multiple aesthetic and interpretative dimensions. In a photograph, a mother and her child hold a painting, probably made several centuries ago, which portrays a little girl dressed elegantly, almost like an adult, holding a doll, in an upper-class bedroom; another photograph portrays again a mother and her daughter, the latter with her face turned away from the lens, while the mother wears a clay mask on her face.

This mask, which is not an objet trouvé found and thus reporpused as such, is the result of a more or less collective craftwork within the knit club, and is therefore an example of participatory and relational dimension of Drake's work, imagined as an installation. The artist photographs actual installations created with heterogeneous materials by her and by other women.

I have mentioned two images that portray the mother-child couple and not by chance: in fact, the references to motherhood and its complex spiritual and empirical meaning are many throughout the book. Drake, who dedicates Knit Club to her own mother, confers to her work an inevitable autobiographical element when she confesses to her reader / viewer that she is not a mother herself. Moreover, before the end of the photographic sequence, the author has Addie Bundren describing the difference between talking about motherhood and its empirical reality, between words and actions, between abstractions and events. The death of Addie Bundren, wife and mother of five, is the engine of the story told by Faulkner in As I lay Dying; this masterpiece of the so-called "Southern Gothic" genre, published in 1930, is the almost archetypal starting point of Drake's entire project: inspired by its horizontal multi-voice structure, without an omniscient narrator, she has decided to carry out a project in which, to paraphrase the father of postmodernism Lyotard, the author dies.

As I Lay Dying is the raw and poetic tale of a dysfunctional, poor family in the South of the United States, among whose members full of secrets among its members, on a journey to give burial to their mother. The titles of the various chapters of the book correspond to the names of the characters, who provide different points of view for the reader to observe the story, anticipating an almost postmodern narrative plurality.

Similarly, in Knit Club we find this polyphony, a concert of heterogeneous voices that contribute, each in their own way, to the construction of the work of art. An African proverb says that, to ensure a healthy development of the child, both mental and physical, this must be "looked after" by the whole village, never only by a mother or a father; likewise, also the work of art, because it is art we are talking about - made of symbolisms, chromatic transcendences, shadows and lights "yellow like gold, soft gold", as Faulkner would say, thrives on heteronomous encounters and relationships. In speaking of the book, Drake openly talks about the community, about the choral dimension that, beyond the stunning ability in its choreography, proves to be the elan vital of the entire project.


Courtesy Carolyn Drake/ Magnum Photo


Courtesy Carolyn Drake/ Magnum Photo

Carolyn Drake - Knit Club


118 Pages  

21×28 cm


Drake was born in California and studied Media/Culture and History in the early 1990s at Brown University. She moved to New York, where she worked as a interactive designer for many years before departing to engage with the physical world through photography.

Between 2007 and 2013, Drake traveled frequently to Central Asia from her base in Istanbul to work on two long term projects.  Two Rivers (2013) and Wild Pigeon (2014). Knit Club was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Book of the Year and Lucie Photo Book Awards.

Drake now lives in California and is currently developing self-reflective projects close to home. Her latest work, Isolation Therapy, is on view at SFMOMA’s show Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis. Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, the Anamorphosis Prize book prize, Peter S Reed Foundation, Lightwork, the Do Good Fund, the Lange Taylor prize, Magnum Foundation, Pulitzer Center, and a Fulbright fellowship. She is a member of Magnum Photos.

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