June 24, 2011
Robert Knight wakes to a dreary Carmel morning. He readies himself and heads out into the dark. He pulls a road bike from his garage, takes it to the street and climbs on as the rain falls around him. Not for the first time, he asks himself, ‘Why am I doing this?’
Knight has often performed this morning ritual six times a week for the last several months. He has devoted three hours on each of those days to intense physical exertion, all to prepare for the Ironman triathlon in Idaho this coming Sunday. “You have some insightful conversations with yourself as your body is telling you to stop and your mind is negotiating with your body to continue,” Knight says. To be sure, running a 26.2 mile marathon, biking 112 miles, and swimming 2.4 miles requires something more than a body of iron.
The 41-year-old Knight has only run in one event before, the Big Sur Marathon, but his line of work had always required him to have a baseline of fitness. He has spent the vast majority of the past 18 years working as a fine art nature photographer, a career that his taken him on long treks through the Sierras, and across parts of Antarctica and Africa.
In the wildlife photography world, he is no little fish. His pieces have been displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C and at the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom. In 2007, the BBC and Natural History Museum selected one of his photos for its “Wild Places” award in its prestigious “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” collection.
When explaining his career beginnings, Knight speaks of his uncertainty about leaving college. With his cameras and journals on his back, he set out on a “walkabout” around the world. He realized before long that he had already found what he wanted to do. “I have a real connection with nature, and for me, [photography] is a way of honoring and elevating what I respect most,” he says. His photographs project moments of his life experience, captivating glimpses that remain impressed on the mind’s eye. Many have found it hard to turn away.
To satisfy these enthusiasts, Knight has led workshops and organized expeditions with his travel company, Earth Expeditions, teaching others his trade and sharing his fascination with the wild. Local Anne Tewksbury first met Robert at his gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea after falling in love with his work, and they quickly became friends. She has since attended several of his trips and classes, and she raves about both his ability and openness. “He’s impeccably honest and straightforward, a great teacher and willing to provide any knowledge he has,” Tewksbury says.
Knight still strives for personal growth even while playing the role of teacher, expanding horizons of all kinds. He plans to head to the region of Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet, as well as back to Africa. First though, he must finish the Ironman in Coeur d’ Alene, a whole new terrain too that has dominated his vision of late, like so many peaks and glaciers he has trapped in his lens.
He acknowledges the necessary craziness to set out training for such an event. To those considering such an undertaking, he suggests to consider carefully whether their “life situation” can sustain it, to fully understand all of its consequences. Despite this drain on time and energy, he has worked to make the endeavor not just about him. In preparation for the event, Knight asked friends and family to help raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Thus far he has collected around $2,000.
Knight over the years has worked with many nonprofit and service organizations including the Sierra Club, Amnesty International and the Boys and Girls Club. As he has done with Make-A-Wish, he has often turned pursuits begun on a personal basis into significant contributions. Most notably, he has donated around $250,000 worth of his photographs to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. “I’ve always had a soft spot for kids,” Knight explains, speaking of a love that has grown in his time with Emerson, his three-year-old son.
More than anything, Knight displays a genuine passion for life in all its forms. He hopes his photography conveys the beauty of the natural world, as well as the importance of protecting it. He just as fervently believes in human dreams, from his own to those of the ill and underprivileged. Before choosing to partner with Make-A-Wish for the Ironman, he offered to take a child on a photography expedition, if the need presented itself. Knight says, “I’m just as fascinated with nature and wildlife as I am with the human potential, mine and others.”
Knight’s strength lies in his optimism, brushing existential questions aside in his effort to keep moving forward.
He may not have all the answers, but he knows it’s worth it.