Alex Knight – AKG42

Alex Knight – AKG42

By Arden de Raaij

Someone who regularly brightens up my Twitter feed is Tokyo based photographer and digital artist Alex Knight. He wonders around Shibuya on rainy nights capturing spot-on images of the neon-lit streets and turns them in to images which walk a fine line between traditional photography and digital art.

Besides being an amazing visual storyteller, Alex also comes across as a very kind person who often uses his digital reach to put others in the spotlight. Something that is near and dear to us at CFYE and that’s why we’re happy to present you this interview with the good man himself!

The Tokyo city streets captured on a rainy night, with a deer edited-in on the middle of the crosswalk

First of all, a massive congratulations on becoming a father! How’s life as a dad treating you? Has it led to any creative epiphanies (yet)?

Thanks! It’s definitely been a wile ride so far. I took a bit of time to step back from other commitments and focus on on my family when she was born, and I think that coupled with the huge change in emotions in daily life has really made me feel and think differently. I have slowly been chipping away at new ideas and trying to express some of this change but haven’t released anything just yet. It’s all very new and exciting to explore so I can’t wait to see what it all bring. 

You’ve been living in Japan for about six years now ( please correct me if I’m wrong). How’s that experience been, and how does the environment inspire you?

Living in Japan has been amazing. It’s also been a huge challenge, stressful and eye opening. All these things, good and bad have really made it an experience I won’t ever forget. I have definitely learnt a lot about myself and how I can deal with massive change, and given a whole new world to be inspired by, it really kicked my photography and other art into a higher gear.

Tokyo is just a massive assault on the senses, just walking down the street, day or night, it’s always on, always in your face. I can definitely understand how it might not be for everyone, but I feel energized here. Excited to always dig deeper, learn and experience more. 

You name anime and sci-fi as some of your inspirations. Could you recommend some anime and sci-fi movies/series that have inspired your work?

I’m a big sci-fi nerd at heart, growing up on shows like Star trek and Cowboy Beebop, but living here has made me realize how much closer we are to these kind of world than we think. Because of that, I have got much more heavily into the grittier side of it. Movies like Bladerunner, the Expanse (books, and tv show) and classics like Neuromancer, Snow Crash and Cash Crash Jubilee, where a lot of the tech and world is not so far from where are now. I think these kind of ideas inspire my photos a lot. 

Are there any other places in the world you’d love to visit for photography purposes?

I honestly just want to visit everywhere. I have been to around 40 countries so far and every single one of them had something amazing to experience. I want to keep growing that number and experience as much as I possibly can. 
Up next on my list is a few local places in Japan I am yet to visit, Okinawa (sometimes you just need to relax on a beach, you know?) and the more mountains up north, to explore the older forgotten places. 
Once everything opens up again, I will be heading through South East Asia again to hit a few places I missed on my last visit, namely Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

Have you ever considered pursuing photography / digital art full time?

The thought has occurred to me, but I just don’t think it’s what I want. I love creating art and it’s a bit of an escape from my daily commitments. I want to create art because I want to make things, not because I have to pay my bills and feed my family. I also have a great job, that allows me to flex my creative and logical thinking skills at the same time, so I find this balance to work for me. 

You seem to be quite active in the NFT space. Could you tell us a bit about what gets you excited about NFT’s and how you approach this area differently from creating and selling a print, for example?

NFT’s has been a rollercoaster over the last few months. I remember hearing about them back in 2017 whilst working on an app that allowed you to make NFTs and store them, and have always been intrigued at their potential. 
When they hit the main stage earlier this year, lots of people complained and thought it was stupid, but all I saw were my artist friends being energized, creating their best work and making some money at the same time. 

Now the dust has settled a bit and it seems NFTs are slowly evolving into something more sustainable. It’s definitely interesting to watch and I am excited to see where it all leads in the future.

As for the approach for selling them, I see it as selling a proof of authenticity and ownership, and something that artists should take very seriously. Treat that digital signature and the person who bought it with the upmost respect. They have invested in you, and for their investment to be worth it, you need to continue to do your best. If you are doing it for a quick dollar, you might make a little money, but you will inevitably alienate the people who supported you.  

A woman dressed up as a traditional Geisha, holding an umbrella and walking through a snow-filled alley in Shibuya, Tokyo

Have NFT’s motivated you to make a different kind of artwork or explore new areas of digital art? 

I have always enjoyed creating art in different mediums and learning new skills, so I wouldn’t say it directly made me start exploring more. What I think it did do was introduce new platforms to share different types of art, which inspired me to revisit some old skills, and explore new ones. I have been into creating music since early high school, learnt 3d around the same time, but never really pushed myself to release anything relating to that, so it’s been exciting to combine those mediums in new projects and collaborations.

As you’re roaming the street after dark quite a lot, you must’ve seen some crazy things happen. Any unexpected stories or adventures you could share?

Haha I have seen a fair bit over the years, from plenty of drunken shenanigans to the complete chaos that was Halloween a few years back. But I think the most wild thing I have ever seen is Shibuya totally empty, either just before a typhoon hits, and the trains have stopped running, or the state of emergency when everyone was asked to stay home. I used to live in the area and figured it was best to buy food when no one else was around, and it was completely surreal. Usually a hive of activity, reduced to 1 or 2 people hanging around. It had an extremely eerie feeling and the rats came out to play with no humans around to scare them off. Felt like something out of Alice in Borderland almost. 

On twitter I saw your DG-20 Casio guitar and I’m obsessed. Could you tell me a bit more about it and what motivated you to acquire this piece of nostalgia?

A while ago a friend send me a link to a video of someone playing one, and I immediately fell in love with it, searching more and more about the guitars and history and eventually finding one in good condition that wasn’t too expensive. I have about 12 guitars I think, but this one is definitely the most wild creation. It was released in 1987, and at the time, everyone was diving right into electronic music and synth. This guitar tried to connect the gap for guitarists and synth. It uses special sensors to pick up on the string and note played, and coverts it to a midi note, which can then be feed into any audio program to basically make any sound you can imagine. From piano, orchestras, choirs and pretty much anything else. The tech in the guitar is a bit dated and it struggles to pick up some notes etc, and since then there are new guitars that do similar things much better, but they cannot compete with the aesthetic of it. It’s just too cool.

Are there any other (up and coming) artists that you’re excited about and we should check out?

So many great artists have popped up on my radar recently, my timeline is filled with awesome art these days. But my favorites right now are a few friends who I have known for some time and are constantly pushing the boundaries of their work and really producing incredible stuff. My current top 3 (in no particular order) would be:
Anocam, Ruben Fro, and Neverasleep – Always excited to see what they will drop next. 

What can we expect from you in the future?

While I am taking it a bit slower at the moment, I have been slowly chipping away at some new things, including diving into writing some new music and art to go with it. I am hoping to release it in the coming weeks. It’s been a bit of a labor of love as it’s a little different to my usual work, but I am excited about the direction of it.
Apart from that, I intend to keep exploring my photography and abstract 3d work along side the music adventures, hopefully finally releasing my new book towards the end of the year.