Part 4: The Adventure of it All

“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic of the world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.”
— Charles de Lint, writer

Its with great lengths that great art is made. Months of research and planning go into my successful trips to build my collections. The initial part of the journey is about finding emotion and pairing it with the right subject, time, lighting, and location. It’s a tedious effort full of phone calls, spreadsheets, Google Earth, route planning, and scheduling. And then the trip arrives—I become the proverbial “kid in a candy store.” I love the adventure of documenting places and telling stories. The artwork is the product, but for me the process of creation is just as memorable as the work itself.

I have slept out of my car for a week in the Badlands of South Dakota. Likewise for a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I planned a five month trip around the Mountain West but Corona virus disrupted those plans so I spent two months on the road developing both the Dunes Alight, Border to Border and Corona Coast collections. These are journeys which test your understanding of places. They are transformative; as you get closer to your subject, you get closer to a true understanding of the place rather than the understanding you walked in with. Developing an understanding of the essence or spirit of my subject, but spending nearly every moment of a trip in them, allows me to walk away with more emotionally effective images. I am not a tourist but a temporary resident within these places.

A few years ago during a break during my second master’s degree I drove out onto the Kansas prairie. Storms were building all afternoon in every direction making for dramatic scenes. I ended up one of my favorite dirt roads well outside of town, high on a bluff, without a structure of any kind in sight. As the sun set, I got out of my car, and the sky exploded with dramatic, rippled clouds stereotypical of a midwest storm. To my west was a dramatic green-blue sky with sheets of rain silhouetted by the sun, to the north was a giant cumulonimbus cloud formation that was at least 15,000 feet tall, to the south was another set of dramatic clouds. In every direction I saw incredible compositions. I would frame a shot and then see something else. Frame a shot and see something else. The wind was whipping me around in every direction. I went home excited about the possibilities of the day—rarely have I photographed in such drama.

A few days later I excitedly loaded the work onto my computer. As I scrolled through, I was disappointed at what I saw. I thought to myself, “This is what it looked like? It felt so much different!” Eventually I resigned that I didn’t get anything particularly noteworthy.

But I have no regrets the day yielded no outstanding photographs. The memories of that scene sufficiently stick with me. I was there. I was present amidst nature’s power. Humbled by watching this natural event unfold while incredibly isolated. Even if I could, I would never trade that experience for a beautiful artwork. If I had to make a choice between experiences in nature and my artwork, I would choose nature every time. It’s important to keep things in perspective. My artwork is a product of nature; nature is not a product of my artwork.

As a journalist-turned-designer, the driving interest in my work is to unify the ethical and documentary obligations of journalism (storytelling) and its common ground with the projective, forward-thinking obligations of the design fields (futuretelling)."

Jonathan Knight