Finding Point Reyes Again – The Night Sky

After more than thirty years of photographing the magnificent landscape of Point Reyes, I had lately become less interested in her charms. So, I began exploring other vistas… dewdrops on flowers, light spilling through barn wall cracks, bubbles in glass… you name it. All this is well and good, but the Point Reyes landscape had stopped appearing in the viewfinder of my camera. So, what happened this autumn is the story of how I found Point Reyes again. But, first, to find Point Reyes again, I had to leave it.

Although the story has very deep roots going back to childhood and my fascination with the mystery of the stars above, I will skip those memories for now to tell you about my more recent exploration of the heavens.

It began on a recent photo trip I made with friends to the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra. My friend, Hadley Johnson, had learned the secrets of how to photograph the Milky Way. One night he coached us at a rock formation known as Boot Arch. There I made my first photograph of the Milky Way as it streamed skywards adjacent to the arch. Fascinated by the unfathomable beauty of the cosmos, this first photograph kindled my creative spirit.

Boot Arch & the Milky Way

So, this spring, I returned to the desert at Joshua Tree National Monument. There I made a second photograph of the Milky Way with Joshua Trees anchoring the vault of the heavens. Making this photograph of a starry night sky, in connection with a beloved landscape enlivened me. When I returned to Point Reyes I knew I was hooked. I wondered… what about Point Reyes under a starry sky?

Milky Way 32, Joshua Tree

The Milky Way at Joshua Tree

I dreamt of making a new series of landscapes that included my favorite Point Reyes locations under a starry sky. Each dark moon cycle would provide an opportunity. On some nights as my wife and I relaxed in our outdoor tub, the stars shone brightly above. On several occasions, I drove over the ridge at 2 am only to discover the heavens were occluded by a thick blanket of fog, so my dreams were stymied repeatedly by this pervasive coastal fog.

But, in late September, an unusually warm weather front visited our coast. The temperature rose to the mid-nineties, and the coastal fog went away. It came at a perfect time during the new moon cycle when the sky would be darkest, and the stars would shine their brightest! This could be the night….

I was hopeful as I drove at sunset to Drakes Beach. Not a soul was on the beach, and as I wandered slowly south, the sky gradually darkened. Then, I saw the band of light, our Milky Way, glowing overhead. Time seemed suspended in the silent darkness. I wandered along the beach, trying different compositions, but could not find one that pleased me. I decided to wrap things up. As I headed back to my car, I noticed the Milky Way streaming heavenward next to one of the iconic Drakes Beach cliffs. This scene stopped me in my tracks. As I composed my image, it struck me I was photographing the very bluff on which I’d stood 26 years earlier while making my photograph, Drakes Moonrise!

Starry Night at Drakes Beach

The posting of this first new photograph, Starry Night, Drakes Beach, and the story I wrote about it created an unprecedented positive reaction at my website. I continued my photography of Point Reyes, but now, under the stars. Over the next two months I re-visited and photographed the night sky at many of my favorite Point Reyes landscapes. I had found Point Reyes again!

The Night Sky exhibit at my gallery, through January 16th, features the photographs I made at Point Reyes this autumn. The Marty Knapp Photo Gallery is open Friday, Saturday or Sunday between 11-5. The Night Sky Collection is the online version and includes secure ordering access. A boxed set of  notecards, Starry Nights has just been released and is available at both the gallery and online.


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