Landscapes are the three dimensional expression of Nature; they should stand on their own merit, says Albert Knapp. For a successful landscape photograph the American tries to capture a sense of power, tension and mystery – the grandeur of our planet’s magnificence and the awe that it inspires in the viewer.
Your series is called Sand, Ice, Rocks, Water. Is this a homage to the elements?
It is a homage to the main elements of Nature untouched by human hand. Art rather than artifice. I do not feel that we must surrender to Nature, but rather that we can commune with and connect to Nature.
What does Nature mean to you?
Nature is the totality of the complex and intricate reality of planet Earth. From the macrocosmic to the microcosmic, I am interested in the dynamic relationships between living organisms and their inorganic environments, how they interact in any given moment and also change over time. My photographs of the reflections of trees in the water are an example of this. I see landscapes that others may find stark and barren – but to me reveal the elegance and majesty of Nature’s forces, how the wind sculpts massive sand dunes, how light plays against the many facets of an iceberg shaped by water. I try to capture the infinity of textures, patterns and colors in the natural world. Geometry is the overriding theme in these images: shape, line, curves, form.
Where did you create these images?
The images begin in my mind. Some were created in my own backyard – literally the lake on our property in Southern Connecticut where, in every season, I have witnessed the cycle of color and light reflected in the water. For others I have traveled to some of the most remote places on Earth, the deep Sahara desert, Namibia, Death Valley and the White Sands of New Mexico. For ice I have traveled from the Far North above the Arctic Circle in Canada, Iceland, Greenland, to the opposite pole in two separate trips to the Antarctic. In my mind I go everywhere, and when I arrive in person, I use the camera to create the images I have pre-visualized.
Is there a certain longing hidden in your work?
Yes. I long to reveal the utter beauty and grandeur of place. I long for the preservation of the wildness and untainted purity of Earth’s vast variety.
Next to all the beauty that your images convey there is also the symbol of power…
The power of the landscape will always persist; but sadly I am very attuned to how humanity has threatened so much that is beautiful and grand on our planet. The impact of climate change has been devastating. Yet it has also revealed an ever more powerful response from nature: earthquakes, wildfires, tempests and tornadoes, floods and droughts. Human folly has altered the landscape and now Nature is responding very powerfully.
Should we understand your series as a kind of appeal to humanity to better take care of Nature?
I do wish to show how Nature, left alone, is most enrapturing and thought provoking. In silence and solitude we have more time and space to reflect inwardly, and also outwardly, with respect to our relationship to our surroundings. In my photographic travels I have come to truly appreciate how seriously we must take our responsibility to be stewards of the environment; not to preserve it unchanged, but to allow the Earth to continue to evolve without the disastrous and harmful meddling of humans.
You are an MD by profession. How did you get into photography?
I have always been fascinated by the visual. I grew up in a home surrounded by art and art lovers. At the age 5 I was given my first still camera, and graduated to a Bolex-Paillard 8mm movie camera in 1964 at the age of nine. I eventually returned to 35mm photography in the 1970s and 80s with the Nikon F and later the F2 before switching over to Leica. The change to Leica was transformative, as the lens quality is second to none. Also in my medical work I always use the highest quality equipment. It is essential to me that the tools allow me to see clearly and precisely, and to capture the images without aberration.
Is there a link between your profession and your love for photographic detail?
I do endoscopic procedures, visualizing the interior of the gastrointestinal tract. My work is essentially visual and optics are very important in being able to interpret what is seen through the scope, to recognize normal anatomy and abnormalities, in order to diagnose and treat properly. I do think that my way of seeing professionally and in my photography are very much linked. I have to know first in my own head what I must see, and then interpret what the lens delivers.
You’ve worked with Leica since the 80s… How did you experience this development – and what is your photographic approach?
I started with the R8 and the M6 TTL. As both lines evolved, so did I. I went to the M7 and in 2009 the M8. The M9 and M10 surely followed. As to the R series, I got the R9 and eventually the R9-DMR. I enjoyed the SLR but was ecstatic when the S2 came out. I sold all my equipment and purchased an S2 in 2010. Eventually the S006 and S007 followed.
The pictures of this series were all done with the S cameras and lenses. As far as my technique, there is minimal work in Lightroom and Photoshop. While I enjoy manipulating pictures, I believe that landscapes should stand on their own merit.
Albert Bruce Knapp was born in 1955 in New York, where he works as a Professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. He has owned a camera since the age of five, and in his photography he looks for balance, for movement within the stillness, for a feeling of connection between all things. His Sand, Ice, Rocks, Water series conveys his personal vision of landscapes.