About Matthew McKnight

Matthew McKnight is an emerging artist working primarily in photography. His constructed imagery explores the American imagination and other themes related to the complexity of the 21st century.


McKnight shoots his images digitally in order to capture a single constructed scene countless times to perfect all components of the image. He uses a range of practical elements which can be adjusted in post-production to achieve effects similar to those previously only possible within the medium of painting. 


McKnight was born in 1992 in the small town of Cambridge, OH and grew up there among the foothills of Appalachia. He spent time working in the U.S. House of Representatives during high school and was present for many decisive moments including the divisive debate and vote over Obamacare. After college, he moved to Bengaluru, India for half a year in search of discovery and opportunity in the eastern world. He cites both of these experiences as being formative to the worldview that plays into his work. His work has also been influenced by the death of his father by suicide after a quiet, prolonged struggle with mental illness.


After returning from India, McKnight moved to Nashville, TN and began working at an eCommerce startup in the bookselling industry and was soon named the company's president. In this capacity, he met the heir to the photographer Jim Marshall's estate and was inspired by a conversation with her to begin exploring photography himself.


McKnight's photography is entirely self-taught. 


From Nashville Scene:

Self-taught photographer Matthew McKnight knows how to compose a shot. His photo of Sudanese boys playing in War Memorial Plaza was the first unanimous judges’ winner in Scene Photo Contest history. McKnight takes the title of his photo from the words engraved on the building, a quote by Woodrow Wilson: “America Is Privileged to Spend Her Blood and Her Might for the Principles That Gave Her Birth and Happiness and the Peace Which She Has Treasured.” Its compelling juxtaposition makes us think more deeply about our city. 

Another of McKnight’s photos made it to the finals. Taken at the corner of Elliston Place and Reidhurst Avenue, “Everybody Look What’s Going Down” was the best portrait of changing Nashville we saw in the mix. We spoke to McKnight via email about his work.


I think “America” is really potent. You’ve got these black and brown kids who are doing exactly what kids should be doing. They’re playing. Then you’ve got the Woodrow Wilson quote on the War Memorial, which you also chose to be the piece’s title. Why this juxtaposition? I don’t claim to speak for the viewer, because it’s an organic scene that I simply captured, but to me it represents a realization of the ideals that make America the greatest innovation in the history of the world. The kids are the children of immigrants from the local Sudanese community, members of which were holding a public demonstration near War Memorial Plaza about issues in their native country. The soldiers honored on the plaza died for a cause bigger than themselves, and that cause allowed these children of immigrants to play freely under the midday sun in a country where they can be whomever they want to be if they set their minds to it. During these times, which many have called divisive, I think the juxtaposition is a refreshing reminder that there’s still something larger than us at play in this country, and that we need to preserve that for the children, so they can in turn do the same for the next generation.

So in regard to your other photo submission, what was happening at the corner of Elliston Place and Reidhurst Avenue that day? The image was taken during the implosion of the Carmichael Tower dorm at Vanderbilt in July. I knew it was going to be happening (I love a good implosion), and I figured that it would be a perfect opportunity to make a surrealistic image using the practical smoke effect created by the implosion.


Your photography is very painterly in composition, color and effects. How do you achieve this? Do you also paint? As my work has developed, I’ve grown interested in the challenge of pushing photography toward painting by constructing imagery rather than capturing existing scenes. I now incorporate practical elements into many of my images that make the images look less photographic to the eye. I paint sometimes, but not very well. I like viewing paintings just as much as photography. I much prefer photography for my own art, though, because the logistical challenges that go into making any constructed image make the payoff all the more worthwhile when an image succeeds.