Beginnings: 50th Anniversary of Photography at Point Reyes

This year marks the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Point Reyes. It also marks 50 years since I developed my first rolls of film. I have fond memories of creating the first prints from these negatives. The images illustrating this post are from those first self-developed rolls. Back then I almost exclusively photographed my friends. These photographs are all from the autumn months of 1973.

Brass Menagerie workers enjoy hanging out together.

In the autumn of 1973 the company I worked for, the Brass Menagerie, relocated from San Francisco to Point Reyes Station. We were a small manufacturer of brass and wood novelty items. The old Creamery Building in downtown Point Reyes was available and suitable for our business. The company purchased the abandoned creamery. Getting out of the city and into the natural beauty of coastal West Marin was a dream for all of us. Many of us left the city and collectively found places to rent in this area. I was one of several managers of the business, but in my spare time I often dreamt of becoming a photographer.

Friends: Kingsley Moore and Carol Whitman at work. Peggy Day and daughter during visit.

 I carried my camera with me everywhere and pretty much pointed my lens at my friends. I had not yet discovered the landscape and becoming an artist was unthinkable. Then something happened one day that was life changing. A door opened that led to a life-long journey into creative photography and art. My neighbor, Marie, asked me a simple question. “Who develops your film and makes your prints?” Naively, thinking the answer obvious, I answered, “I drop the films off at Photomat and pick up the results in a couple of days, doesn’t everyone?”  I noticed as we talked that Marie was tending a garden hose that trickled into a stainless steel container. She looked down at it and fished a reel out of the tank. On the reel was a roll of wet film! Marie looked up and said, “I develop my own film. I’m going to hang this one up to dry. Would you like to learn how to do your own films?” With that offer, I was off to the races!

Caty and her children, Zohra and John.

Within a week and after a few of Marie’s film developing lessons, I heard that a neighbor was selling his complete darkroom set up for $75. I tapped my savings and rushed out to secure the equipment. I never turned back and over they years I built several darkrooms, each one more advanced. From that time on, some fifty years ago, I developed tens of thousands of negatives–every exposure of black and white film I made I also personally developed.

Last night, I went deep into my archive of negatives and found the first rolls I self-developed in 1973. There was nary a landscape in the bunch, but lots of photographs of my friends. I’ve gathered a few of my favorites here for this post.   We were oh, so young and smooth-skinned then! Fifty years ago I came to Point Reyes and took the first important steps to becoming a photographer.

My friends: Betsy, Kallie and Rick.

20 comments on “Beginnings: 50th Anniversary of Photography at Point Reyes

  1. Wow, Marty, it’s so fun to be part of your trip down memory lane! I’m one of the fortunate ones, having known you for fifty-plus years. Fortunate as a co-worker and friend, and fortunate to have a small treasured collection of prints from your early rolls. I remember being amazed at how professional even your early prints came out, and now you’re like a modern day Ansel Adams ! I know I haven’t seen all of that early work, however, so is this going to be a book? A memoir thing? The world’s still waiting for the coffee table book!

  2. What a wonderful history to share. Hard to believe it’s been 50 years. We so treasure our wedding photos that you took of us in 1985.

  3. Marty, I grew up in Woodacre & graduated Drake High in 1973. My Dad was an outdoor lover & hobby photographer who loved West Marin. He often hiked & sometimes camped in the National Seashore. He was in the landscape business & got a contract in 1964 or so to plant thousands of small tree seedlings on a property along the left side of the road about half way out to the lighthouse. The supposed intent by the property’s owner was to create a ‘Christmas tree farm’. Within a couple of years the Pt Reyes National Seashore was created & the property sold at a premium due to the presence of the so called tree farm. None of the trees were ever harvested. Last time I was out there a few years ago the pine trees had formed a forest with the trees about 80’ high. I suspect the owner had inside info on the future park. Have enjoyed seeing your beautiful work in the area.

  4. Congratulations, Marty, on half a century of art-making! What an amazing journey this sounds. Thank you for sharing those photographs from the very beginning. I’m fascinated by those “sliding doors” moments of the kind you describe sent you off your path as a photographer.

  5. My first visit to Pt Reyes was as an infant in 1950 – to my grandfather’s “hunting shack” in Inverness Park. Followed by many summer weekends with my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, sisters and parents. Sunday mornings found us sitting in pews inside the church that is now a dance/yoga studio adjacent to the community center. Sunday mid day we walked to the “White House pool” to swim. Sunday early evenings found a crowd of family sharing their lives around a long, narrow table on the porch – a place for every one. We still own that shack, but don’t visit anywhere near enough.

    Five of your photographs grace the walls in my family room. Spring boards for memories carried forward to my sons and their cousins. Constant reminders of joyful days and the family members I was honored to have shared them with. Thank you for those invaluable memories.

    • Steve,
      I am pleased and grateful that my photographs are a springboard for feelings and memories you and your family have of Point Reyes. Thanks!

  6. Marty – I remember my workshop with you in 2008 – Seeing the Light. Albeit that was only 15 years ago and a small snapshot of your 50 years in Point Reyes. You have a rich history as a photographic artist that is due a artist’s biography. You have been an inspiration to me and may other photographers. Here’s to the next 25 years ( ….. for both of us).

    • Marty—Thanks so much for sharing your early photographic history with us. I am a “Johnny Come Lately” to knowing and appreciating your art having known you for probably less than 20 years. I remember the first time I laid eyes on your sign in Point Reyes Station proclaiming “classic black and white photography.” I said to myself, I need to meet this Marty Knapp. I did and I never regretted it. You have been an inspiration to a lot of us who live black and white photography. Frank Sinatra had nothing on you when he said that he did it his way. You have truly done it your way. Your friend, Hadley

      • Hadley, I was just thinking about our long friendship. I have learned and benefited as much or more from our connection. It makes me smile to read your kind words.

  7. This look backwards is amazing. You have a real knack for capturing depth in your human subjects. Forty years ago you were our wedding photographer. While the album comes out occasionally, your landscapes adorn our walls.


  8. Thank you for that history. I remember at least one of those early darkrooms and your generosity in providing images of nature for my work designing announcements for the Bolinas Museum. Thank you for that long-ago help. It was such fun to work with you then.

  9. And, Marty, everyone who knows you and Jean is very HAPPY you are in Point Reyes and have developed your art around our environs and beyond. Thank you! Tami

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