This week’s interview is with Rick Knepp. I met Rick when I took the “Magic of Light in the Natural World” class Photo Central in hayward, CA. Rick was teaching the class. He not only taught us the nuances of reading light better, he introduced us to some classic photographs and photographers and also showed us some of his excellent prints. I got the opportunity to borrow photography books from his personal library too!
Rick also conducts very reasonably priced workshops. Especially of interest to those who live in the Bay area are the one day workshops. I hope to attend one of his workshops this summer. All this info, his photo galleries and information about buying his prints can be found at Rick’s website – www.richardknepp.com
Here is the interview.
SU: Tell me a little more about yourself. How did you get into photography?
RK: I had been casually interested since I earned my first merit badge in photography as a Cub Scout at the ripe old age of eight. After college, I did the usual documentation of the family as my kids as they grew up, and shot a lot of slide film of family trips and the Southern Oregon landscape through the mid 80s. I’d always been a fan of Ansel Adams’ black and white work, and enjoyed his books a lot.
When I moved back to California after a divorce in 1986, I began to shoot more to fill the emptiness I experienced being so far away from my kids. In 1989 I enrolled in a black and white darkroom class at Photocentral, the program at the Hayward Area Rec District, taught by Geir and Kate Jordahl, now my good friends. That was the beginning of the end. I knew I had acquired a serious addiction!!
My passion for photography grew substantially when I was given an amazing opportunity: the position of director at Weston Gallery, one of the top fine art photography galleries in the world. Learning from Maggi Weston, one of the earliest and most influential advocates for photography as fine art, gave me an education I never could have gotten with any advanced degree in the arts. And the exposure to prints by both masters and contemporary icons was an incredibly powerful motivator. For three years I got to walk in the door every day to work with and be surrounded by and often rare prints by Weston, Adams, Bullock, Strand, Stieglitz, Kenna, Neill, Porter, Caponigro, Becom and so many more… I feel privileged to have merely been in their presence, let alone have a chance to to tell their stories to visitors and clients. And the chance to work directly and share ideas with contemporary masters like Rod Dresser, Paul Caponigro, Michael Kenna, Jeffrey Becom, Richard Garrod and so many others was remarkable. Many are now friends as well as mentors.
SU: Your photographs are mostly landscapes. As you say in your bio , your “first love remains the black-and-white study of the land”. What about landscape photography evokes this feeling?
RK: I actually think my attraction to photography grew out of my passion for the land, rather than the other way around. I’ve always felt a strong pull toward the quiet of rural and wild places. The less populated, the better. As I learned to photograph, and especially to print in black and white, I found that I could express some of the joy I find in these places, that I hadn’t been able to in any other way. It doesn’t hurt that most of my photographic mentors, influences and inspiration come from the school of landscape photography. Ansel, Edward Weston, John Sexton, Alan Ross, William Neill, Galen Rowell and the Jordahls; all have a similar foundation.
So much of the pleasure of the process comes from the challenge of finding the structure and organization in a chaotic environment. I will say that I think this is universally true of “found” compositions, regardless of genre. If I never took another photograph I would still be blessed by the medium, in that in the search for the quintessential image, I’ve learned to see the world I move in, in a way I never would have before I experienced photography. I find grace and beauty in the minutiae I never would have even noticed: the play of light on dusty bottle in an abandoned bar, the glow of a salt-encrusted tumbleweed in the shadows of an ephemeral desert creek bed. The list could go on forever, because this experience now continues whether I’m looking for a photograph or walking from the parking lot to my office.
SU: In your website, you talk about how you lived in the Eastern Sierra in California for almost 6 years. How has this shaped influenced and shaped your photographic life?
RK: If anyone had told me 20 years ago that I’d become a desert rat, I’d’ve told them they were rowing with only one oar in the water. My first trip to the desert Southwest was a revelation. As much as I love the sea and the forests of the western mountains, the visual specter of the bleached bones of a barren landscape affects me in a manner more visceral, spiritual and essential. It’s somehow more powerful and sensual than beautiful. It’s difficult to put into words.
When I discovered the East Side in the early 90s, the high desert and rugged escarpment of the eastern face of the Sierra demanded my attention in the same way. The landscape made for a pared-down visual sensibility.
SU: How does teaching photography influence your personal work?
RK: Probably the most powerful impact has been the inspiration that comes of seeing students’ work. Regardless of the experience or level of technical skill a student has, there is always a new way of looking at the world that often gets the fire burning again, the desire to go out and revisit the medium with a fresh perspective.
Also, I primarily work in the more traditional mediums: film and light sensitive printing materials. As I consider adding more of the newer processes to my “toolbag,” the interaction with students keeps me more up to date with the most recent advances in equipment and technology than simply reading about it would. (As if I can find the time to read more than my email anyway!) I get hands-on experience with the latest and greatest gear, get to see first-hand what the current range of printers are capable of, and get user feedback more valuable than reading all the critic’s reviews could offer.
SU: You have a career in photography and teaching photography. What does photography mean to you?
RK: Exclusive of my family and friends and when combined with my love of the land, it becomes more my life than my career.
SU: Any recommendations? (like Photographers, Photo techniques, Music, Books, quotes, food..anything?)
RK: Wow! Where to start? The more images you look at, especially in whatever genre you enjoy, the more informed your own photographs become. My inspiration comes from the artists mentioned above, plus many more. Photo books would include almost anything Ansel and Edward Weston. (Look for more recent printings that employ the remarkable reproductions the latest technology offers. It makes a huge difference!) Specific titles would include – if you can find and afford them – Edward Weston: A Legacy (by Watts and Spaulding), Ansel Adams at 100 (Szasrkowski), Ansel Adams: The American Wilderness (Stillman), Quiet Light by John Sexton, William Neill’s Landscapes of the Spirit, Richard Garrod’s Visual Prayers and Geir Jordahl’s Searching for True North.
For a view from the inside, The Daybooks of Edward Weston edited by Nancy Newhall and Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. For fun, any of the Chee Leaphorn mystery series by the recently departed Tony Hillerman – a great look at Navajo culture and landscape.
Learn the concepts of the Zone System. Even if you don’t practice it, understanding the concepts and the language of light will make you a better photographer, film or digital. Try Carson Graves’ Zone System for 35mm Photographers.
I’m a big fan of all music, but especially contemporary and classic jazz. Pat Metheny especially is an inspiration. He does landscape in music with (still) Life Talking, First Circle and Secret Story, among many others. Yellowjackets, especially in the years when Marc Russo was on sax. Herbie Hancock, Miles, Taylor Eigsti, Coltrane, Paul Desmond. Dave Mathews, Barber, Bernstein, Snow Patrol, Marc Knopfler, Dvosak and on, and on…
Don’t even get me started with food…
SU: Can you mention how people interested in your work can contact you?
RK: My web site www.richardknepp.com has a gallery, info on seminars and classes, etc., and a contact link. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If anyone would like to receive my occasional (every couple of months) newsletter, drop me an email.