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August, 2007



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An Artist in Black and White: MARTY KNAPP An interview
by Jeanette Marie Pontacq of Point Reyes Station

If you are ever wandering off the beaten path in Point Reyes - especially during bad weather - you might have the pleasure of seeing this guy at his work. Take the time to watch him. You will see someone in the grip of concentration attempting to move from standing before nature to getting inside of it and beyond. His name will be Marty Knapp. ---- Jack Welpott, Photographer
Marty Knapp's first camera, I learned during our interview, was a 35mm rangefinder, given to him by his grandfather for his eleventh birthday. The result circa 2007 is that Marty recently won an Independent Publisher Book Award for his memoir, 'Point Reyes: 20 Years.' Not bad for someone who started out his life on the other side of the continent, in Connecticut, never dreaming that he would become an artist in the medium of photography on the edge of the Pacific.

It was an obvious first question to ask him why his medium is Black and White, rather than color, and why he has perfected his use of a traditional camera rather than using the newest digital ones. Marty told me that it is because he has fallen in love with the way light works and considers that he has more control in the dark room of how that light comes to life in his photography via film rather than pixels. Film, he told me, is an object, a thing. It takes longer to work with, he said, but it is tangible rather than virtual. He quickly added that he does use digital technology in a hybrid way, such as scanning his negatives to allow for larger prints than would be possible in his darkroom. As for digital capture, he will add that to his tools when the technology advances to a point equal or beyond what he already captures on his large negatives. One look at the elegance of lines and patterns in his recent work enforces his words.

Marty came to West Marin in 1973, via San Francisco, from the East Coast. He came to California, he told me, because he saw it as more progressive in thought and lifestyle. He lived first in San Francisco, eventually coming to Point Reyes when his employer moved the business to the old Creamery Building in town. Reminiscing a bit, he described how the Post Office was then attached to the Grandi Building, the bank was where Flower Power is now, and the original Station House Cafˇ was called Claudia's Restaurant and located where Rosie's Cowboy Cookhouse sits today.

Marty lived in a 20' x 20' cabin in Inverness then, and was taking photos one day, when a local named Mary watched what he was doing and offered lessons on both the art of photography and how to use a darkroom. Mary had a primitive darkroom in Inverness, enough to wet Marty's appetite to learn everything he could from her. Via an ad in the Point Reyes Light, he was able to buy used equipment, and his 'career' began. Even though he kept his day job, he began photographing weddings and developing photos for others, even working for the Light on a trade for a small ad. He worked a trade with the old Coastal Post too, and produced a weekly photo feature column called 'The Spellbound Land.'

After years of study and refinement of his obviously-inherent talent, Marty still only thought of himself as "someone who loves taking pictures." It took a long time for him to admit to himself what others already knew, that he was an artist, with photography as his medium. Marty's day job now, as he sees it, is to keep on looking at the land, the light, the patterns they create together, so that others can see that beauty through his eyes. He is also documenting the land as it is now, for posterity. Those images are obviously infused with his own sensitivity, feelings and memories.

At Drakes's Esetro one September afterrnoon, when I arrived at the water's edge, I was struck by the lighting on the mud flats. The extreme low tide revealed fascinating shapes and patterns in the mud. The angular rays of the sun created a tactile dimension to the shapes in the flats - revealed the fine details. It's hard for me to express how delightful these clean contours looked on the ground glass of my camera back. Gradually, the shapes moved into a composition that pleased me. ----

Marty Knapp, Photographer
Point Reyes: 20 Years, 2007
Looking around his interesting studio on Highway One, just north of Point Reyes Station proper, I was awed by the seduction of his black and white images. It was a subtle seduction, rather than via the flamboyance of color. I found that black and white, as used by Marty, touched something deep within me, unexplainable but real. His art is accessible, as he described it. After experiencing his studio, I understand what he means.

He told me that light, and the way the angle of that light hits things, adds dimension to the world, his world of photography. He prefers early or late light for its delicacy. I was surprised when he said that the actual place is not as important as the light, because it creates texture, separates objects and optimizes the place itself. As his practice of his art continues, he says that he finds himself being more and more drawn to smaller, closer views of the world, images of intimate feelings, more than 'grand views.' As I was getting ready to leave, I saw the proof for his 2008 calendar, called 'Patterns - Wind & Water.' I asked to be put on the advance-sale list. You can learn more about Marty's photography and also contact him through his website:

I've passed the same rock, hill, fence, or tree hundreds of times, at all hours, in every season, thinking I've seen all that there is to see. Then, in one surprising moment, something will emerge for the very first time. What changes is the light, and I am there - a witness to something extraordinary. ---

Marty Knapp, Photographer
'Point Reyes: 20 Years,' 2007

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